An Italian Trattoria In Waikiki
Wednesday - February 23, 2011
For the most part, I try not to gush, particularly when writing about brand-new restaurants. But Il Lupino leaves little room for anything other than the highest praise.
A recent dinner there left me feeling high and hopeful about the restaurant scene in Waikiki. From the entrance, with its sunny outdoor lanai and welcoming bar, to the cool, dark interior, it is the kind of trattoria you hope to stumble across in Europe, or seek out in New York. Owned by seasoned restaurateur Wolfgang Zwiener and his son Peter (the two also own Wolfgang’s Steak House, a mere elevator ride away), Il Lupino joins Wolfgang’s in raising the dining bar at Royal Hawaiian Center.
If you’re looking for a true Italian experience, you might not make it past the bar, where a salumeria opens nightly to offer cold cuts such as salami, prosciutto and head cheese - all freshly cut from a bright-red Berkel (the Ferrari of meat slicers) and served with a selection of cheese, cubes of house-made quince and marinated cherries.
“The quince is from my roots,” says longtime “local” chef Nick Sayada (Black Orchid, Duc’s and, most recently, private chef). “My mother is 94 years old and she has a quince tree in her yard from which she makes jams and jellies. I wanted to have something of my heritage on the menu.”
Venture beyond the lanai and bar and into the cooler, darker dining room, and there’s much to love even before you see the menu. Starched white-linen tablecloths, a partially open kitchen, windows that open onto the sidewalk and dark wooden accents make for a truly elegant room, but a quick look at the menu brings the first of a number of welcome surprises: affordable prices. Pasta entrees start at $14 and a wine list full of regional Italian varietals offers great value.
In the kitchen, Sayada has created a menu that is free from the Americanized, sweet, heavy red sauces and thick, cheesy pasta. Instead he offers dishes such as Zucchini alla Ricotta ($13), Tagliatelle a Tartufi ($17), a zesty, spicy, Tagliatelle alla Puttanesca ($15), and Risotto al Funghi ($18). Pizza has a thin crust and is topped with four cheeses, or mushrooms, or simple tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella, and Bistecca (grilled steak) is served simply over mashed potatoes with Barola sauce ($36).
Pila Sunderland is the general manager, and if you didn’t know he was a local boy from Kahaluu you’d swear he’d just stepped off the plane from Rome. Do ask him for a wine recommendation when you go. I did, and he brought a garnet-colored, raisiny Ripaso that was just perfect with Ravioli all’Anatra ($29) and Linguine alla Vongole ($16). With wine prices starting around $30 (and bythe-glass selections for around $7), Il Lupino offers a rare opportunity to drink well on a reasonable budget, and to explore some interesting and delicious wines.
“We’re going for a fun, lively atmosphere that’s high-energy and sexy, despite the white tablecloths and elegant atmosphere,” says Pila.
Definitely more trattoria than ristorante.
But while the food is interesting, creative and delightful, what Il Lupino does ultimately is package the very best of restaurant experiences into one single setting. Charming, seamless service with unpretentious, excellent food and affordable wines delivered by an enthused, friendly staff makes for an all-round memorable time.
So swallow your Waikiki prejudice, quit complaining about the price of parking and head for one of the truest Italian dining experiences in town.
Il Lupino Trattoria and Wine Bar
Royal Hawaiian Center 922-3400
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