Over the years, Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar has been noted as a top wine bar by the likes of Travel+Leisure and Food & Wine. But according to master sommelier Chuck Furuya, such accolades are “all fine and dandy, but from our perspective, we look at Vino as being a neighborhood restaurant — that’s it.”

In Furuya’s mind, Vino isn’t trying to be anything too fancy — he simply wants to offer quality homey food with Mediterranean-inspired flavors. That’s why the menu is largely the same after re-opening in September. (It had closed last spring following its lease running out, and its new spot is still at Waterfront Plaza but it now occupies a larger space across from the original location.) Furuya wanted the menu to continue to be accessible to their customers.

That’s also the reason behind the addition of three traditional pasta dishes: Bolognese, Shrimp Scampi and Alfredo.

“We wanted to add dishes that would appeal to the kids in the family,” Furuya explains.

These menu items might be standard fare at any number of Italian eateries, but Vino manages to put its own spin on them. The Bolognese, for instance, features Shinsato pork fennel sausage, sweet roasted red peppers, San Marzano tomatoes and basil.

Vino’s still stocked with its fresh house-made pastas as well, a list that includes the Kabocha Pumpkin Ravioli with Jumbo Pesto Marinated Prawns. It features roasted kabocha accented with cinnamon, cumin and thyme, with a touch of balsamic vinegar and sweet potato puree — all bathed in a sage-infused brown butter sauce with Parmesan and goat cheese.

Also still there is customer favorite Truffled Mac & Cheese, with prosciutto, mushrooms, aged white cheddar, gouda, garlic cream and topped with bread crumbs. (This one is so popular that it’s filed under its own category on the menu: A Must Have.)

The biggest change you’ll notice at Vino is its increased use of vegetables. Furuya explains that when designing the kitchen in the new space, they did not build a walk-in refrigerator, meaning they’ve got less room for storage. That might sound like a bad thing, but Furuya explains: “So what that means for the public is we have to get a delivery of produce six or seven days a week.”

Vino has been strengthening its relationship with local farmers — who bring in items like Hauula tomatoes, bok choy, peppers and Hamakua mushrooms — and finding ways to use their produce. Those deliveries have been the impetus for Vino in ramping up its specials menu — which can include a list of six-10 different items nightly.

For executive chef Keith Endo, this has been a way to get creative with — and really showcase — vegetables. When Vino gets a shipment, Endo will experiment with different flavors, in a way that “doesn’t take away from the vegetable itself,” he says.

“We’re looking at creative, innovative ways to use these vegetables, ” Endo explains.

One special he’s whipped up, for instance, has been Charred Baby Bok Choy, pairing the produce with almonds, cranberries, shaved pastrami and a truffled aioli. Or there’s been the Kako‘o ‘Oiwi Turnips — that are honey and fennel glazed, with beet yogurt, salumi, almonds and goat cheese.

And because the specials are determined by what’s in season and how much they get in a delivery, expect a lot of variation here.

Also new in the kitchen is a pizza oven, so various pizzas make appearances on the specials menu.

Of course, the veggies are featured in regular menu items, too. One popular showcase for its fresh, locally grown tomatoes is the Burrata Mozzarella, featuring creamy Mascarpone cheese with pesto.

Vino’s new focus on vegetables doesn’t mean it’s abandoning its protein dishes. The New York Steak — which comes with seasoned vegetables, Tuscan mashed potatoes and a roasted shallot red wine demi glace — remains one of Furuya’s favorites.

Pro tip: For a cheap way to get a taste of what Vino has to offer, stop by during its daily happy hour, which runs until 6:30 p.m. The regular food menu (not including specials) is half-off. Happy hour deals are available at the bar only, and it’s first come, first served.

500 ala moana blvd. Honolulu, HI
Phone number (808) 524-8466