We asked the three chefs to sign our menu as a souvenir of the evening. © 2013 Sugar + ShakeMay was a super-busy month for Shake and me, so we ate a lot of lame takeout. Satisfying, but not very bloggable. However, May is also our wedding anniversary, and as a treat, Shake arranged for us to go to dinner at Vintage Cave. So this month’s “Round-Up” is being replaced by this look at our Vintage Cave experience.

The Cave has a lot of buzz as the new fancy-schmancy place in town. It was originally conceived as a private society, membership-only venue, but announced that for its first year, it would allow the public to dine in the restaurant, which offers only prix fixe ($295 per person, plus tax, not including beverages). Memberships, in case you were wondering, start at $50,000…and top out at a half-million. There used to be a $5,000 option…but those have all been bought up. (Additional note: As I was writing this post, I came across a few comments on articles that assert that Vintage Cave will continue to offer dining to the public, keeping certain privileges for members only, but I can’t find any confirmation of that on their site. So I’d still try to dine while you can, especially because I also discovered there is a recently-announced “Classics Menu” which at $195/person is $100 less than the regular menu.)

The kitchen is headed by the young and talented chef Chris Kajioka. Others have done a better job of detailing his background and what it took to put together this restaurant, so I’ll direct you to them. (Here, here, here and here—this last where Ono Kine Grindz has done the best job I have seen of photographing the Cave dishes.) Also worth a read is this article from First We Feast—it’s definitely Kajioka’s most candid interview (with some f-bombs thrown in, so if you’re sensitive ‘n’ stuff, don’t bother with it, you’ll just get upset).

I love this quote:

I like food that you put in your mouth and it’s just delicious. Food should just be delicious. That’s why we eat. It’s simple.

– Chef Chris Kajioka

One of the private dining alcoves off the main room. Each is furnished with its own colored Swarovski chandelier. Obviously, this is the emerald room. There is a ruby and an amethyst room, too. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

And for an incredible look at what the restaurant is like, check out this photographer’s gallery I stumbled across. Amazing shots! Shake had been invited to one of the media preview dinners, but this was my first time in the space. It reminded me of spy action movies, like the James Bond flicks, or Iron Man, where there’s a fabulously wealthy guy (villain or hero, makes no difference), and the establishing shot shows an impeccably dressed, gorgeous woman tip-tapping her way in stiletto heels across a cavernous room filled with art so expensive you wouldn’t want to breathe on it. Picture that. Now imagine eating dinner in there. It’s a little overwhelming! (Which is probably why I really like that quote above—that even in the midst of all the opulence, the guy in the kitchen, at heart, just wants to give you delicious food. Wish I’d read it before we went. I wouldn’t have felt so self-conscious about putting my elbows on the table.)

On the night we went, Vintage Cave was hosting a collaboration dinner. On occasion, guest chefs will collaborate with Chef Chris and the menu will feature dishes from each chef, as well as items that they work together to create. The dinner we attended was a collaboration between Chef Chris, 15-year-old prodigy Flynn McGarry, and Chef Matt Tinder, a former local boy now at Coi. Tinder is technically a pastry chef, so I was hoping lots of crazy desserts would emerge…but he’s also killer on regular courses, so dessert was limited to the standard number of offerings. Which was still three, plus a tray of petits fours.

A mainstay favorite: the Caviar and Vanilla Bean Macaron. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

I’m not aiming to “review” this dinner, just sharing what we had. It was all incredibly amazing, and I really can’t single out a favorite dish. Hover over the photos for descriptions of the dish. (This is just a selection of photos; for the rest, click over to the full gallery.)

The $64,000 question (or $295 per head, you could say) is, of course, is it worth the price tag? Worth is subjective, and let’s be real—when children are going hungry in our own cities and towns, no meal is “worth” that. That being said, if you value quality ingredients, the creativity, artistry and effort of a chef, and atmosphere, simply put, yes, it’s worth it.  I would never pay $300 for a concert ticket or gamble it in Las Vegas. I think it’s silly. Likewise, there are some who can’t fathom putting down that much money for food. It’s a matter of what you value.

Inventive beet presentation by Flynn McGarry. Dehydrated and smoked; goat cheese and strawberries to top. (Sugar still hates beets.) © 2013 Sugar + Shake

As you view the photos, you might think the serving portions are tiny. (In each photo where you see two identical items on the same dish, such as this presentation of beets above, one was mine, one was for Shake.) I notice that when I see posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram from diners at Vintage Cave, their friends often leave comments along the lines of, “Geez, that’s a small portion!” Here’s the thing: Yes, each dish is just a few bites. The appetizers tend to be one-bites, maybe two. And while some things are so good, I would love to have twenty servings, I actually really enjoy eating this way. How else could you get to taste 20 to over 30 different things and not walk away from the table uncomfortably full? By the end of the meal, we were full. Not overstuffed, just pleasantly satisfied. And I got to have a bite, or two or three, of some of the most exquisite food I’ve ever had, including ingredients, like A5 Japanese Wagyu, that will probably never cross my lips again.

Vintage Cave sashimi platter. The selection always varies. Stand-outs this night: the tako (octopus; at 9 o'clock) and kinmeidai (Japanese golden-eye snapper; at 11 o'clock). Every single piece was melt-in-your-mouth tender. If you had no teeth, you could still totally enjoy this dish. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Another insanely creative dish by the young Flynn McGarry: Tartare...made entirely of tomato. Served with the traditional tartare accompaniments: capers, rye chips, red onion, egg yolk. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Dining at Vintage Cave is a totally unique experience because while there are other chefs who are equally talented, and whose food I love, they can’t serve an entire meal like this all the time. You’ll only see this type of thing at special food events, or at a Chef’s Table tasting where you pay a premium to have custom-created dishes, and your table is the only one eating like this. At Vintage Cave, Kajioka doesn’t have to worry about cost and turning tables. That all factors in to the “worth” of the meal—you just won’t have another like it.

Another VC favorite, not on the menu for the evening. Twenty more, please! Caviar on brioche. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Chef Matt Tinder came up with this terrine of king crab and duck tongues (yes, duck tongues; yes, we ate them; yes, there is a photo of just a tongue; no, you probably do not really want to see it). With Romaine lettuce and emulsion (the dark green paste to the left). Rather Chinese in flavor. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Amazingly tender Kona abalone with fermented mustard and watercress (the green puree) and frizzled ogo (seaweed). © 2013 Sugar + Shake

This dish by Chef Flynn McGarry was absolutely amazing. For one thing, if you grew up in Hawai‘i, you've had the crappy version of this a hundred times: Coconut and Macadamia-crusted Onaga with Snap Peas and Curry Sauce. Chef McGarry turned this into an incredible, flavorful dish. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Petits fours. © 2013 Sugar + Shake

Disclosure: Shake made our reservation with the full intention of paying for our meal, and we did pay the gratuity on our own, however our dinner was a gift from Chef Kajioka. We are very grateful to him, Chefs McGarry and Tinder, and all the Vintage Cave staff who made our anniversary special and memorable beyond belief.