The Cave Philosophy

Article excerpt

Shirokiya is delivering a wonderful Christmas gift to all of Hawaii with the soon-to-open Vintage Cave Honolulu, one enterprise in what I am calling the new phenomenon of the un-restaurant.

It's not a restaurant in the sense of being a commercial endeavor. Even with a prix fixe dinner menu set at $295 per person and wine pairings at about $100 per person - bringing dinner for two to about $1,000 with tax and generous tip - this endeavor would not be profitable with its mere 32 or so tables spread over 15,000 square feet of luxury. Put it this way: When general manager Charly Yoshida (formerly with Alan Wong's and Stage restaurants) was ordering up linens, the vendor thought he was mistaken in describing the size, saying, "Oh, you mean 1,500 square feet!"

That might have been the case in the old calculus of squeezing in as many tables as close together as possible to maximize profits.

But Vintage Cave exists not for profit, but to espouse a philosophy, and we are all enriched by its existence.

Vintage Cave is in the basement of Shirokiya. What started as storage space and offices has been transformed by 150,000 bricks handmade in Pennsylvania and installed by Romanian craftsmen. Inspired by the cave paintings of Lascaux in southwestern France and Altamira in northern Spain, Vintage Cave is home to artwork by Picasso, Michelangelo and more, with a centerpiece of Mordecai Ardon's triptych "Hiroshima," capturing the essence of the vibrant city before the World War II atomic bomb drop, its destruction and the dark void of its aftermath.

It is a space built for peaceful contemplation and was originally conceived to be a Société Privée de l'Élévation d'Art, Cultive et le Plaisir, or Private Society Elevating Art, Culture and Pleasure, out of the belief that the speed and instant gratification/communication needs of modern society have laid waste to the essence of civilization as well as ideas of privacy, exclusivity and pleasure. The Vintage Cave aims to bring all these back to the dining experience, something to equate with royalty and past epochs, when nobility had time to indulge in books, the arts and long, luxurious meals.

A preview meal last week offered 26 dishes over 16 courses. Time elapsed: four hours. And I enjoyed every bite.

Dining will be open to the public beginning Dec. 10, but members will have first crack at reservations. Membership starts at $5,000, with special membership priced at $50,000 and charter membership set at $500,000. You can visit vintagecave.com for more details.

First, let me tell you who should not come. The closed-minded should stay away. Those who calculate value to the penny can save their accounting for $9 ramen. If you tend to swallow your food in one gulp, don't expect to taste a thing. And those without artistic mien or a palate that responds only to deep-fried, fatty or sugary fare will not appreciate the novel flavors at play here. Just don't go. You won't get it, so for you it will be money wasted.

But if you are open to new flavor combinations and ideas and think of dining as theater and a series of acts, this is the place to be.

I consider this grand experiment to be equivalent to Spanish chef Ferran Adriá's celebrated El Bulli in its scope and ambition. In the kitchen is local chef Christopher Kajioka, who some may remember from Roy's and whose education also came in the kitchens of New York's Per Se and San Francisco's Aziza. …