Fine Dining At Vino, Nobu - And KFC

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - February 10, 2010
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Chuck Furuya and Alexander Alioto

The year is already off to an outstanding start in terms of good food and wine. Several chefs are making their local affiliations known by conducting a series of tastings to encourage colleagues to use local produce, sustainable dinners are replacing wine dinners as “the” way to attract a restaurant crowd, and top chefs are already winging their way to the Islands. Emeril Lagasse will be here in April, and expect to see “Iron Chef” Morimoto here soon - his new restaurant is scheduled to open in the Marriott’s new boutique hotel, formerly the Ilikai.

The most intriguing visitor this month was guest chef Alexander Alioto at Vino. The young, experienced chef came to Honolulu to present a simple, rustic dinner inspired by his Italian roots. Alioto, who was born in Hawaii, was joined by several of D.K. Restaurant Group executive chefs including Keith Endo (Vino) and Ivan Pahk (Sansei, Maui). D.K. Kodama was in the kitchen, too, keeping a typically low profile. What was remarkable about the dinner was not just the simple Italian food (red wine-poached egg, risotto, seared island fish with olives and capers, and roasted veal) but the stark, revealing and utterly uncompromised nature of the wines.


Guests sampled wines from regions in Italy where I can absolutely guarantee winemakers care not a whit what a 95 point rating in Wine Spectator means. In a glass of Fiano di Avellino from the Irpinia region in Campania, guests tasted wine that represented not just the characteristics of the grapes varietal and soil, but of the generations of winemakers who ensured its survival.

“This wine is from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius,” explained master sommelier Chuck Furuya, adding that there’s more than enough evidence to believe the varietal has been thriving in the region for thousands of years. Just to put things in perspective: You know those big, jammy, fruity wines, the ones that Robert Parker often recommends? They’ve been popular since about, oh, 1977.

Only one of the reasons you should check out Vino - and its seductive wine list - any opportunity you can. While most wine dinners are in danger of becoming a bit of a snooze, Vino shows that pairing food and wine is part culinary talent, part history and part art.

As you read this, I’m likely out somewhere in Waianae picking vegetables with Chef Nobu. The celebrated chef is in town this week to create a nightly omakase menu with local produce from MA’O Farms, and I’m spending the morning with him as he selects produce and then cooks up an al fresco lunch before heading back to the restaurant for dinner. He’s in town for the week working at his eponymous restaurant and cooking with produce from MA’O as a fundraiser to benefit its programs. Though he has restaurants across the globe, Hawaii remains one of Chef Nobu’s favorite spots for fish, produce and people, and despite his superstar status in the culinary world, he is a joy to be around. You can find that out for yourselves Feb. 11 when Chef Nobu conducts a three-hour sushi and sake tasting class at his restaurant within the Waikiki Parc Hotel.

For information on this rare and highly anticipated event, call 237-6999.

Seating, as you might imagine, is limited.

And in case you’re in the mood for some finger lickin’ fine dining on Valentine’s Day, listen in to Island 98.5 this week for a chance to win flowers from Watanabe Floral, a round trip to Las Vegas and - wait for it - a candlelit dinner at KFC.

The fast food restaurant with the secret seasoning is determined to prove that when it comes to fine dining, any restaurant can make its mark. “We’re officially breaking every stereotype about what lunch or dinner should be on Valentine’s Day,” said Steve Johnson, general manager, KFC Hawaii.

Guests at the Kapiolani Boulevard restaurant will be treated to a three-course meal comprising spicy shrimp, chicken (grilled or extra crispy) and dessert.

No word yet on whether BYOB champagne is an option.

Happy eating!

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