Great wine and a fresh menu at vino in restaurant row

On the Tv show Cheers, the featured bar was a place “where everybody knows your name.” Local master sommelier Chuck Furuya, co-owner of Vino Italian Tapas and Wine Bar, says his restaurant is the “Italian Cheers” – a hangout for great wine and great food, where they also “know your name.” as some of his staff set up tables for a busy Friday night, Furuya asks what their thoughts are on Chateau La roque (2004 vintage), a French red wine. immediately, one server says, “it has a nice body – smooth, easy drinking. it pairs well with different foods. it just seems special when you drink it.” a second server adds, “it’s different; it has its own thing going on.”

Furuya prides his staff on not just being knowledgeable about the 60-plus wines offered by the bottle, as well as the many offered by the glass, but also on knowing what makes each wine good and how to talk about the wines to customers, especially when asked for a food-pairing suggestion.

“All we try to do is show people a good time, great varieties, styles of wine – the lifestyle of food and wine and being together,” says Furuya.

Furuya’s wife, Cheryle, who helps him run the restaurant, echoes her husband’s sentiment about the vino experience.

“it’s a place to come and learn, enjoy wines from different cultures, learn about food and wine pairings – just a good tasting,” she says.

Located at restaurant row in Honolulu across from the former site of CompUSA, vino is a place where you walk in and instantly feel whisked to a little parcel of Italy, evident by the large mural of an Italian vineyard painted on the restaurant’s far-left wall and the aroma of delicious, fresh food lingering in the air. vino is not too big, not too small, but just right in size, including enough tables for large or small parties and some comfy couches. a server describes it as “rustic, homey. That’s what (Furuya) goes for – unique.”

A good percentage of vino’s customers are regulars, including two couples from Europe, who Furuya says frequent the restaurant on weekends. another couple (a pair of local attorneys), upon entering vino, is greeted by Furuya with a welcoming hello, and promptly sit at their usual spot: a quiet table for two in the far-right corner near the kitchen.

In the kitchen, you’ll likely find Chef Keith Endo slicing up a fresh Hamakua heirloom tomato from the Big island, sprinkling it with one of two new sea salts he’s recently discovered, and passing the plate around for tasting. Endo worked previously as executive chef for Sansei Kapalua on Maui, Sansei Honolulu and vino on Maui, restaurants also owned by Furuya and Chef D.K. Kodama. Endo’s been in the vino Honolulu kitchen for a year and a half. Furuya and Endo are a good match, complemented by Furuya’s passion for wine and Endo’s never-ending creativity when it comes to food.

“Keith enjoys changing the menu,” says Furuya, who adds that Endo’s seasonal specials, such as butternut squash lasagne for the winter (which pairs nicely with a Leon Barral white wine), are always a hit with customers.

“We try to use things that are local, change (the menu) up every three months, have a fresh look to the menu,” adds Endo.

Occasionally, Endo serves butterfish dishes or even octopus. From the regular menu, vino offers such delicious entrees as housemade three cheese gnocchi, crispy calamari, mini veal osso buco and more. vino is open Wednesday and Thursday, 5:30-9:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5:30-10:30 p.m. Call 524-8466 or visit www.dkrestaurants.com. Cheers!