Downtown Eats: Brasserie Du Vin

Joining us again today is guest blogger Tony Kawaguchi, a Honolulu resident who usually blogs about Hawaii Real Estate at

Tony KawaguchiBrasserie Du Vin
By Tony Kawaguchi

“The French know a thing or two about food.”  That’s what my British friend said when I suggested French food for our next “foodie” outing.  I feel sorry for people who aren’t foodies, usually limiting their dining to a few very simple staple dishes, never venturing into the daring and new as we would at Du Vin on Bethel St last night.  Never enjoying so many of the great tasting things God created for us to combine and explore, they have a somewhat uninteresting culinary life.

You would hardly know there is a great French Brasserie in Downtown Honolulu, and we hardly found it, with the almost invisible sign and the dimly lit dining room with no host to greet us, and nearly no parking nearby.  Maybe that’s why it was kind of empty, or maybe it’s because it was a Monday night.

Du Vin isn’t showy, doesn’t feel very five-star, and doesn’t try too hard, which is the feel they are going for with no table cloths and very simple wooden tables that are kind of rickety.  The simple French-ish décor isn’t impressive, but it’s French.  The food though, was definitely was impressive.

If you’ve never heard or spoken any French, the menu is by nature, foreign in parts, which is always exciting for a foodie.  They’re not French fries, they’re “Pommes frites,” and they aren’t mussels, they’re “Moules.”  The entire menu is full of items that you don’t see a lot in Hawaii.  How about some escargot?

We chose both – the Escargot in herbed garlic green butter for $12, and the Moules frites – Salt spring mussels steamed in white wine, garlic and herbs, topped with pommes frites for $15.

The Escargot came in this nice 6 serving dish with a tasty green herb that we couldn’t place.  The sauce was so good that we asked for more bread to soak it all up. Tender, juicy, full of flavor but not overwhelmed by the sauce as some escargot are.

By far my favorite dish of the evening was the mussels.  In the past I’ve had mussels with too much sauce or mayo or whatever they want to put on it, so that you lose the flavor of the mussel for all the sauce.  This wonderful creation had just enough white wine and garlic to enhance the flavor, but not so much that you lost anything of the actual meat.  I’ve had mussels maybe 20-30 times in my life, and this was the best I’ve ever had, hands down.

This sauce also got sopped up with even more bread. Two great dishes with two great sauces.  I ate one herbed frites after each mussel for a great contrast between the flavors.  The mussels were as tender as a warm marshmallow, while the fries were crisp and hot.  I love the combination of textures and flavors in this dish.

Our wine was a red Argentinean Malbec full bodied with a nice lingering finish.  I’m always amazed at how unique every single wine is, no matter how many I’ve tried.

Our first entrée was thoroughly French.  Grilled Quail served with fresh oranges, fennel, mixed greens and an almond-mint reduction for $18.  My friend informed me that oranges and fennel is a classic French combination, one that I had never tried before.

Quail is a tiny bird, so small you feel like you could eat three of four of them.  It isn’t like chicken at all if you’re wondering.  The meat had a more firm texture, and the grilling made it crispy on the outside for another nice combination of textures.

As my pallet has matured over the years I’ve grown to love the contrast of tangy, savory and sweet that comes from adding some fruit to a dish like this.  There are a half dozen completely different flavors and textures in this dish, which is what makes it such a foodie’s delight.

Our second entrée was a grilled flat iron steak with roasted shallot aioli and pommes frites.  Since none of us (including the server) were sure which cut “flat iron” referred to, we had low expectations when we ordered it.  But as my wife had just run the half marathon this weekend, she was eager to eat some red meat.

The steak, as it turned out, was as tender as you could hope for, perfectly prepared to a medium rare finish, pink throughout.  A perfect steak is evenly finished like this, not having very rare and very well done parts in the same cut.  Just enough spices to highlight the meat, but not too much that it was unbalanced.  The greens weren’t that interesting, and we were getting tired of the fries by this point.  But that was our mistake for ordering two dishes with fries.  Oops, I mean frites.

By now we had been in this dark brasserie for over 2 hours, which is normal for a French dinner I suppose, but somehow we still had room for dessert.  We chose this Crème Brulee, which we all enjoyed thoroughly.  Sometimes this dish can be too soft or too firm, but not tonight.  Another perfect blend of textures, with the firm crack of the torched sugar over crème. It was everything you could hope for in a great Crème Brulee.

I thought for sure we were done at this point, but my gaming (and still not full) companion ordered the Chef’s selection plate of cheeses, which of course is a very French finish.  This fantastic sampling consisted of Manchego, Taleggio, Gouda, Gorgonzola & Genoa Salami for $18, served with crackers, mustard, cranberries, walnuts, and some pickled veggies.

With this final plate, we were combining flavors that created the most amazing blend of taste bud pleasure.  A piece of hard sharp cheese with a sweet, moist cranberry?  Wow.  Spicy salami, a walnut, and mustard?  I think I might come back here just for cheese and drinks.  My friend was right, French people do know a few things about food!

Our bill added up to about $120, not too bad for a party of 4 celebrating my wife’s big accomplishment. I’ll definitely return to Du Vin, and probably between 4-6pm when Happy Hour provides many of these items at half price.

4 Spam Musubi rating! ::

Brasserie Du Vin
1115 Bethel St
Honolulu, HI 96813
Tel. 545-1115

The Tasty Island rating:

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)

Related links:
Brasserie Du Vin – Yelp user reviews
A downtown dining world of its own – Midweek
First Look at Du Vin – Hawaii Diner


6 thoughts on “Downtown Eats: Brasserie Du Vin

  1. In San Francisco there is a French Brasserie near my house called Shu Shu.
    Love casselettes with the butter crust on also on top of their popular French Onion Soup. Will check this place out when flying back on business with guests.

  2. No matter where I’m at, if Escargot is on the apps menu, 9 out 10 times I order that. LOVE the stuff. That green color is probably simply minced parsley.

    That Grilled Quail with fresh oranges, fennel, mixed greens and an almond-mint reduction sounds the most interesting to me, and probably what I would have chosen as well.

    That Prix Fixe menu sounds like a good value.

    Tony, looking forward to your review of Le Bistro in Niu Valley… that is unless I beat you to it!

  3. I’ve been to Brasserie Du Vin many times. We used to go to the wine tasting that they have every Tuesday. The escargot is awesome and I’m usually not a fan of that. The daily fish entry is also good, depending on what fish is served that day. They had hamachi once, that was really, really good … and all at the happy hour price. Hmmm … I think it’s time for another visit there.

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