FINE DINING | Sarento’s
Year after year, Sarento’s continues to reward diners with its old-school elegance, classic dishes and remarkable sunset, city and ocean views. Dress to impress at an intimate, linen-covered table, or pull up to the bar in casual attire. Either way, join the crowd of savvy diners who know they can count on this restaurant at the top of the Ilikai for Italian food with accents from the Pacific.
Appetizers here beckon, with specialties including local asparagus topped with prosciutto and a sous vide egg, osso buco potstickers and Pacific oysters with a dab of truffle oil and a lilikoi mignonette. Pasta served with filet mignon meatballs and dishes featuring Italian sausage made on the premises are also key to Sarento’s long-standing popularity, as are osso buco, rack of lamb and filet mignon entrees.
Our advice: Don’t skip the Pacific-caught fish, including a lightly grilled ahi with shiitake mushroom and asparagus risotto, or the classic cocktails.
Ilikai Hotel, 1777 Ala Moana Blvd.; 955-5559; sarentoswaikiki.com. Dinner. $$$
BEST NEW | Fete
Fete’s artisanal menu is short and sweet, but has no shortage of good ideas. This is a place where it’s just as pleasant to order a few small bites for lunch, or before a night at Hawaii Theatre, as it is to sit down for a full meal.
Meals start with “Snacks,” such as a hard-to-find-in-Hawaii tapas dish of golden bacalao fritters and chicken liver mousse. A tight roster of New American entrees ranges from fried chicken to locally sourced seafood dishes, a juicy “Chaz” burger, grilled octopus and a vegetarian dish or two.
The bar is similarly curated with a handful of old-fashioned cocktails, local craft beers and an eclectic roster of small-production wines from around the globe.
Fete is a first-time effort from the husband-wife team of general manager Chuck Bussler and executive chef Robynne Maii, whose lengthy backgrounds in food service show in consistent execution and seamless service.
Maii’s culinary metier started with such local restaurants as 3660 on the Rise and Padovani’s Grill, leading to New York’s Waldorf Astoria. She also has been an educator and worked for Gourmet Magazine. The couple met in New York, where Bussler worked at several restaurants, including Savoy, Blue Hill Farm and Prune. He also helped Hugh Acheson of “Top Chef” open his flagship Five & Ten restaurant in Athens, Ga.
This restaurant could fit in easily in San Francisco or Brooklyn, N.Y., but we’re the lucky ones.
2 N. Hotel St. (at Nuuanu Avenue); 369-1390; fetehawaii.com. Lunch, dinner. $$
BEST CASUAL | Greens & Vines
In mid-2015, Greens & Vines changed to a “fast gourmet” format, attracting casual diners seeking healthy, vibrant food, with a central location, right across the street from Blaisdell Arena. The fact that the food is vegan and raw (nothing’s heated at temperatures higher than 118 degrees), exclusively unprocessed and gluten-free, and primarily organic — is a prime draw for some diners, a bonus for others.
The raw, vegan preparation gives dishes extra zing and makes them exceedingly diet-friendly, but judicious use of spices and bold ingredients provides hearty flavor.
Try the Living Lasagna, a signature dish, with herb-seasoned zucchini in place of pasta and a “ricotta” made from macadamia nuts; or Sylvia’s Garden Burger, with an all-veggie patty, macadamia-nut “mayonnaise” and gluten-free onion bread shaped from sunflower seeds, flax, onions, olive oil and tamari.
Popular desserts include the Wicked Chocolate Tart with a crust made of almonds.
Note: Owner Sylvia Thompson also offers ready-to-go items via Licious Dishes, in business since 2007.
909 Kapiolani Blvd.; 536-9680; greensandvines.com. Lunch, dinner. $$
BEST LUNCH | Mariposa
A hot spot for locals and tourists alike, Mariposa in Neiman Marcus offers delectable entrees, refreshing drinks and impeccable service, complemented by a view of Ala Moana Beach Park and the ocean beyond.
Among starters, the grilled shrimp cocktail is a fantastic take on a classic, served with avocado and an orange- and- seaweed salad with fennel. Delicious and light.
Choose from entrees such as chicken Milanese and Laksa seafood curry, or sandwiches including the lobster club and Mariposa burger.
Salads, light yet filling, include a chilled crab salad that is a mountain of Maui butter lettuce with avocado, topped with loads of crab. You’re not gonna wanna share.
Lunch always comes with Mariposa’s famous popovers, served with strawberry butter and a refreshing cup of consomme.
But be sure to make a reservation; tables are always filled at lunch.
Neiman Marcus, third floor, Ala Moana Center.; 951-3420; neimanmarcus.com. Lunch, dinner. $$$
BEST BREAKFAST | Hau Tree Lanai
It’s easy to see why a visitor would find the Hau Tree Lanai to be a slice of paradise. Sitting on the lanai, in the shade of the spreading hau trees, the beach just arms-length away — this is the picture-postcard Hawaii ideal.
We locals need to get a piece of that. Why should the tourists have all the fun? Or the yum?
Hau Tree Lanai matches its beachside ambiance with a worthy menu. The most indulgent choice is the Super Kamaaina Benedict, at $27, its poached eggs sitting atop lobster meat and a petit filet, with a foie gras-mushroom spread.
Other choices are in the $20-and-under range, including a delicious chicken adobo fried rice and the HTL Breakfast, Yogurt and Fruit Bowl, which is a mammoth creation. Get one for sharing and supplement with French toast (with mac nuts and coconut), waffles (with mac nuts and berries), poi pancakes or omelets.
Afterward you can roll onto the beach and see if you still float.
New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel, 2863 Kalakaua Ave., Waikiki; 921-7066; kaimana.com. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, $$$
NEIGHBOR ISLANDS | Mama’s Fish House
How serious is Mama’s Fish House about offering the freshest local fish?
Serious enough to have launched two fish-aggregating device buoys 30 miles offshore to assist its longtime corps of fishermen in providing ahi, mahimahi and ono. Closer to shore, the catch includes reef-feeding bottomfish such as opakapaka, onaga and uku, along with papio and moi.
All this ocean bounty is brought directly to the landmark eatery, where it is processed and served within 24 hours.
The beachside restaurant’s Polynesian- themed menu and decor are informed by founder Doris and Floyd Christenson’s sailing adventures in the Marquesas and Tahiti. The couple opened Mama’s Fish House in 1973 in a small, postcard-perfect cove on Maui’s east shore, away from the bustling resort areas.
The menu by Maui-born executive chef Perry Bateman changes daily, listing the names of the fishermen and where their fish were caught. On a recent visit, the options included ono hauled in by Amando Baula and prepared with cherry tomatoes, garlic, white wine and capers, and uku hooked by Layne Nakagawa and steamed with Hana ginger and sizzling peanut oil.
Many dishes are accompanied by ulu (breadfruit), plantains and other foods and flavors of the Pacific. And don’t forget to ask for a free side of poi — so ono!
For dessert, try the Polynesian Black Pearl, a tuille cookie shell holding a chocolate mousse “pearl” with a lilikoi creme center. The pearl has a lustrous chocolate glaze and is finished with toasted coconut. A sunburst of chocolate and lilikoi sauces completes the spectacular presentation.
799 Poho Place, Paia, Maui; 579-8488; mamasfishouse.com. Lunch, dinner. $$$$