New Dishes, New Attitude, Same Vino
The popular tapas and wine bar moved but still retains its neighborhood restaurant feel.
The shrimp scampi is one of the new menu items at Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar, which reopened in September at Waterfront Plaza.
Photos: Courtesy of Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar
Vino might be in a new spot, but Chuck Furuya is exactly the same.
When we visited recently, Furuya was standing at a nearby table, explaining how this particular bottle of wine was crafted by a female winemaker. And, he says, there aren’t many female winemakers.
And then he tapped a patron on his shoulder, ducked before he could see him and snickered.
The friendly, often kolohe sommelier is one of the reasons patrons were excited that Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar reopened at Honolulu’s Waterfront Plaza. (Its sister restaurant, Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, closed for good in May.) The restaurant occupies the space vacated by Bonsai Restaurant + Lounge, across the walkway from its original location.
“I’ve been part of opening a lot of restaurants,” Furuya says. “And here, I’m the most comfortable I’ve ever been.”
Vino reopened in September with a menu that includes both customer favorites and a few new additions, under the direction of executive chef Keith Endo, who has been with DK Restaurant Group for more than 15 years.
A customer favorite that has returned to the menu, the Dungeness crab “Alla Chitarra” features hand-cut linguine, crab and jalapeño.
The slow-braised veal osso bucco has made a return, too, with mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
From the old menu are the Dungeness crab “Alla Chitarra” ($20.95), featuring hand-cut linguine topped with Dungeness crab and spicy jalapeño in a lobster-uni beurre blanc, and the slow-braised veal osso bucco ($16.95) with mashed potatoes and a red-wine veal reduction.
On the day we visited, this dish of crispy Brussels sprouts with pickled jalapeño, konbu aioli and pistachios was on the nightly specials menu.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox
In addition to nightly specials—such as oven-roasted bone marrow with a braised short-rib ragu and the grilled lamb belly with mint gremolata, charred Japanese turnips and a port-wine reduction—the menu now features traditional dry-pasta dishes such as the shrimp scampi ($19.95), with jumbo prawns, sun-dried tomatoes and a white-wine-and-white-miso clam jus.
For the first two months, Vino didn’t serve any nightly specials. Now, Endo creates between eight and 10.
“We wanted to start off with the same menu to create a comfort zone,” Furuya says. “We want to be that neighborhood restaurant.”
The new space is bigger than the previous location, with a private dining room on the second level that can seat 35 people and a semi-private room that fits 21. When you walk in, the bar is situated to the right, with seating surrounding it, and there’s another dining area down a few stairs to the left. It seems like an odd space, at first, but Furuya says it’s nice, because there are quiet, secluded spots for diners in the restaurant.
One of the big changes that has affected the menu is the restaurant’s lack of a walk-in refrigerator—something many restaurants rely on. Now, Vino has to receive food deliveries five to six times a week, which means fresher ingredients on the menu, Furuya says.
Shinsato Farm also delivers whole pigs, and the kitchen staff is tasked with figuring out what to do with it all, Furuya says. And he’ll take off-grade produce, turning imperfect veggies into sauces or pizza toppings.
“We’re still supporting local farmers and focused on being sustainable,” he says. “But this is forcing (the kitchen staff) to learn and do something different.”
Anyone who’s ever dined at either Hiroshi or Vino knows Furuya loves to share his extensive knowledge with diners. And, starting in January 2016, he will be leading classes in wine, mostly geared toward novice wine connoisseurs.
The first class will be held at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 10. It will begin with a discussion on the world of wines, followed by a tasting. Cost is $25 per person.
Just another way Furuya is changing it up at this new location.