By The Glass At Vintage Cave; New Zagat

I had an unexpected tour of Vintage Cave last week. Charlie Yoshida, the general manager, was kind enough to walk and talk me through the incredible artwork on display at the seriously over-the-top restaurant in the bowels of Shirokiya.

Yoshida is a longtime veteran of the food and beverage industry in Honolulu. He was the right-hand man at Alan Wong’s, leaving there to open up the (then) controversial STAGE Restaurant at Honolulu Design Center. With his easy manner, self-deprecating style and wealth of knowledge, there’s perhaps no one better equipped to lead the team at extraordinary Vintage Cave. Walking through the cool, brick-lined dining room, Charlie talks about the Cave’s priceless art collection with the same kind of attention to detail he’s always given food and wine. By the time you’ve noted the Cave’s custom-designed Baccarat crystal chandeliers, the stunning trilogy “Hiroshima” by artist Mordecai Ardon, and been humbled to stand in front of Picasso’s “Les Deux Femme Nues,” you feel you could be anywhere in the world – except perhaps in the basement of a department store in Honolulu.


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Kuni Tanida with Vintage Cave’s Vino-Barrista. Jo McGarry photos

While most of us aren’t going to be dining at Vintage Cave anytime soon (membership fee is $50,000), I do hope the art collection is open occasionally to the public. Everyone – especially children – should have the opportunity to stand before an incredible work of art and be moved by its beauty at least once in their lifetime.

If you do find yourself with an invitation to dine, make sure to order wine by the glass. Beginning this week, the restaurant will utilize a revolutionary Vino-Barista system that prevents the passage of air into a wine bottle once it’s been opened. What it means for Vintage Cave members is unprecedented access to some of the world’s greatest wines – by the glass. Previously only available in Japan, the system has been used successfully at restaurants such as Maxim’s De Paris Akasaka, where wine sales total more than $4.5 million a year.

Vino-Barista appears to be leading the way to a whole new wine experience.

“We have restaurants in Japan that are able to serve glasses of Romanee Conti by the glass,” says VinoBarista chief operations officer Kuni Tanida, “but our hope is that anyone who appreciates wine will be able to use the system one day soon.”

A custom-designed 12-bottle system has been installed in the wine room, but smaller versions soon may be available to Hawaii restaurants that specialize in serving wine by the glass. There’s no waste, no spoiling and it’s an opportunity for restaurant and bar owners to step up their game and serve gorgeous wines from a pristine, perfectly controlled system. While we can’t all be dining at Vintage Cave, perhaps we can at least look forward to some highly allocated wines being poured in other restaurants around town – by the glass.

* The new Zagat Guide is out – the Hawaii version was introduced several years ago and has grown to a substantial size, featuring more than 600 restaurants and bars.

A favorite spot for Italian food, small plates and steak is Restaurant Row, where Vino, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Hiroshi Eurasian Tapas pick up high marks for service, ambience, food and the fact that they “never disappoint.” Makes you wonder why other restaurants have been unable to survive in the former restaurant hub.

Among the top-rated spots for food in Honolulu, La Mer and Mitch’s Sushi share the highest marks. You have to love that the elegant, sophisticated and gorgeous La Mer with its backdrop of palm trees and a view across the ocean shares top dining reviews with the unpretentious Mitch’s, which is situated in the airport industrial area offering patrons a backdrop of car rental companies and industrial warehouses … along with incredible sushi.

Happy eating!