You know the saying, “The way to a person’s heart is through his/her stomach”… well, I’ve fallen in love with the new chefs at Vintage Cave. Not counting homemade meals or even dinner made by my husband, my recent meal there was definitely the best dining experience of my life.
Before that, I reminisced about a special tasting I had at Alan Wong’s Amasia on Maui, regarding that presentation to be the best meal I ever had. But now there’s a new chef on the block with a newly assembled team from around the globe taking fine dining cuisine in Hawaii to a new level.
Coming from The French Laundry in Napa Valley, which has been dubbed “The Best Restaurant in America,” Vintage Cave’s new chef Jonathan Mizukami and his team do not disappoint. This recent change of command has foodies in a tizzy, with many eagerly awaiting a chance to taste Mizukami’s flavor combinations and integration of fresh local products cooked with French flair.
Mizukami, whom I wrote about in this post a few weeks ago, has been soaking up all the knowledge, experience and character of The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller and crew for the past 10 years. We had worked together 11 years ago at Alan Wong’s, and I am happy to say he hasn’t lost his charm, modesty and good looks. Add to that his new pastry chef Eddie Lopez — formerly of The French Laundry and Chicago’s Blackbird and Sixteen — a young, tatted-up culinary rockstar who’s full of energy and is amazing with pastry and chocolate.
My husband always said he had no interest in trying Vintage Cave. He’s a plate lunch kind of guy, and although he appreciates a good meal, he doesn’t eat seafood. So he never saw the point in going to a restaurant that served a set menu with half of it being seafood. He isn’t allergic; he just doesn’t like the fishy taste.
But as it went, our plan on a Saturday night was canceled last minute, so I forced my husband to put aside his reservations and try the new Vintage Cave. We ordered the 10-course Chef’s Tasting, which changes often and allows Mizukami a chance to tweak and alter the dishes daily, based on available ingredients and his inspiration.
I expected that it would take a few months before the team would congeal and develop a solid menu with unique dishes and courses. I wasn’t prepared to be blown away by each and every course. I tend to equate cooking to dancing. It takes time to learn the moves and style of your partner, and after practice and getting to know each other better, you will perform better. But there’s something about this new crew that had the dishes dancing on my tongue from start to finish.
From the canapés to the caviar, sweetbreads to kanpachi, and then to the butter-poached lobster, chicken, lamb and dessert, the meal took us on a journey. Each course brought with it a combination of perfectly seasoned flavors that were well balanced in texture and innovative in its plating. Every course was beautiful to look and in taste, leaving me in awe with every bite.
I loved the entire experience. The servers were approachable, polite, but still showed their personalities. It was hardly the stuffy restaurant experience one might expect. The servers explained each dish and answered questions, but at the same time made sure we were comfortable and happy.
Overall, the ambiance was intimate and romantic. Yes, this is an expensive dinner, running $295 or $425 with wine pairings per person. But to put it in perspective, it’s the same price as that new purse or fancy pair of shoes. It’s all a matter of prioritizing and deciding to enjoy this special occasion/experience.
Here’s my review of each course along, with a brief description in my gallery.
Vintage Cafe - Chef's Tasting
Ala Moana Center
Hours: 5:30-11:30 p.m. Tueday through Saturday
$295 per person / +$130 with wines