A Festive Italian Holiday Feast

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 17, 2008
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Pasta Basta’s Donato and Desiree Loperfido

In a city where restaurant life is the heartbeat of our economy and where passionate chefs wake up every morning re-energized and creative despite outrageous setbacks, you don’t have to look too far to find fabulous food. On Dec. 17 head to Donato Loperfido’s Pasta Basta in Restaurant Row, if you can, for a magical night of sparkling wine and great Italian food.

If your last taste of Donato’s risotto or lamb chops was at his eponymous restaurant in Manoa, you’ll be thrilled with what’s happening to herald in the holidays. Food stations set up around the casual, terracotta-colored dining room will include dishes of lamb chops, bruschetta, rustica salad, grilled shrimp rosti, assorted pizza, rigatoni with handmade sausage and penne pasta with veal and truffle sauce. More than 30 different sparkling wines and champagnes will be poured, and at $65 per person I don’t think there’s a better deal in town. Make a reservation by calling the restaurant (523-9999) as there’s limited seating and word should spread like wildfire.


If you can’t make the event, then put Pasta Basta on your list of must-try restaurants during the holidays. Donato makes everything fresh, including the bread for his outstandingly good sandwiches. His pastrami sandwich is a crusty, handmade ciabatta warmed in a brick pizza oven and then piled high with pastrami, grilled onions and cheese. There’s none better in Honolulu. Whenever I’m at Pasta Basta I pick up a portion of Spaghetti Pomodoro for our boys, who love the fresh tomato sauce.

“We don’t use anything from a can. Everything is fresh,” the chef says. While I was waiting for the food (you order right at the kitchen counter, which saves on staff costs and helps keeps prices low) I thought, not for the first time, that there are few restaurants offering the quality of Pasta Basta at Donato’s incredibly low prices. Sandwiches start at $9, and include all kinds of made-from-scratch fillings. There are house-made meat-balls, handmade sausages, the greatest risotto and perfect, pillowy gnocchi. A grilled chicken breast sandwich is topped with pesto made from locally grown arugula and a Maui onion confit, and there are three or four daily specials and more than 20 pasta dishes. The average entrée is around $12.

You’ll find Donato in the kitchen most days during this holiday season, along with his wife, Desiree, who hosts and greets everyone like they’re part of the family.

“We like the families to come out with their kids because not only are they spending less than in the stores, they’re feeding their kids good food,” says Donato.

Desiree agrees. “When families come here for dinner, they have time to spend together, and it’s a casual place that kids love. There’s no rushing to the store or to get dinner on the table in time. And four people can eat for under $30.”

Bring a bottle of wine (there’s a small corkage fee, or choose from the excellent offerings of Italian wines imported by Donato) and a group of friends and you’ll enjoy excellent, authentic Italian food and one of the lowest checks in town. And if you order Donato’s gnocchi or risotto, you’ll see why he has such an outstanding reputation.

“Tell everybody to come, bring their families and eat with us,” says Donato as I leave. “I promise them good, fresh food and the best price.”

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