Satisfying The Cravings

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - April 16, 2008
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Antonio's New York Pizzeria's Joe Tramontano
Antonio’s New York Pizzeria’s Joe Tramontano

Part of my job description should include “required to name favorite restaurant at least 20 times a week.” That’s probably how often I’m asked the question.

The problem is, I don’t have a favorite restaurant. I have dozens of favorites - all for different reasons. What I really want when I go out is something memorable. Food, service, ambience - they all matter of course, but what I’m always on the lookout for are dishes that make me long for one more bite, or wine pairings that make me want to sit for hours sipping and tasting. This past week was a great example of a good food week.

I started at town in Kaimuki. I love town, so I’m always happily anticipating some gorgeous food as soon as I step beyond the threshold. I now believe it has the best bruschetta in the city. It comes on perfectly crunchy, fresh bread slathered with excellent olive oil and then smothered with local avocados, fresh local tomatoes and anchovies. The anchovies are not those feeble, dried up, hairy filets from a can, but the real, silky, silvery, fresh little filets that either creep you out or leave you drooling. The bruschetta is a perfectly executed dish from the kitchen of Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero.

Caldiero also makes a really simple pasta tossed with butter, cheese and fresh herbs that I often crave. The service is good at town - the food is comforting beyond words.

At E&O Trading Company, I had executive chef Nicholas Salvi‘s fairly new rice dishes for the third or fourth time, and I am now raving about them to anyone who’ll listen. Salvi is redefining rice as a side dish, and in my opinion he’s created the best rice on any menu right now (well, OK, maybe it’s a tie with the risotto at Elua). His Asian-influenced jasmine rice with sweet caramelized onions, garlic, pepper and a hint of pastis is fabulous and quite addictive. It comes with the roasted duck breast, but I’d just go ahead and order it on the side with anything - even a martini. The service is good at E&O; everyone’s pretty hip and casual and things come out in a jolly, timely manner - unless you order six mojitos at once, and then you’re in for a wait because the bartenders shake each one 80 times. That’s 480 strokes for your order. But at least you’ve been warned.

A restaurant that proves my theory about going anywhere for good food regardless of the service is Antonio’s New York Pizzeria opposite Kahala Mall. At Antonio’s there is no service, just a series of hand-written notes on the windows and walls telling you how to behave. “Bus your own tables” and “no refills” are just a couple of the reminders. I always half expect to see a sign in the bathroom that says “flush.”

But who cares? The food is fabulous. They make an unbelievably good meatball sandwich that comes smothered in homemade tomato sauce on perfectly light and crusty bread that’s made to an Antonio’s original recipe every day. It has converted me to the perfect marriage of cooked meat and bread with sauce, one to which I was previously opposed. Owner Joe Tramontano and his cousin Anthony also make incredibly good fresh cannoli every day, and Anthony’s wife makes a killer N.Y. cheesecake. It’s excellent Italian-American food, with just a bit of attitude.

Happy eating!


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