Oahu’s World-class Chefs

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - April 02, 2008
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At Elua, Raoul
At Elua, Raoul “Koa” Canario, assistant manager Brett Iwanuma and chef Philippe Padovani

One of the reasons I love to eat out with a group of friends is that I get to try dozens of dishes from a restaurant menu instead of just one or two. At Elua the other night, four of us ordered 10 dishes. Elua (on Kapiolani Boulevard, the former site of L’Uraku) is one of the best examples of regional cuisine in Hawaii. And the fun thing about the restaurant, run by chefs Philippe Padovani and Donato Loperfido, is that the regional part also includes Italy and France.

Padovani has long been a proponent of local foods, and he’s one of the rare chefs able to take perfect produce and then leave it alone; he’s confident enough to let the food on the plate speak volumes and feels no need to over-dress our delicious Hawaiian produce. His Fresh Oysters Hawaiian Mignonette are the most perfect example of something utterly show-stoppingly simple. Plump, well-chilled, fresh oysters are served with a mignonette of shallots, pickled ginger, rice vinegar, Hawaiian seaweed and cilantro. Gorgeous.

The menu at Elua is almost as fun to read as it is to taste. One page is devoted to Donato, another to Padovani. One page Italian, one page French. One page all rustic and hearty with dishes like stuffed pork loin, Waianae escargot with Hamakua mushrooms, and grilled lamb chops, and the other with dishes like hearts of palm salad, tender moi, pan-fried scallops and Padovani’s famous pan-fried John Dory. It’s without doubt one of the most diverse, interesting menus in town, and anyone in search of a perfect dining experience should head to Elua.

Service is fairly flawless, too. Koa Canario has worked with Padovani since 1982 and is obviously devoted to the chef, his food and his passion.

“I’ve worked with him on and off for more than 25 years,” Canario says. “He’s really an incredible chef.”

No one doubts it - the proof is at Elua on a nightly basis. Perfection from Donato’s side of the menu comes in the form of the best risotto I’ve tasted - ever. A new spring menu debuts this week. Can’t wait to check it out.

Seasonal, regional menus are appearing at all of the best restaurants. Chef Mavro debuts his spring menu at his eponymous restaurant on South King Street, and to celebrate its 10th anniversary, he’s bringing back a dish that refuses to leave his repertoire: Onaga in a Hawaiian Salt Crust was a dish Mavro created years ago, and it’s a creation that’s come to haunt him.

“Everybody wants it all the time,” he told me once. “No matter what I do, the people still ask for it!” He’s very good-natured about the fact that he’s created a dish that he’ll pretty much be making forever.

“I decided to bring it back for the celebrations,” he says, “but just for the month of April.”

Among the spring menu items is Keahole lobster with cream of Kahuku corn and chorizo inside a pastry puff. “It’s an explosion of flavor and texture,” says Mavro.

Look for the Rhubarb Soup to be something special, too - I’m already having childhood memories of picking rhubarb and helping to make pies. Amazing how the very mention of a food item can transport you back in time.

We sometimes forget, I think, that we have world-class chefs right here on our doorsteps. They deserve our applause in the form of support.

Happy eating!


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