Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Editor’s note: The “foodie” movement is alive and thriving in Hawai‘i, with new restaurants and food trucks opening their doors almost weekly and open markets popping up in our neighborhoods, giving foodies opportunities galore to experiment with fresh produce and curious flavors. With this issue, Ryan Tatsumoto joins the Herald’s ‘ohana of columnists, writing about a subject near and dear to his heart: food. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.” Ryan makes his debut with an ode to two of his favorites dining establishments that closed recently after more than a decade in business. We call Ryan’s column “Itadakimasu,” because regardless of whether we enjoy a meal at our table at home or at a restaurant, we should remember to express gratitude for the food that nourishes our body and soul.
I lost two good friends recently. They were friends I visited with regularly — at least once a month, sometimes even more.
Our common bond was good wine, outstandingly delicious food and a warm friendship. Our relationship began more than a decade ago, and although Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar and Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas weren’t real people, the closing of these two establishments still feels like a “passing,” like I lost a special friend.
We met for the first time at a dinner with family visiting from the Bay Area and friends from Honolulu. That’s when I met the DK Restaurant Group’s resident sommelier, Chuck Furuya, for the first time.
In 1989, Chuck Furuya earned certification as Hawai‘i’s first “Master Sommelier.” He was only the 10th American to have passed the rigorous exam administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers. Back in those days, additions to the rank of master sommelier were rare. Eddie Osterland was the first American to be admitted into the prestigious court in 1973. Between 1973 and 2004, only 62 Americans passed the exam. In the past 10 years, the American Court has grown by another 77 members.
In the past decade, Chuck became more than just a reference for all things wine. He became a friend — one who felt comfortable enough to leave wine capsules, Champagne cages and corks in my wife’s purse during our visits to Vino. As a wine mentor, he introduced me to what are now my favorite wines, Noel Verset Cornas and Jobard La Piece Sous le Bois Blagny. It was also at Vino that I first sampled Jacques Selosse Champagne, Leon Barral Valiniere, Livio Sassetti Brunello di Montalcino and Fattoria le Terrazze Chaos and other fabulous wines.
Of course, behind every great man stands an even greater woman. And the Vino/Hiroshi group was fortunate to have Chuck’s gracious better half, Cheryle Furuya, running the operation. Cheryle knew our food and wine preferences, and even our favorite tables. And, like her husband, she had an excellent palate for wine.
And then there was the food — from Hiroshi’s Red Wine Steamed Veal Cheeks, which were as succulent and decadent as oxtail, minus the bones, to our usual starter of the Duo of Contemporary Sushi with miso-glazed salmon and seared ‘ahi, perfect starts to our evening.
If we were carting an aged bottle of Sauternes, then it was the LaBelle Farms Foie Gras Sushi with kabayaki sauce — rich and luscious seared foie gras with a touch of shoyu-based sauce and vinegared rice to balance the rich foie gras. It was perfect with a dessert wine. Recently, they had introduced the Okinawan Soba “Mazeman” with thick-cut fresh noodles that were more like an al dente-cooked udon with ikura, roasted salmon and crisp salmon skin in a clam-mushroom sauce and fresh local herbs.
A dish that I implored the Hiroshi staff to add to their regular menu was the Braised Mary’s Chicken Okayu. It first appeared as a special in March. After sampling it, I knew I needed more. Forget the okai (rice gruel) that Mom cooked for you when you had an upset tummy. This version featured perfectly cooked chicken on rice around a slow-cooked egg, topped with chicken skin cracklins’. Break that egg yolk and mix it with the rice in chicken broth with galangal and spring onions and the occasional hit of crispy chicken skin. It was so good I felt like I had died and gone to heaven.
Of course, the Vino side more than held up its end with its Grilled Caesar Salad, which I adapted for my own dining table. The Twin Bridges Waialua Asparagus Milanese with perfectly crisp asparagus, roasted mushrooms and that sunny-side egg topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano and truffle oil was another treat. Break the egg yolk and mix everything together. Mmmmm . . .
Vino also had its own succulent meat in the form of the Mini Veal Osso Buco with sugar snap peas and garlic mash in a rich veal and red wine reduction, or the Raviolo con Uovo with an egg yolk placed inside a ring of spiced ricotta sitting in sage brown butter or a rich mushroom sauce. The servers knew that we would save our plate after the raviolo was consumed so we could sop up the egg yolk and sauce with their fresh-baked bread.
My wife and I often ordered the pizza special. For the past several months, Vino topped their pizza with a perfectly cooked sunny-side egg. Yes, I admit it; I love runny eggs.
If we were in the mood for white wines, we always ordered the Dungeness Crab “Ala Chittara.” Chittara is the guitar-like contraption used to cut the fresh pasta into thin ribbons. It was a mixture of fresh Dungeness crab with a touch of heat from the red jalapenos in the lobster-uni beurre blanc — it was so good I often ordered it even if we were drinking red wines.
Hiroshi and Vino were much more than great food and superlative wines. The staff made us feel like we were their extended ‘ohana. My wife and I would often share wines with the staff for their after-work enjoyment. Occasionally, we would bring my “famous” smoked meat or “family secret” pound cake for the staff to enjoy. It certainly didn’t hurt that both barkeeps knew how to shake that perfect Negroni for my end-of-night libation with Bafferts gin, Campari and dry vermouth served while the “ice line” was still present in the libation. I even shared my personal recipes for barrel-aged cocktails when I still was experimenting with this trend.
So while the sister establishments of Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar and Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas no longer exist, I am happy that Cheryle can finally retire — she’s tried several times — so she can spend more time with her mom and her grandchildren.
As for Chuck . . . well, we all know he’ll never really retire. His passion for wine education and for teaching both newbies and connoisseurs alike is part of his being. Now he’ll just hold court at DK Steak House and Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar.
We will, however, miss the staffers, who will not longer be the regular part of our lives that they were for the past decade. But that’s life; after all, the only constant is change.
When I close my eyes and remember, they’re all still there.
Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and the University of California, San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist who spends his off-hours looking for that perfect marriage of food and wine. He also spends significant time in his own kitchen, creating his own dishes and libations. Tatsumoto is a certified sommelier as well as a certified specialist of wine; however, he leaves winemaking to the experts.