Actual Euro Food In Hawaii

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - May 17, 2006
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Yanni Trainedes with sister Julie and wife Shannon
Yanni Trainedes with sister Julie and wife

When I moved to Hawaii there were a couple of things I thought I’d never see. One of them was my dad showing up. In 1992, my dad had never been on an airplane or traveled more than an eight-hour drive in one direction from his home in Scotland. Not much chance of him coming to the other side of the world, I thought.

The other thing I thought I would never see in Hawaii was truly authentic European food - the likes of which I’d eaten in Greece, Turkey, Belgium, Portugal and Spain. I was pretty sure that good, solid German food would be alive and well in the islands, and there was no question that I’d find some recognizable French food - the reach of this classic cuisine spans the globe - but for my beloved ethnic European dishes, I knew I’d have to wait for trips back home.

So my longing for true tapas, sardines straight from a fishing boat grilled over hot coals on the beach, fresh anchovies soaked in vinegar, or souvlaki faded.

Until a couple of months ago, when Yanni Trainedes opened Yanni’s in Restaurant Row.

Trainedes was born and raised in Australia of Greek parents. His mother, Marika, passed on generations-old family recipes, and the talented Trainedes turned them into award-winning dishes in his Greek restaurant in Cairns, Australia. It was named restaurant of the year in 2000 - a mean feat in a country where there’s a huge foodie culture.

“There was always great food in our house,” says the immensely affable Trainedes, “and Mom taught us all to cook using her recipes.”

The combination of traditional Greek recipes, a candlelit dining room that simply oozes atmosphere, and the sophisticated approach Trainedes brings to dining, may just blow your ideas about Greek food out of the water.

This is not budget-conscious dining for those who think of Greek food as a cheap and cheerful way to enjoy a few healthy salads and some dips. Dinner at Yanni’s may set you back a few bucks, but you’ll leave with unforgettable flavors on your palate and an experience that should convince you that one of the oldest food traditions in the world really does deserve a place center stage in our culinary theater.

Start with a plate of traditional Greek dips if you want to immediately see the difference between freshly made tzatziki and taramosalata and their imposters. The Saganaki is a must - this pan-fried Kefalograviera cheese is simply addictive.

Move on to pasta and seafood dishes and you’ll find some unbelievably good black mussels, the excellent Thalasina (a selection of mussels, shrimp, scallops, calamari and fresh island fish) and a true “village”-style Greek salad.

Entrees include a selection of more seafood, fresh fish and the best lamb cutlets (Paidakia) you’ll find in Honolulu. The cutlets are left on the bone and char-grilled Greek style. They’re outstandingly good.

But perhaps the best way for first-time diners to sample both the wonderful food here and the relaxed approach to dining typical of Greece is to order Yanni’s Greek Feast. For $45 per person, you’ll enjoy a traditional family-style menu that includes dips, mezze platter, saganaki, calamari, Greek salad, mixed grill, vegetables, oven-roasted potatoes, desserts and coffee. Go in the next few weeks and you might just find Yanni’s mom, Marika, peeking out from the busy kitchen.

“Mom’s doing quality control for us,” says Yanni with a grin.

“Yanni doesn’t need my help,” adds mom. “He knows my cooking - he’s been doing it for years.”

It shows. As does his passion for fresh ingredients and simple, classic seasoning.

If you’re going to Yanni’s for the first time, try a Friday night when there’s live Greek music, dancing and even plate smashing. You’ll get an opportunity to see that the European dining experience is about more than just great food.

Oh, and my dad? He’s been to Hawaii five times now and considers himself a serious world traveler. He got on a plane for the first time at age 68 and has never looked back.

See? Never say never.

Happy eating!

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