A new fall menu debuts at Vino

Jo McGarry
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Friday - September 26, 2008
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Vino Chef Keith Endo

Keith Endo loves to cook. He began cooking as a teenager in Hilo and when he’s not in the kitchen at Vino, he’s at home cooking up new creations on his days off.

“Cooking kept me out of trouble when I was a kid,” he says. While he spent years at Sansei working with sushi and contemporary Japanese dishes, he’s always seemed most comfortable creating European-inspired comfort food.

As a new menu debuts for fall, I sat down with Keith for a chat about seasonal foods, wine pairings and what to expect on the Vino menu this month.

Jo McGarry: I love the colors of these new dishes. If you ever wanted to see autumn on a plate you have it here, I think.

Keith Endo: Thank you. It’s so much fun in the kitchen right now - the colors are supposed to reflect fall, and I wanted to really bring the brightest colors of autumn to the plates. We’ve tried to do that with oranges and yellows, squash, pumpkin, tomatoes, and then the rustic browns of gravy, sauces. Roasted beets, warm Brie, homemade gnocchi - all those kinds of comforting, colorful foods. As I said, it’s a lot of fun right now!

JM: Is this a time of year you enjoy cooking?

KE: I enjoy cooking all the time, obviously, but this is a time of year that’s great - it’s right in between summer and winter and so we have to create dishes that aren’t too heavy, but have an almost wintry appeal. It’s a nice challenge to have. As we get into winter, you’ll see heartier dishes.

JM: I would never have imagined serving lobster ceviche on top of pumpkin bisque, but it works really well.

KE: I wanted to do something progressive, so there’s the hot soup with something chilled, and the sweetness of the lobster brings out the sweetness that’s naturally in the pumpkin. And then there’s a nice contrast and balance and some texture from the lobster, too. Because the bisque is so rich, there’s lemon juice to brighten it up a little, and that’s perfect with the ceviche. So it works.

JM: One of the things you’re known for at Vino is pairing dishes with many different wines. Between wine dinners, a regular menu and visiting winemakers, you really have to put together a wide variety of food.

Pumpkin Bisque with Lobster Ceviche

KE: Yeah. It’s really an honor, though, to work with the kind of winemakers who come to Vino - and to work with Chuck Furuya.

JM: So how does it happen? Does Chuck describe the wines and the winemakers before you begin creating the food?

KE: First thing he does is give us the profile of the wines and the winemaker, and then we work the food around that.

JM: You started cooking at an early age, didn’t you?

KE: Both of my parents worked and I had to fend for myself on the weekends. Instead of getting into a whole bunch of trouble, I started cooking when I was about 12. I liked it right away and got into it more as I got older.

JM: You seem to change the menu at Vino every couple months. Is that right or is time just moving too fast for me?

KE: No, you’re almost right. It’s about every 12 weeks or so. We change the menu and make it seasonal where possible - and we’re finding produce at its very best and using it in different ways.

JM: Can you tell us some of the new dishes that are on the menu now?

KE: Roasted beet salad with Kamuela tomatoes and warm Brie, there’s the pumpkin bisque with lobster ceviche that we mentioned, there’s homemade gnocchi and braised short ribs with shaved, crispy Maui onion.

JM: The food at Vino has evolved from its earlier incarnation as small, tapas-like plates into much heartier dishes.

KE: It’s definitely rustic. Food doesn’t need to be fancy or “frou frou” for people to enjoy it. I like it more this way - simple, rustic and earthy - and I think people enjoy this kind of food, too. You don’t look at it and think “How do I eat this?”

It’s comfort food. Working with Italian-influenced food makes it easier, too, because you just think of people living and working in Italy and what they might be eating at home. I imagine they are sipping great wines after a day at work and eating food that’s hopefully like this.

JM: One of your signature dishes is the short ribs with Maui onions. I love this dish.

Short Ribs with Gnocchi and Crispy Maui Onions

KE: It’s definitely one of my favorites. I love the texture of the dish - and who doesn’t love short ribs? I think that a lot of people in Hawaii can understand and identify with a dish like this. It’s not off the chart, people aren’t afraid to try it and it works on all levels. I first made this dish years ago. It won the Maui Onion contest one year.

JM: Every time I eat something here that I love, I come back and you’re onto the next menu!

KE: Well, we like to keep things different, but you’ll always find some of the same dishes. You just need to keep coming in to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Vino Restaurant
Row 500 Ala Moana Blvd.


Short Ribs with Maui Onions: 2000 Pira Boschis Barolo “Vita Nuova”

For me, the king of Italian red wines has to be Barolo. Yes, there are an remarkably growing number of “other” red wines coming out of Italy today, but somehow the Nebbiolo grape variety stands alone in terms of nobility, grandeur, soulfulness and uniqueness. Owner Chiara Boschis is certainly one of the contemporary winemaking phenoms of Barolo, and this 2000 has enough profound depth and structure to pair well with this robust dish, and is provocative, intriguing and layered to add dimension to the food.

Pumpkin Bisque with Lobster Ceviche: 2006 La Cala Vermentino di Sardegna

This is an amazingly delicious, completely refreshing white wine from the picturesque Isle of Sardegna that totally refreshes the palate between bites.

Roasted Beet Salad With Kamuela Tomatoes and Warm Brie: 2007 Domaine Fontsainte Corbieres Gris de Gris

Wonderfully fruit driven, yet surprisingly elegant, effortlessly light and crisp pink wines are the very style of wine one would find served at cafes and bistros along the Mediterranean basin with dishes like this. They work magically together. The secret is always finding the really good ones - and this is certainly one.

House-made Gnocchi with Jumbo Lump Crab: 2006 Terredora Falanghina Keith Endo has a real touch with gnocchi. His are amazingly light and pillowy, which he pan sears to crisp up the outer edges without taking away from the softness. This wine, Falanghina is another indigenous grape variety to Italy. It has been grown on the volcanic slopes of Mt. Vesuvius for centuries. The terre-dora rendition has a distinctive basil-like nuance which, coupled with earthy, minerally, floral qualities, make this an absolutely delicious, food-friendly white wine.

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