A Bethel Street Brasserie

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - October 25, 2006
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When I walked into Du Vin last week and bumped into the owner, Dave Stewart, I told him I felt like I was at home in a bar in Edinburgh.

“It’s supposed to be a bloody French brasserie,” Stewart replied, in typical style.

If his intention was to create a bar reminiscent of the kind you find in France, then he’s more than achieved his goal. Du Vin is absolutely fabulous. It has no equal in Honolulu, and anyone who has ever spent a lazy Sunday morning reading the newspaper at a brasserie, eaten a lunch late in the afternoon at a French bistro, or spent hours chatting with friends over several bottles of wine, will be thrilled with what Dave Stewart has created.

You enter Du Vin right off the street (it’s on Bethel opposite the Hawaii Theatre), and your eye is immediately drawn to the weathered, copper- topped wooden bar. Just like its European counterparts, the bar has no seats - you stand to drink your wine or espresso shot.

There’s a courtyard that leads to another cool and somewhat cavernous bar in the back, and the entire space is candlelit. With its regional antiques, slightly rambling rooms, heavy glass mirrors and candelit glow, it reminds me a little of The Five Flies, a restaurant I used to go to often when I lived in Amsterdam. At Du Vin, the wooden floors have been distressed and look as though thousands of footprints have beaten an eager path to the bar, when in fact the wood is all brand new. There’s no question that Stewart has absolutely captured the essence of a European bar in this series of wonderful rooms.

But how’s the fare? Well, the wine list is huge - they have about 100 wines and Stewart’s hope is to eventually serve around 300 - but pricey.

Wines are served in small carafes and poured at your table into Reidel crystal glasses, but you can easily spend $11-$15 a glass. I’d love to see them offer a budget range of wines, so you could go in and drink a bottle or two with friends without spending a small fortune.

The food is high-quality fare. There’s an excellent list of artisan cheese - Gruyere, Livarot, Humboldt Fog Chevre for example - and a gorgeous, soft, sweet Taleggio from Italy. But at $4 an ounce (a serving comes with some bread, two grapes, a dried apricot and a walnut), you’ll need to fill up on the bread.

I went back a couple of days ago to have lunch and tried the salad of mussels, clams, scallops and prawns with Borlotti beans and arugula ($16), and an excellent Nalo Farms asparagus salad with a generous helping of jumbo lump crab meat ($13). It’s great wine food for sure, and the menu is served from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., which means you can stop by for a late lunch or early dinner without having to wait for the kitchen to reopen.

Sitting at one of the old wooden tables, watching an undeniably colorful glimpse of life on Bethel Street, you really will feel transported to Europe. Stewart, who also owns Indigo Restaurant and Bar 35, is something of a genius when it comes to conceptualizing bars.

“I’ve been planning this for years,” he told me, “I just kept hoarding and collecting stuff I knew would fit.”

It fits - but more than that, it works. There’s nothing phony, no kitsch, just great wine and food in a truly unique atmosphere.

A few budget wines and a little more on the cheese plates and Du Vin would be absolutely perfect.

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