There are very few things I’ll splurge on.
Computers, cameras, surfboards — those are all worth the hefty price tags.
If you asked me before Jan. 4, I’d tell you no way. I can get a great meal for less than $10 — and I’m not just talking about a plate lunch from Rainbow Drive-In, either.
But when a friend of mine asked me to join him and a couple of others for dinner at Vintage Cave, the uber-fancy fine dining restaurant in the bowels of Ala Moana Center that showcases unique flavor combinations and techniques you don’t see in Honolulu.
Here’s the catch: the tasting menu is $295. And that’s without tax or tip.
There are a lot of things $295 can buy you. A Coach handbag. A decent underwater camera. And about 37 plate lunches.
But blowing it all on one meal? That didn’t compute.
Still, I decided to go. For one, it would great to hang out with this group of people I hadn’t seen in awhile. And secondly, how many opportunities do you get to eat food prepared by the Cave’s Chris Kajioka and a few heavy-hitting chefs from the Mainland?
On Jan. 4, Vintage Cave held its first collaboration dinner of 2014, with Blaine Wetzel (Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Wash.), Mourad Lahlou (Aziza in San Francisco), Viet Pham (Forage in Salt Lake City) and James Syhabout (Commis in Oakland, Calif.)
It was a 12-course dinner, including dessert by Vintage Cave executive pastry chef Rachel Murai. And it was going to take 4.5 hours from start to finish.
Good thing I had skipped lunch!
So here’s what a $295 meal looks like:
The first course — it actually came out a little later during dinner — was this foie gras ganache covered in crispy fried leeks. As one of my friends said, “It looks like hairy coconut balls.” True. But it didn’t taste like them. Silky smooth inside, super soft and delicate. Nice way to start the meal. Created by Pham.
Next up was the oysters from Kumamoto, Japan topped with cucumber and a delicate elderflower. I don’t eat oysters, so I passed on this. But it got rave reviews from my fellow diners, who were happy to take mine off the plate. Created by Kajioka.
Next was another Wetzel dish that didn’t work for me. This is grilled tuna bloodline — the darkest part of the tuna — with black trumpet mushrooms. To its credit, the mushrooms were tasty. But the bloodline wasn’t my favorite.
I was really excited for this dish by Syhabout: salted walnut ice cream with sprouted grains, truffle shavings and chestnuts, topped with brown sugar. It tasted like an earthy chestnut soup, which was warm, interestingly paired with the cold ice cream. It worked.
Kajioka, to me, gets it. And he nailed this one, too. This is a piece of fatty and flavorful beef with celery huckleberry, caramelized bone marrow, shaved white truffle in a black garlic sauce. As one of my friends said, “I feel like Chris cooks just for me.” I’d have to agree.
Time for dessert. Here’s Murai’s cranberry ginger sorbet — super small scoop — with an orange-charred meringue. I could have eaten several of these. The sorbet was so tangy and delicious, though it did overpower the meringue a bit. Nice palette cleanser.
That was followed up by a heavier dessert: this is the shio (salt) koji glace with kuro coma (black sesame) aleppo pepper and chocolate feuillantine praline. Lots of flavors all at once. A very complex dessert.
We ended the night with this tray of petit fours, a nice surprise after 12 courses of food. At least each dish was small, many of them just bites, so downing 12 plates wasn’t difficult. Still, I ate my petit four. Hey, it was free!
So the million-dollar question: would I spend $295 again? It depends. That was a special night, with food prepared by chefs from around the country. But it’s a lot to fork over, especially for one meal. But hey, sometimes you have to splurge.