We found ourselves back in Honolulu quickly (we were there 10 weeks ago), and we had the chance have some pretty good eating over 4 days. We didn’t get to do everything we wanted, but we nonetheless ate a good variety in between driving around O’ahu.
First lunch was at Helena’s Hawaiian Foods. Sorry, no pictures, we inhaled this in the car as we had to run a few errands. I still think Helena’s serves the best Hawaiian food in O’ahu! For what it is, it’s good quality comfort food served out of a casual neighborhood institution.
We had: Kalua pig and cabbage, laulau, tripe stew, beef stew, chicken long rice, fried ahi, and pipikaula short ribs. Note: the stews are thinner, lightly tomato based. Chicken long rice is a stew of sorts with ginger and onion vermicelli with bits of chicken - but not much chicken, so I think I’d rather opt for something else next time. But the tripe stew is awesome (very tender pieces of honeycomb tripe), as are their famous pipikaula, which is similar to kalbi.
Dinner was at Vintage Cave Club. Vintage Cave has gone through several incarnations - most recently, it split into Vintage Cave Club (with a ~12 course tasting menu of either French Japonais or Sushi Kaiseki in the main dining room) and Vintage Cave Cafe (a separate Italian cafe). My last dinner there was at Vintage Cave’s Sushi Kazuma, the private, second sushi bar, but since I already had a sushi dinner lined up, I decided to return for the tasting menu. I believe their newest chef has been there for about a year or so; the last tasting menu I had there was under a different chef, whose food was more French-New American. Though this menu was “French Japonais,” it deed seem more “Italian Japanese” than anything.
Caprese, Deconstructed. Gelee of ameera and campari tomatoes with mozzarella snow, balsamic vinegar gelee, and local basil and flowers. This was an absolutely delicious and refreshing start - clean and pure umami with just enough acidity. If I had to nitpick, I didn’t love the texture of the mozzarella snow, but nonetheless the combination was interesting as the caprese really took form after the third bite or so. Hawaiian black lava salt brought out the tomatoes’ exceptional sweetness.
Jamon Iberico puro de bellota (aged 52 months) wrapped in watermelon radish, Oma bluefin otoro wrapped in daikon, both with black Perigord truffle. These are some luxe ingredients for sure, basically best of the best, though the mouthfeel was a bit dry, due to the radish wrapping. Maybe another presentation would’ve showcased these ingredients even better.
An otsukuri and salad of sorts. Sayori (halfbeak “needlefish”) and Oma bluefin with watercress puree; aori ika (cuttlefish) with sea lettuce and squid ink sauce; a salad of micro vegetables in yuzu vinaigrette with a “dirt” of miso and black and white sesame. Ingredients were good themselves, but again we didn’t really see the connection here. We preferred the sashimi wth the yuzu vinaigrette, actually, though the miso and black sesame dirt didn’t complement the delicate squid and needlefish.
Moloka’i spot prawn tartare with golden imperial ossetra caviar, jalapeno vinaigrette, and dill. This was a fantastic bite with some nice finesse - the dill working perfectly with the nuttiness of the caviar and sweetness of the spot prawn. Jalapeno vinaigrette worked beautifully, too. The spot prawn was very creamy, not that bouncy, but perhaps it was aged to bring out the sweetness. The fried head - yep, like shrimp chips.
Lobster bisque with vanilla butter poached lobster. The lobster was expertly cooked, both tender and snappy, and the richness from its head jus worked beautifully with the vanilla.
Seared foie gras with Alba white truffle, berry coulis, and vegetables. I believe the vegetables were cooked “takiawase” as they each had their own intensity and rather crisp texture. Not sure about this pairing.
Kinki (thornyhead rockfish) with ratatouille, fried lotus root, and broccoli rabe. This was good, though I would’ve liked a thicker piece of fish!
Peach and sake sorbet
Baked ise-ebi (spiny lobster) with uni and ise-ebi capellini. Perfectly snappy lobster was fantastic with the creamy, ethereal uni.
A5 sendai wagyu seared on a hot brick. With cucumber and karasumi (cured mullet roe, like bottarga), sato-imo (taro) mash, garlic butter, fresh wasabi, and Hawaiian red lava salt. Great beef, though the accoutrements were a little lost on me.
“Ochazuke” with black Perigord truffle. I forgot what kind of rice this was, perhaps cooked with saffron?
Shizuoka musk melon.
Vanilla bean sorbet.
Dinner here was quite nice - the tomato gelee, lobster bisque, and spot prawn tartare were our favorites. Ingredients here are basically some of the best around, though some of the preparations were a bit lost on me; in my next visit, I’ll try their a la carte menu. Wines by the glass are relatively inexpensive, which is interesting considering their ultra high-end bottle list. Service was great, and that dishware!