First Look: Vintage Cave Café
Vintage Cave’s sister restaurant can be skipped.
The complimentary rosemary focaccia bread, left, and the Cotoletta alla Milanese with a mustard-seed sauce from Vintage Cave Café.
Photos: Maria Kanai
We’ve been intrigued by Vintage Cave Café, the “casual guesthouse” sister restaurant to the super high-end Vintage Cave. Found on the bottom floor of Ala Moana Center, right around the corner from the new Shirokiya Japan Village Walk, Vintage Cave Café’s menu displayed at the front features reasonable prices ($$, rather than $$$$), and the glimpses of its mysterious interior are enticing: renaissance décor with the brick walls and archways, iron curlicue gates and dark tiled floors.
We visited on a recent Friday night, and were greeted by white marble bust sculptures, a large painting of a woman and a trio of stone monkeys. There are more sculptures around the restaurant and a domed, fresco ceiling painted by local artist Kamea Hadar.
We were seated next to a dark brick column, which felt claustrophobic with the shadowy lighting. Our view to the left, through the restaurant windows, was Ala Moana’s dismal street-level parking lot; on the right (if we peer around the column), the 9,000-square-foot, open restaurant floor with mostly empty tables; and toward the back, a huge grand piano. One musician crooned jazz while another played. Farther back, there were private rooms with plush chairs.
The grandiose décor raised our hopes for the food. It’s Vintage Cave, after all—even if the plebeian version. We started with the Caprese di Amera Tomato ($16), Japanese aramata tomatoes with burrata cheese and a balsamic glaze. Soft, fresh cheese with bright tomatoes and vibrant, large basil leaves—it’s hard to mess this one up, and the simple ingredients shined.
The grandiose décor inside Vintage Cave Café.
It’s hard to mess up this simple caprese salad.
The complimentary rosemary focaccia bread was soft with good yield, glistening with olive oil, and we yearned for more than just one tiny piece each. The waitress said the same bread is available at Vintage Cave Bakery in the Shirokiya Japan Village Walk.
Sadly, the highlights of our dinner ended there. The main sour note: The service was lacking. Our young waitress, while friendly and charming, couldn’t answer most of our questions about the sauces or dishes on the menu. (Although she did giggle, pull out wrinkled pages stapled together from her pocket and peruse through to find the answer to “What’s the fennel sauce like?” Her response: “It has fennel.”) It was also our friend’s birthday, and we were enthusiastically promised a Vintage Cave Café birthday special, but it was forgotten. Not that we really minded, but still not great.
We remained optimistic for our main entrées, which were the Cotoletta alla Milanese ($30), two cutlets of Milano-style veal with a mustard-seed sauce, and the Jidori chicken diavolo ($25), which the menu describes as “free-range chicken thigh sautéed in a diavolo sauce.”
The veal sauce had good flavor, and the meat was flattened and cooked well with a nice crust. But the free-range chicken thigh arrived without the promised diavolo, an Italian, spicy, tomato-based sauce. The meat was oversalted and overseasoned. Both plates arrived with an unbalanced mix of roasted Brussels sprouts, potatoes and baby tomatoes. My plate, though, included a couple of arugula leaves tossed in, and a side of beans. Neither plate, we felt, was worth the bill at the end of the night, a little more than $90 with tip, including a forgettable chocolate affogato ($10).
We hate to pan a place that had so much promise, and realize some of the misses could be chalked up to the restaurant still being new and staff still training.
Ala Moana Center, Street Level 1, ‘Ewa Wing, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., #1380, (808) 441-1745, vintagecave.com/cafe