Sunday, September 28, 2008
I've always dreamed of some day taking a culinary and wine tour around Italy. Until I'm able to live that dream, I'm always on the look out for authentic Italian food. Last year, I walked past Mediterraneo and was drawn to the collection of ceramic artwork and bottles of wine that aligned the window. I had driven past this restaurant many times in my life, but never noticed what a neat place this was as its nestled between other businesses I never paid much attention to. My mom had also noticed this restaurant when she got off her bus, and we have had it on our "must try" list ever since. One year later, we were finally able to check it off our list.
Sitting in the restaurant made me feel like I was living part of my Italian dream. I felt like I was in a contryside trattoria on the outskirts of Rome. I imagined that behind the swinging doors was a chubby Italian chef with a mustache singing away as he carefully rolled out his freshly made pasta dough. As I glanced at the menu, I found classic Italian dishes that Nonna (grandma) might prepare for a family meal. It includes assortments of pasta, ravioli, risotto, and gnocchi (hard to find in Hawaii!), and classic entrees like Osso Buco ($22) and Veal Piccata ($18). Classic pasta selections include pesto ($13), puttanesca (a black olive and caper sauce, $14), aio oio (olive oil capers, garlic, and anchovies,$12), and carbonara (a creamy sauce with bacon, sausage and eggs, $14). I later learned that Chef and Owner Fabrizio Favale created this menu of no-fuss, to-the-point dishes to reflect the Sunday family dinners he enjoyed when he grew up in Rome. The menu also includes a selection of Italian wines and beer that can be purchased by the glass or bottle. As owner of Pane and Vino (wine bar in Waikiki), you can trust that Fabrizio will offer up a good selection.
I ordered a glass of Chiani Cecchi, recommended by the waitress.
For our antipasti (appetizer) we ordered the Crostini Ai Porcini, grilled bread topped with fresh mozzarella and porcini mushrooms. The mushrooms are chopped and mixed with a light sauce with hints of parsley. I really enjoyed the warm crusty bread combined with the light flavor of the mushrooms and the warm, delicate slices of cheese.
All pastas (except penne) are made fresh daily, and you can taste the difference in the texture. You can choose fettuccine, Tagliolini (thinner fettuccine), Trenette (like pieces of lasagna noodles), or penne with any pasta dish you order. The Italian sausage found in many of the dishes are also homemade.
I was torn between ordering a seafood risotto, gnocchi, or pasta, and because I wanted to try one of the most popular dishes, I ordered the waitress' recommendation: the Mare Seafood. This dish is made with chopped clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, fish, garlic, and capers all in a light tomato sauce. I really liked the bursts of capers and parsley that really gave it a light and fresh flavor. On the downside, it was a bit salty for my taste.
My mom ordered the Vongole--chopped clams, capers, garlic, white wine and a light tomato sauce.
For dessert, you can choose from tiramisu, creme brulee, cheese cake, or house made gelai, or sorbetti. That night the sorbetti flaovor was a pear chiani, which sounded so original and refreshing. We decided to try it. Unfortunately, it sounded much more delicious than it really was. It was way too sweet to be refreshing, I kept having to drink water after taking a bite. Luckily, the waiter noticed that we hardly touched it and took it off our bill. I thought that was very nice of him.
I wouldn't say I was entirely impressed with the food on this night. The service wasn't bad, but it wasn't all that great either. In my opinion, they were one person too short on help. I do really like the classic dishes that the menu offers and I think this restaurant has a lot of potential. I'm going to have to visit this place again before I can decided whether I really like it or not. Perhaps I hyped it up too much in my head over this past year as I anticipated what it would be like. I really enjoyed the ambience, fresh pasta, and the fact that the dishes weren't loaded with grease and cheese like most of the "Italian" (or Italian-American) restaurants you find in Hawaii. Its worth a second try...
1279 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 9614