There’s rarely an incidence when the hub has a customer dinner at a place new to him, Vino, and then insists on taking me back there the following night.  We had a wonderful golf tournament fundraiser at the Kaneohe Klipper Golf Course, the place where Obama plays on his Hawaii Xmas jaunts, and we had friends we really needed to meet up with before heading home to San Francisco, so we chose to repeat the Thursday meal at Vino on Friday.  It was primarily because of the sommelier, Chuck Furuya, but the food was a close second.  Chuck, I want to write a book about your life.  I’m absolutely, completely serious.  You’re amazing, quirky, fun, and so one-million-percent knowledgeable about wine, I just want to be a little butterfly on your shoulder for a week, month, year.  And, Vino is a welcome addition to the Italian food scene in Honolulu.

Located in Restaurant Row, where most people recognize Ruth’s Chris as the anchor restaurant, the DK group is making its name with three of its 8 or so restaurants – DK, Hiroshi’s, and Vino. Chuck Furuya is part of the partnership.

Chuck has a unique way of serving wine, which I really love. You tell him how much you want to spend on wine, and Chuck finds the creme de la creme at that price and the perfect match to the food you’ve ordered.  Chuck saw us coming and welcomed Dave back with a marvelous and simple roasted broccoli dish that included dried, yet not sweet, raisins.  Dave gave Chuck his budget for each bottle of wine, and this night it was a rather expensive $150.  But, having experienced Chuck and his master sommelier knowledge the night before, I trusted that we were going to experience some world class, hard-to-find wines.  After seeing our menu selections, Chuck started us with the first wine of the previous night, a 2006 Siro Pacenti Pelagrilli Brunello de Montalcino.  When you drink a wine that Chuck suggests, he tells you about the vintner, the vineyard, the history, its significance, the special place the wine, winemaker or winery has in the history and progress of wine in its region.  To those curious, Chuck will tell you about new vs. old world wines in such a simple way, even people like me who think they know a lot about wines, are blown away by the simplicity of his definition.  Get this wine lovers.   Old world wines, Europe and others east, are all about terroir.  You don’t drink cabernet from Bordeaux – you drink Bordeaux.  You don’t smell the nose for fruit – you smell it for its terroir – the smell of the earth from which the grapes are grown.  New world wines aren’t Napa or Sonoma Coast, they’re cabernet sauvignon (old world Bordeaux), pinot noir (old world Burgundy) respectively.  It’s not about the terroir with new world wines – it’s about the fruit.  I know this, and I knew this, but Chuck’s explanation of this and everything he explained that night was simplistic, and mind-boggling to me to the point that I want to write your book, Chuck!!!  You have so much to say and to share with the world of wine lovers.  Few will believe this island home-grown boy is one of the world’s greatest wine sommeliers by his unassuming and self-deprecating sense of humor.  Chuck is a gem that everyone who has the opportunity to experience will walk away so much more appreciative of the wine they drink and the decline of the traditions that will harm the future efforts of winemakers worldwide.

Back to food – We had most of the same foods that Dave selected at Vino the night before, but there were fewer of us.  We had hoped to start with the foie gras then move to the salad, then pasta and then entrees, but everything started coming out mishmash.  I felt like I was drinking water through a firehose, so we asked the waiters to slow down and wait to bring the pasta out after we enjoyed the foie gras and then the salad.  There was no question and no issue.  A bounty of waiters accommodated our wishes, and the dinner sailed so smoothly and evenly for the remainder of the meal.

Since the intent of Vino is to serve family style, your small plate is replaced after each family tasting.  Since we Californians can’t get foie gras anymore, it becomes one of those succulent, mouthwatering, sought-after foods.  I thought the Vino foie gras offering was excellent, but it wasn’t set up for sharing.  With two butter-toasted slices of bread, the foie gras laid across the top with some cheese and apple slices and a bit or caramel dipping sauce to cut the fat afterwards.  Believe me, it was amazing, but not for sharing.  If only two people were to have this dish, you could make a foie gras sandwich and slice it in half, but I honestly think it would be best with only one slice of bread and enjoyed piece by piece by only one person, and that would be me.

The farmer’s market salad was a nice amount to share amongst the four of us.  It had a mixed amount of greens with corn, radish, onion and not-so-sweet dried raisins.  It was dressed lightly, so it was a nice intermezzo.  

Since all was served family style, and since Dave loved the pasta the night before, we asked for a double serving of the Ligurian Style “Trofie” Pasta, a little different than on the website menu, with housemade ‘country’ pasta, Hamakua mushrooms, small bites of crab, and sun-dried Hau-ula tomatoes with a rich uni sauce.  The pasta was cooked perfectly, and the little bites of crab interspersed were like little gifts in the mouth.  The uni sauce, something many more chefs need to take advantage of, was so umami (the Japanese fifth form of taste – it’s where mushrooms fit on the taste scale).

It was kind of in the middle of this that Chuck came around with our next wonderful, amazing selection of a Chianti.  Chianti is Italy’s table wine.  Well, we had a table and we had wine, but holy moly, I’ve never tasted a Chianti like this one.  I recorded Chuck’s explanation of the winery and the vintner.  I didn’t ask permission to quote him her, but Chuck, people need to know the unique value of your deep, unending knowledge and passion can help them learn about wine.  Only by quoting you will they get the idea that I’m trying to convey.  “So this is Victorio Fiore.  So, back in the 70s and the 80s, with cabernet and French oak coming on to the scene, it created quite a revolution in Tuscany, specifically.  The reason for that is, what does cabernet, merlot or French oak have to do with Italy.  We have a traditional saying that has nothing to do with Italy. It created this polarization on this side of the fence and that side of the fence.  Leading the charge at the time were three winemaking consultants … for more cabernet-based wines.  Whereas Victorio Fiore championed indigenous and heirloom.  So, he didn’t get the press or the fame or the money they did.  At the same time, he made world-class wines that were still Italian.  So he revolutionized the game in my opinion back in the 70s and 80s.  He must be 80-something years old now.  He came here and what he spoke to everyone about was about purity.  Instead of using scientifically-generated propaganda materials, he listed where the heirloom grapes are, and how can we farm it better.  How can we make better wines in the vineyard?  By doing the work in the vineyards – heirloom selections.  It’s like listening to a record – how can you make the bass, the treble, the volume, everything is perfect so the song sounds as it should.  That’s why I believe that Victorio Fiore is one of the true game-changers.”

Crispy whole Branzino??  It’s a fish ridiculously popular in Australia and becoming a staple on American menus.  Vino cleans every American restaurant’s clock so far in their preparation.  Deep fried and crispy on a bed of a sweet Asian sauce and vegetables, the fish was easy to deconstruct and enjoy the crispiness of the skin and the mild and tender meat of the branzino.  If you go to Vino, you have to have this dish.  Wow!!!

It was about this time that I was fortunate to engage Chuck into innovative soils and ways that amazing winemakers figure out how to make great wines from soils that were long abandoned.  Chuck’s knowledge is endless and inspiring.  If you read his CV and here, you’ll see that Chuck is quietly changing the way famous chefs think about wine. 

A New York steak with a mild red wine reduction over it was served pupu style with mashed potatoes and broccolini.  The steak was cooked perfectly medium rare, and being a local offering, more and more the trend in Hawaii, it had a homey, grass-fed taste, and it was quite tender.  

I’m so pleased to have discovered Vino.  The wines Chuck chose were rare and special.  I doubt they’ll be there when you go, but I’m sure there’s other great wines to enjoy.  I can’t wait to go back to Vino for more great food and wine and great discussions about wine.

Vino Wrap-Up

Price: $$


Good Things

  • Extraordinary Sommelier
  • Amazing Wine Selection
  • Branzino!!

Bad Things

  • A Little Too Much Light

The Breakdown


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