Vintage Cave dishes and techniques



I've been spending some time in the Vintage Cave kitchen, watching chef Chris Kajioka and his crew work. Last week, at a media dinner, I finally got to sit down for the full experience and taste an entire sequence of dishes. We were served 27 bites and plates. Some of the one-bite marvels included a raw oyster topped with ginger and hibiscus and perfect squares of shiso; and uni draped with a film tasting of ham and black truffle. From observing and talking with Kajioka, I know his dishes are extremely technique driven, and yet, when presented with them, they seem so utterly simple that the precision and effort can be easily overlooked. Actually, I didn't realize how much goes into each dish until Kajioka broke down some of them for me. Some components on the plate range from three-day to two-month processes.

It's been said that you need to be really into food to enjoy Kajioka's cooking. That's an understatement. I think even in a roomful of chefs dining at Vintage Cave (as happened a few weeks ago), few would understand the scope of technique for each course. If you're interested in the details, there are plenty below. If you just want to look at pictures of pretty food, there's that too. A sampling of the dishes (many may change by the time Vintage Cave officially opens on Monday, December 10):

Golden Osetra caviar smoked tuna gel
The smoked tuna gel is made with dashi reinforced with bonito that Kajioka cures himself. This batch of bonito was a two-month process that involved drying and smoking aku filets. Underneath the caviar and gel: Hakkurei turnips blended with milk. Chervil crowns the dish. It was served with a wakame rice cracker (not pictured) that involves pureed, overcooked rice spread out on parchment to dry. When the dry shards are fried, it puffs up like a chicharron.

Hokkaido ikura potato green apple cress
Kajioka cures the ikura in dashi (to remove some of its saltiness and infuse it with more flavor) and sets it over Robuchon potatoes (which involves a two-to-one ratio of potatoes to butter for a super silky and creamy potato puree). The dish is garnished with slivers of green apple, watercress leaves and a paper-thin shaving of the house-cured bonito.

Charred cabbage leaves miso konbu dill anchovy
Savoy cabbage quarters are cooked sous vide in butter, then caramelized. The leaves are separated and stacked and garnished with dill and kombu that's more pliable than most, like a fruit rollup. Whipped creme fraiche seasoned with miso, rice vinegar, shichimi and lime zest balances the dish. A kombu broth with ginger and Korean fermented anchovies is poured tableside.

Foie gras maple syrup corn blueberries celery
The kitchen cures the foie with salt, sugar and pink salt. It's rolled into a torchon, briefly poached, and then set overnight in ice water. To make it super smooth, it's passed through two tamis (fine strainers). The foie mousse is set on a steamed cornmeal cake and a thin layer of Blis maple syrup (bourbon-barrel aged) gelatin glazes this foie layer cake. Blueberries are presented three ways—raw, pickled and gelled (blueberries cooked into a jam, pushed through a fine strainer, set with agar and then blended). The garnishes: raw celery ribbons, nasturtium leaves and micro chard.

Pork belly and neck berbere jus kale chips
Pork belly undergoes a 24 hour salt cure and is then cooked sous vide 24 hours. It's soft, but maintains its structure. The pork neck is rubbed with harissa, vadouvan, salt, sugar, coriander, berbere and crushed garlic, left to rest for six days, and then braised low and slow for up to eight hours. The meat is picked off the bones, mixed with chopped preserved lemon and pressed into a pan, where it sets in its own natural gelatin. Upon serving, it's glazed with berbere jus and garnished with apple butter. On top: a baked kale chip and wood sorrel.

Japan amadai kabocha pickled garlic escabeche
This was my first experience with amadai, a tilefish. Its unique characteristic is its scales, which puff up and souffle when heated, like popcorn kernels. The amadai is soaked in kombu and sake and the scales brushed with hot water right before the fish goes into hot oil, scale side down. The effect is like a fish crusted with the lightest rice flakes you've ever had. On the side: a kabocha squash mash. On top: foraged wild greens, which include arugula, wood sorrel, basil buds, Malabar spinach and Portuguese kale. Kajioka has a part-time forager (Kimberly Oi, who's also a pastry chef at Prima) on staff. Saffron pickled garlic and an escabeche of fennel and carrot complete the dish.

Chris Sy white soy wakame bread (left), Hirabara Farms pineapple vinegar (right)
Hirabara cuts two-week-old, mini heads of lettuce for Vintage Cave. The light gel on the plate is tomato water with ginger and white soy, and drizzled tableside is a pineapple vinegar that Kajioka made with ripe pineapple and apple cider vinegar aged for two months.

Beef from Sylvia Prizant spinach sunchoke charred scallion sancho pepper
Four Story Hill Farm in Pennsylvania ages the beef for 40 to 45 days before shipping the beef—Kajioka ages it up to two weeks longer. The beef is grilled and left to rest in beef fat until it's sliced to order. Roasted and then fried sunchokes top the beef, as well as a sancho peppercorn reduction. Notice the bright green puree on the side? Kajioka wants you and all chefs to know this trick: to bring out the bright green color of any greens (in this case, spinach), you have to boil it until it practically falls apart. The heat sets the color, he says. Not the quick blanch that most chefs and cooks are used to. He says this spinach puree will stay green for five days. Try it. I'm going to.

Onion rice porridge Samoan crab white truffle
Onions and rice are cooked like risotto until creamy, then hit with truffle butter and mixed with steamed crab. Kajioka himself came out to shave fresh, white truffles onto the porridge (think jook). Also, he stores the truffles in the rice for this dish, which is both a good way to keep truffles and to infuse the rice.

Blackberry sorbet, peppered beet air, mascarpone sponge
Pastry chef Rachel Murai foams a black pepper beet mix (using a foam canister, like those for whipped cream), and then deep freezes it so it's cold and light and melts away on the tongue. It's accompanied by a mascarpone sponge cake that's also propelled from a foam canister, then microwaved, resulting in a light, puffy cake resembling coral heads. Sliced raw beets soaked in simple syrup and then dehydrated garnish this dish.

Chocolate ganache charred pineapple aged balsamic sesame
This is a soy milk ganache topped with ribbons of pineapple dusted in maple syrup powder, charred and then compressed (vaccuum sealed to compact the fruit). To finish: balsamic vinegar, candied goma and pineapple sage flowers.

[An update to the previous post on Vintage Cave: the restaurant will be open to the public, and will not close for memberships only after the first year.] Look for more coverage on Vintage Cave in an upcoming print issue.

Vintage Cave, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., vintagecave.com

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