Improved Ambience Makes Sergio’s A Must
Wednesday - May 13, 2009
This job is part eating, part writing, part photography and part diplomacy. I’ve always felt that a combination of all four is a fairly balanced way to convey a message about food. Sometimes the diplomacy part outweighs the eating, especially when I see in a restaurant potential that isn’t quite being realized. It’s hard to convey that to both public and restaurant personnel without seeming rude or obnoxious - or both.
When Sergio’s opened last year on Kapahulu Avenue, I thought that it had all of the elements of a great restaurant - good location, free parking, an immensely talented chef and a menu that was priced to attract local business. So I went hopefully and then went back again. And again.
The food was always good, but something was missing. Sometimes the wait was too long. One night an over-enthusiastic waitress poured us way too much of a wine we hadn’t actually ordered. The lighting was dim and there was no mood music. It was not a restaurant I was recommending for first dates.
But I went again last week and from the moment we walked in the door, things seemed different.
The first thing I noticed is that (finally) the restaurant has some ambience. It’s a difficult thing to “get” if you don’t already have it, but Sergio’s has found its groove in softer lighting, subtle overhead music and the orchestration of a more-relaxed staff both in and out of the kitchen. The dining room feels comfortable, intimate and alive.
A complimentary appetizer of house pizza slices was well-received by our hungry boys, and it did much to take the urgency out of ordering an appetizer. We sat and enjoyed a glass of wine while looking at the long menu. Our waiter, Joel, brought an easy expertise to the table. I love it when waiters are relaxed and good at what they do. Points were stacking up at Sergio’s and we hadn’t even ordered an entrée.
I love open kitchens (I know, some of you hate them), but I like to be able to stroll over to the kitchen counter and watch everything being made from scratch. Here, freshly made noodles sit ready for the next order, and in the corner of the kitchen more fresh pasta is being wrung through a machine. I know there’s technically not a huge difference between good-quality boxed pasta and fresh - but doesn’t fresh just seem to taste better?
The thin-crust, house-made pizza is fabulous and highly recommended by the 4-year-olds and the 40-plus-year-olds in our family. Try the Pizza Con La Luganega ($14) with imported Italian sausage and roasted peppers, or Pizza Mediterranea ($15), made with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, butterflied tiger shrimp, grilled zucchini, feta cheese and kalamata olives. Sergio’s signature pizza is the Margherita ($11), and that’s most likely the one they’ll give you a slice of when you first arrive. It’s a beautiful balance of tomato sauce, mozzarella, sliced tomatoes and fresh basil on a thin crust.
I loved the Fettuccine Con Ragu di Carne ($18) - fresh pasta in a meat sauce made from beef, veal and pork - for its rustic, hearty appearance and wonderful flavor.
I could write enthusiastically about many more dishes on the menu, but with such dramatic improvements in service, ambience and the general running of the restaurant, it’s easy to recommend that you go and see for yourselves.
After a shaky start, Sergio’s has turned the corner. Mark it on your “must-go” list.
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