A Big Island Taste Of Italy

Jo McGarry
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Friday - June 30, 2006
| Del.icio.us | podcast Podcast | WineAndDineHawaii.com

Donatoni’s chef Sascia Marchesi hails from Milan
Donatoni’s chef Sascia Marchesi hails
from Milan

With the arrival of a new airline this summer and the resulting competitive fares, Neighbor Island trips are a lot more affordable than in recent years.

If the Big Island happens to be your favorite destination, then make some time to check out one of the best Italian restaurants in Hawaii.

Donatoni’s is certainly one of the most romantic dining spots on any of our Islands. With a stunning waterfront location, this signature restaurant at The Hilton Waikoloa Village is an outstanding place to spend the evening.

I first visited the restaurant about eight years ago, and was impressed then with its executive chef Sascia Marchesi and his authentic Northern Italian menu. Marchesi has a great pedigree. His mother has been the chef/owner of a successful restaurant in Milan for the past 35 years and she recruited Sascia to the kitchen when he was just 14.

“I was not too good in school,” he says with a grin, “and it seemed the best place to keep me out of trouble was in the kitchen.”

Marchesi left Donatoni’s six years ago to pursue other projects, but returned this past April much to the delight of Hilton Waikoloa and local Big Island foodies. He’s just put the finishing touches on a new menu that reflects his heritage, but one that also pays tribute to local produce.

“I grew up in Milan and so my cuisine is Northern Italian, of course,” says the amiable young chef.

“In our cooking we use less garlic, more fresh herbs and less spice than dishes from the south of Italy where the sauces are richer and a little heavier.”

Marchesi’s new menu is a combination of local Big Island produce mixed with gourmet foods imported from Italy.

“We have the best fish in the world in Hawaii,” he says, “and we have fantastic produce. We just need to import certain things, cheese, olive oil, prosciutto, for example, from Italy to keep the menu authentic.”

Fresh island fish makes up about 35-40 percent of the new Donatoni’s menu and Marchesi keeps in mind that “American Italian” dishes have to be available to customers.

“You need to feature dishes from your culture,” he says, “it’s part of being Italian, but you have to compromise and give guests what they recognize, too - otherwise you’ll get completely lost in the menu.”

There are a good variety of dishes on the new Donatoni’s menu that reflect Marchesi’s excellent use of fresh herbs (grown on property), unsalted butter, high quality olive oil and light sauces.

In the appetizer Insalata Biologica Dell Orto, for example, Waimea red leaf lettuce is simply tossed in a light balsamic dressing. The Caprese Rinforzata is a well-balanced mix of imported buffalo mozzarella with Kamuela tomatoes, roasted peppers and basil oil vinaigrette. Seafood dishes are a must - there’s a great cioppino for example, and a wonderful seared ahi with grilled artichokes and Tuscan white beans. And make sure to order the flat rosemary bread, a paper-thin crust topped with olive oil, garlic, salt and rosemary, then baked and finished with sweet Gorgonzola figs and fine prosciutto.

The combination of Marchesi’s recipes, a waterfront location and the fact that you can hop on one of the resort’s boats to take you within steps of the restaurant door make this a unique stop on the Big Island.

For lovers of fine Italian food, it’s reason enough to book a Neighbor Island round trip.

Donatoni’s Hilton Waikoloa Village 425 Waikoloa Beach Drive, Waikoloa, (808) 886-1234

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