Top Chefs Toss In The Towel
Wednesday - January 04, 2006
The new year will start on a somewhat sad note for those who love fine dining.
Padovani’s, the French-inspired Pacific Rim restaurant owned and operated by Chef Philippe Padovani, will close Jan. 8, followed by the closure of Donato’s Restaurant in Manoa Marketplace Feb. 14.
Padovani, whose restaurant in the Alana Doubletree Waikiki opened more than seven years ago, will remain in Hawaii, and has several projects in the works.
Donato Loperfido will continue his import business, “Flavors of Italy,” while working on projects in his hometown of Alberobello, Italy.
“I’ll probably spend four months or so a year in Hawaii,” says the passionate chef, “but Donato’s will be no more.” Loperfido has always had something of a love-hate relationship with Hawaii. Determined to bring true Italian cooking to the islands, he was often thwarted by guests looking for “Italian-American” food and not the dishes he learned to cook at his grandmother’s knee.
“In Italy we don’t really use too much garlic, we don’t eat veal parmigiano and we don’t have rice on the side with our pasta,” he says. Some days it was tough to convince local residents that his outstanding risotto (is there any finer in the state?) was really a better dish than a plate of white rice. And then there was always the issue of people trying to change the menu.
“I think sometimes it’s hard to convince people that a restaurant is a place you go to enjoy what the chef has cooked, and drink the wine he thinks should go with the meal,” he adds.
Padovani had similar problems with his fine-dining style and up-market wine bar almost from day one. At first, local people reacted to the automatic gratuity imposed on diners (common in Europe), and that was soon dropped. The location within the hotel was not an easy one, and making cookies for arriving hotel guests became a bone of contention, too.
“We made more than 95,000 cookies a year,” he says. “That adds up to a lot of time and labor and cleaning of cookie sheets.”
But while these two undoubtedly masterful and gifted chefs battled at times with local palates, there was never any question about the outstanding quality of their food. And just the way things always go, people are now lining up to taste Padovani’s wonderful dishes for the first, and last, time.
“I’ve had people coming in for the past month telling me this is the first time they’ve been here, and why don’t I just find another location and open up again,” he says with more than a hint of frustration. “But I have to think that if they didn’t come once in seven years, then why would they start to come now?”
Padovani and Donato are outstanding chefs, of that there is no doubt, and it’s sad that a city known as a food destination is unable to support chefs who have lived here almost long enough to be called kamaaina. Almost, I guess, but not quite.
Donato, who will spend much of his time in Italy cultivating olives and grapes from groves and a vineyard he owns, will keep a Hawaii connection, and hopefully we’ll taste more of his wonderful food in the future. And Philippe may well be on the culinary scene again soon.
One can only hope.
If Honolulu is going to promote itself as a city with an international food culture bringing millions of dollars to the table, it has to be prepared to support quality over quantity.
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