A downtown dining world of its own

Jo McGarry
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Friday - May 04, 2007
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Brasserie Du Vin Chef Scott Nelson
Brasserie Du Vin Chef Scott Nelson

In Europe, there’s no more popular way to spend a Sunday than at an outdoor cafe serving great food, strong coffee and good wine. You grab a stack of newspapers, invite some friends, and Sunday unfolds as easily as the Style section of The New York Times.

Until now, that’s been near impossible in Honolulu. Brunches here are more lavish affairs - largely conducted at hotels where hefty checks and high turnovers set the tone.

Dave Stewart, owner of down-town’s Brasserie Du Vin, is determined to change all that. Sundays at Du Vin are divine. They promise escapism from restaurants in a rut, and refuge from the all-youcan-eat buffet. The warmly welcoming wooded bar, sunny patio and cool, cave-like wine room encourage conversation at a gentle pace - and if you’re a food-ie who has not yet been to seafood Sunday at Du Vin, you’d better rethink your commitment to the art of eating well.

Admittedly, downtown Honolulu is a sleepy sort of a place on Sundays, but somehow that makes a trip to Du Vin even more appealing. It’s quiet down there. There aren’t a bunch of tourists clad in matching aloha wear walking around, and there are no gloomy hostesses handing out beepers and telling you to come back in an hour for dinner.

Eggs Dauphine: Fried green tomatoes topped with fried egg and house-cured salmon
Eggs Dauphine: Fried green tomatoes topped with fried egg and
house-cured salmon

Each Sunday at Brasserie Du Vin there’s a different menu, but seafood reigns supreme. In the kitchen, Chef Scott Nelson has a stylish, confident approach. He’s perfectly happy to let his dishes speak for themselves, as his house-smoked salmon does with each gorgeous mouthful. An excellent bowl of gumbo, packed with rock shrimp, white fish, Andouille sausage and chicken in a lightly spiced Cajun-style tomato broth is a steal at $8, and the don’t-miss-dish of Du Vin (served daily) is the Steamed Salt Spring Mussels ($14) topped with stick-thin, true-to-their-title French fries.

Oysters Au Gratine ($14) came to our table on a pastel plate, creating a palette of faded yellow with orangey-red garlic bell pepper aioli. Fresh New Zealand oysters on the half shell ($14) come in a cast iron pot filled with ice; each disappeared from our table within seconds.

The food presentation at Du Vin is simple, and portion sizes are perfect (they seem much larger than the original, miniscule servings when the restaurant first opened). For $25, there’s a fixed-price meal that offers an appetizer, entrée and dessert. When we were there, the appetizer was baked oysters, the entrée grilled salmon and the dessert crème brulee. The fact that you obviously save money by eating this way is just an aside - the reason to order this three-course meal is that it’s a glorious way to experience a menu put together by someone who obviously knows food.

I loved the beautifully constructed salad of frisee, pears, roasted pecans and figs with brown butter on top of lightly grilled Tasmanian salmon ($20), and I almost licked the plate free of every last morsel of Nelson’s Eggs Dauphine. This is a breakfast dish I shall be craving next Sunday and possibly every Sunday until I try it again. Crisp on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside, fried green tomatoes are topped with a lightly fried egg and house-cured salmon gravlox. Nobody even dared to try to take a bite of mine.

Take your mom next week for Mother’s Day - especially if she’s always wanted to go to Paris. It might be downtown Honolulu, but Du Vin is a dining world all its own.

Brasserie Du Vin 1115 Bethel St. Honolulu 845-1115

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