Taking A Second Taste Of Vino

Jo McGarry
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Friday - April 02, 2005
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Hiroshi Fukui is now in the kitchen
at Hiroshi’s Eurasion Tapas, and
perhaps by osmosis the food at
Vino has dramatically improved

When a restaurant opens in Honolulu, there is always a rush of eager customers to the door accompanied, a few days later, by a rush to judgment on the food.

I always try to stay away from commenting seriously on new restaurants until they’ve been in place several months, figuring it takes that long to get things as right as they’re going to be. Usually a month after opening, the lines have died down, the staff is hitting a reasonable rhythm and the chef is beginning to find his niche.

And as much as I love to visit new places, what appeals more is going back to restaurants that failed to impress in their earliest days — and finding out what’s changed.

Vino is an excellent case in point.

In the opening months I was excited about the partnership between food and wine and more specifically between D.K Kodama and Chuck Furuya. But while the wine program and the impressively enthusiastic wine staff impressed me from the beginning, the food just lacked that special something.

Or should that be someone?

About seven months ago, Hiroshi Fukui, fresh from a long stint at L’Uraku, turned up next door to open his own signature restaurant (along with Vino partners Kodama and Furuya). And while Hiroshi’s is a separate restaurant, serving small plates of his very distinctive Japanese-influenced dishes, something has clicked in the Vino kitchen. I have no evidence to suggest that Fukui is cooking at, or overseeing both restaurants, but the food at Vino has raised itself to a whole different level.

Suddenly the ravioli has a personality of its own. The Caprese salad — a seductive plate of warmed and lightly fried mozzarella over Hauula tomatoes drizzled with subtle hints of oil and balsamic is outstanding — and all of the things I expected Vino to be.

Creative, imaginative and full of flavor.

Why not fry the cheese and in the process abandon the traditional look of a Caprese salad. Yes! Add aioli foam to the fried shrimp and tease the palate with a new taste sensation. Playing it safe and steady and taking a back seat to other Italian eateries is not what I expected from this stylish restaurant — and it’s not what’s being served up now.

The food is better than ever, the prices are affordable and the restaurant seems set on a course to offer great things.

Is Fukui in the kitchen on both sides? Who knows? I, for one, don’t care.

All I know is that a third, fourth and fifth visit to this little gem in Restaurant Row offers so much more than the first and second visits of those early days ever could.

The wine list, complied by Chuck Furuya, is an everchanging oenophile’s delight, and today the wines marry splendidly with the food, instead of outshining the dishes on the menu.

Every great restaurateur will tell you that they are a work in progress; every great chef, that each day is just a chance to get better and better. Go visit Vino and you’ll see the evidence of excellence at work.

And if, like me, you haven’t been in a while, then you’ve been away just a little too long. Make reservations if you want to go this weekend, though. I’ve a feeling that Vino is about to pop its cork.

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