The Weekly Eater: Vino’s ‘Chef Table’ offers broad culinary journey
For chef Keith Endo of Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar, inspiration struck while he was watching “42 Grams,” a documentary about Chicago chef Jake Bickelhaupt, who hosted “underground dinners” on his days off.
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You just never know when inspiration will strike. You may recall from grade-school mythology that Isaac Newton came up with his theory of gravity when an apple fell on his head while he sat beneath the tree’s canopy. (The truth is he often spent time meandering through gardens while contemplating life’s complexities.)
And Benjamin Franklin is said to have discovered the conductivity of electricity by tying a key to a kite in a thunderstorm. (The truth is he wrote of the plausibility of such an experiment and others tried it. He had become interested in electricity when fellow scientist Peter Collinson sent him an electricity tube.)
For chef Keith Endo of Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar, inspiration struck while he was watching “42 Grams,” a documentary about Chicago chef Jake Bickelhaupt, who hosted “underground dinners” with his then-wife in their apartment on his days off.
“It was so cool. They’d invite 10 random people. You couldn’t call to make a reservation. It was all done through social media,” Endo said. “He could pick and choose guests by looking at their accounts, seeing what they like to do, their travels, but they all had one thing in common, which is a love of food. There was no limit as to what he could do. Through IG he could pick and choose his guests so he didn’t get people who don’t eat this and don’t eat that.
“The next day I thought about it and started writing down some ideas for dishes. I created an Instagram account (@vinochef table), started posting some pictures and messaging people, ‘If anyone wants to come I have 10 seats.’
“I stepped away to do some prep and a couple hours later it was booked. By the end of the day I had all these people who were interested, so now I have dinners scheduled every three weeks but they’re booked all the way till November.”
At that point he will take a break for the busy holiday season and likely restart his dinners in January.
His first Vino Chef Table was set for June 23. It was only about a month after his first message went out, so he had to get busy.
“I didn’t have an actual menu. I had to go back and fill in the blanks.”
THE RESULT was an experiential culinary travelogue based on his memories of gastronomic journeys around the world, from San Francisco to Spain and on to South Korea.
Watching Endo’s Instagram feed days ahead of the meal added to the anticipation, as diners were treated to teaser images of Santa Barbara spotted prawns, Hokkaido uni and Kona lobsters that would go into the inaugural meal.
Guests, who were invited to BYOB or buy drinks from the bar, were treated to a cocktail of creme de mure (blackberry liqueur) before the meal started with a consomme of acorn-fed jamon Iberico topped with a slice of the Iberian ham shaped into a bellota (acorn) and a Grana Padano cheese crisp.
A trio of seafood dishes followed: A Day at the Beach, grilled Alaskan king crab with ikura and shiso; In the Raw, a sashimi dish of Hokkaido uni, abalone and Kona kampachi cured in koji, a mold used in fermentation; and what turned out to be my favorite, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, a cioppino of prawns, Bristol Bay scallops and Dungeness crab in a broth of tomato and saffron with crab miso.
Another favorite was the evocative A Walk in the Woods, combining elements of East and West with roasted morels in chawanmushi, earthy black truffle shavings and thyme that had been torched to release its piney herbal essence to complete the sensation of walking through a forest.
Other dishes took us east to New York for a dish of Duck Duck Goose, featuring Hudson Valley duck confit, duck pastrami and foie gras consomme, before returning home to Kona lobster pot-au-feu, and a final entree of Miyazaki A5 wagyu with crunchy white asparagus and chimichurri sauce.
Dessert of banana cream pie started with a chocolate bowl that was filled with roasted apple bananas and piped banana cream.
THE DINNER brought Endo out of the kitchen for a change, to plate dishes before his audience of 10.
“It was fun because it was so personal. Usually I work back in the kitchen and it’s so busy I don’t get a chance to interact with anyone.”
Although diners are already requesting repeats of favorite dishes, Endo said he doesn’t plan to duplicate menus. Spanish cuisine and an all made-and-grown-in-Hawaii menu are themes he’s considering.
“That latter one will take some planning because 50 percent of the ingredients in most pantries don’t come from Hawaii,” he said. “It’s extra work, but it’s exciting. When you’re doing something new you don’t have time to think, ‘I’m tired,’ because there’s so much adrenaline flowing.”
VINO CHEF TABLE
>> Where: Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar, Waterfront Plaza, 500 Ala Moana Blvd.
>> When: Approximately every three weeks; booked through year-end
>> Cost: $70 to $80
>> Info: @vinocheftable (Instagram only)
Nadine Kam’s restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. Reach her at email@example.com.