Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Vino Italian Tapas & Wine BarRestaurant Insider
April 18, 2021
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
ANNE LEE speaks with owner/chef of DK Restaurants DK KODAMA
DK Kodama of DK Restaurants shares with Dining Out readers the numerous fabulous menu items at his eateries, including some fresh seafood dishes and pasta plates at Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar at Watefront Plaza.
AL: How long have you been in the restaurant industry?
DK: I have been in this business since 1976. My first job was as a busboy at Horatio’s Restaurant at Ward Warehouse. From busboy, to server, to barback, then bartender, which was the best job ever. Audy Kimura and Lloyd Kawakami were some of the musicians that played there at the time. I got the bug; I really liked being around people that were enjoying themselves.
Growing up, my father was an engineer, and we came from a family of engineers. In fact, two of my siblings are engineers, one is an architect and one majored in business. I felt that wasn’t for me. Working at the restaurant really made me want to open a bar/ restaurant.
AL: Your first restaurant was Sansei on Maui. Why not on Oahu?
DK: I left Hawaii and went to the mainland, and ended up in Aspen, Colorado, where I enjoyed the resort lifestyle. When I came back to Honolulu, I realized that I missed that resort lifestyle, and Kapalua, Maui, was the perfect venue for me. Everyone is on vacation, everyone is coming in to have dinner and everyone’s in a great mood. That part of Maui did have quite a bit of restaurant offerings, but Kapalua only had a handful at that time.
AL: What do the D and the K in DK stand for?
DK: I get asked that all the time, and my answer is “Don’t Know.”
AL: Can you name a few specials that restaurants are offering?
DK: One of our popular starters is the Koji Cured Fresh Catch Sashimi ($13). Today its mekajiki — one of our fun dishes from Sansei. You can taste the ginger, the crunch of the tobiko, scallions and the soy relish in each bite.
From DK Steakhouse, this is our Classically Aged 22-ounce Bone-in Rib-eye ($65). We have our own dry aging room at the steakhouse. It’s full of Himalayan salt tablets, humidifiers and lights, and this process allows the meat to age properly. When it comes out, the flavor is incredible. This steak is really tender.
Lobster & Jumbo Shrimp Mash Potato ($27) — we serve this bestseller with large chunks of lobster and big pieces of shrimp. We have people order this as a meal.
Another popular dish from Vino is the DK’s King Crab Ramen ($19.50) with truffle butter sauce. How this dish was created was, when I came home for dinner, all we had was ramen, so I went out to the garden, picked some Thai basil, cilantro and green onions, and put it in there like pho. But I felt it was still missing something, so I grabbed some truffle butter and mixed it up with this, and it elevated the flavor of the broth — and I added king crab. (You can always ask for more king crab.)
The Seared Bristol Bay Scallops ($14) are from Vino. These are very sweet, and we serve it with linguine pasta, caper beurre blanc, a little truffle oil and a touch of chili pepper water. Gordan Ramsay uses these same scallops.
The wine that we are pairing with the steak is the CF Wines by Chuck Furuya. Chuck partnered up with some of the best winemakers that he knows and created this special blend at Vino.
AL: What was your first restaurant on Oahu and how many others do you have here?
DK: In 2000, we opened Sansei at Restaurant Row. We moved Sansei over to Waikiki in the same structure as DK Steakhouse in 2005. There is a bar that separates the two restaurants. Then we opened Vino in the original Sansei location shortly after that.
AL: You have three different type of flavors: Japanese/ sushi, traditional steakhouse and Italian. What do you feel your restaurants bring to the Hawaii food scene?
DK: Variety for one. If I can, I want to have a steak one day, and fish another day, or pasta. I cannot eat the same thing every day. That is why I created these different types of restaurants for customers to still come into my restaurants but have choices. I know what I like to eat, and we offer a lot of local vegetables. I really like the way the Hawaii cuisines are taking off. It’s lighter; more flavor … it’s not processed. Basically, really good food.
AL: What do you see for the future of restaurants?
DK: Right now, I think restaurants are trying to stay sustainable, and we are building up tourism so we are building momentum and slowly getting back on track.
AL: How did you and Chuck Furuya meet?
DK: Chuck used to have a wine distributing company. We had a mutual passion for food and wine, and he was the first Master Sommelier in Hawaii. That is how our friendship started and grew into eight restaurants.
AL: Anything else you’d like to share?
DK: I appreciate the support of the community. I have been saying since day one that my intention for our guests is that they enjoy their meal, tell their friends and everyone else how good it is, and come back to dine with us again.
We have three restaurants on Oahu, two on Maui (Kapalua and Kihei), and one on the Big Island in Waikoloa. We moved our Kihei location about a block away to Kukui Mall and created a brand-new restaurant, adding a broiler to offer steaks. You can get the DK Steakhouse experience at the Sansei in Kihei and Waikoloa. Waikiki will be opening soon — check our website for updates!