The Key To Paesano’s Success

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - December 01, 2010
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Gerryy Quachh withh Nilaa andd Billy Rattanasamayy att Paesanoo inn Manoa

There’s a warmth about Paesano that has as much to do with the owners as it does the food, wine and intimate décor.

Ask any regular restaurant patron their favorite Manoa destination and Paesano will be most likely be the first name you hear. As you’d expect, the food is good - a restaurant in one of the city’s most prestigious neighborhoods could not have survived for 20 years without great food, fine wines and a high level of service - but the secret to Paesano’s success lies largely in the uncommon grace and charm of Billy Rattanasamay and wife Nila.

Rattanasamay, in typically unassuming style, attributes the restaurant’s success to its customers.

“It’s true that every day when we open the doors we know that the restaurant will fill up,” he says, “but without all of the people, we would be nothing.” And the man who greets his customers by name, knows their favorite wines and takes time to talk to everyone who comes to share his food is just as seriously devoted to his staff.

“Paesano is not a corporation, or a franchise,” he says.

“It’s just us and these faithful employees - hard-working, dedicated people who all want to run a very good restaurant. I think that’s why Paesano works.”

It also works because it has really good food.

In the kitchen, Gerry Quach is a tireless chef who’s been at Paesano since almost the beginning. And while there’s comfort to be found in his Chicken Puttanesca, Veal Ala Parmigiana and Osso Bucco, don’t let these simple staples of Italian cuisine lull you into thinking there’s nothing more at work here than homestyle food. Quach’s Calamari Al Scampi, for example, is stunning in its softness, with tender, fresh squid almost melting beneath fresh garlic, butter and white wine.

His freshly baked bread comes to the table wrapped in white linen, a parcel of warm, yeasty goodness that I defy anyone to resist.

Over the years so many customers have asked for catering and begged for recipes that there’s now a deli menu. Pounds of linguine, rigatoni and fettuccine, along with plates of homemade Italian sausage, meatballs and hearty, rich, marinara sauce are ordered to go every night.

It’s probably fair to say that Manoa residents would rather Paesano remain something of the underground success it’s always been. It’s hard enough to get a table as it is (and don’t even consider turning up without a reservation), but there are precious few neighborhood restaurants with the magical combination of just the right atmosphere, food, wine and hospitality. Those that have them deserve to be applauded.

There is a second Paesano, opened in 2008 in Waimalu and serving just the same kind of Italian classics as the Manoa original. There’s the same service, the same dedication in the kitchen and the same elegant, intimate setting. If you’re lucky, you might even get the same owners opening the door.

“Nila and I travel between the two restaurants now,” says Billy. “People seem to like to see us.”

Still, after 20 years of daily restaurant life, Billy admits he’s trying to take things just a little easier. “I’m trying to slow down,” he says, smiling. “But somehow, I think I still have to be here every day.”

The customers wouldn’t have it any other way.


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