POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 15, 2010
Now's the time for caterers, as well as restaurants, to shine. Two of my recent leads have come from catered events. Going to a new restaurant is always a risky proposition when you don't know whether it's gonna be good or bad, but there's comfort in having already sampled and liked their food.
Case in point: Arancino, a restaurant that has been on Beachwalk for 15 years, which I'd never set foot in. Somehow, when in the area, I was always en route to a Japanese restaurant, and every time I passed by, Arancino was packed, making it too much of a bother to consider. I hate waiting.
Ironically, Arancino is also Japanese-owned, but they do a convincing Italian job, from never failing to greet customers with a "buon giorno" or "buona sera," offering fresh-baked focaccia with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and shaving Parmesan into your dishes if desired.
Of course I picked a fine time to visit the restaurants, when both were busy, Dec. 5 through 11, enticing Honolulu Marathon runners to carbo-load for the opportunity to win gift cards and Arancino T-shirts. My heart sank as I stared at the legion of Japanese runners with deadline approaching. Which made it all the more impressive that they could handle the extra traffic while maintaining high food quality and service levels.
The menus are essentially the same, although Arancino di Mare has a breakfast menu of frittatas, salads and outdoor crepe station that isn't available on Beachwalk. Of the two, the Beachwalk restaurant is a smaller, 48-seat charmer. I was a little outraged that some of the pasta dishes are being offered for $20 to $35, putting it on par with steakhouse prices. For pasta? But at Beachwalk, I could reason that it's half the size of most restaurants, so it has to double its prices.
In comparison, the Marriott site has the look of a cafeteria that seats 54 inside and 62 on the sidewalk "terrace," complete with miniature Venus di Milo sculpture. Less ambience, but you might be seated more rapidly, and the food is just as good as at Beachwalk.
If you've got Christmas gifts to pay for, you'll make the least dent in your wallet by sharing a 10-inch pizza, at $13 for one with gorgonzola, mozzarella and sliced green apples or $15 for the Sant' Angelo with asparagus, tomato, gorgonzola and mozzarella. On the higher end there is the cheeseless frutti di mare ($24) topped with shrimp, calamari, mussels, clams, capers and a mild homemade tomato sauce. Or choose the Owner's Favorite ($23) on a Napoli-style thin crust with the double crunch of crisp garlic chips, shrimp and onions.
A nice companion to your pizza is the antipasti platter ($15), which is more of a salad dish, with a trio of caprese, shrimp and avocado on field greens, and the prosciutto with papaya.
Sadly, you will probably end up spending more than you intend just because every item on the menu reads so deliciously. Do you decide on a starter of prosciutto wrapped around sweet papaya ($11) with a spot of mint tempering the sweetness and melding the two flavors? Or choose between carpaccio di capesante ($16), scallops topped with crisp, briny sea asparagus, red onions, caviar and a light champagne dressing, and beef carpaccio ($18), thin-sliced filet mignon topped with arugula, sliced mushrooms, celery, pine nuts and shaved Grana Padano cheese. Both are exquisite, but I'd give the nod to the more savory latter dish if you have to choose.
Al dente pastas hit all the right notes as well, whether you like creamy, pesto, garlic-wine or tomato sauces. One creamy basic is the penne al gorgonzola ($12), and if you like it fancier, there's spaghetti with blue crab meat and zucchini ($22) with tomato concasse in a heavy, sinful cream sauce.
If you like to keep your meals simple, there's spaghetti alla checca ($16) with basil in a homemade tomato sauce, or get it con polpette ($19) with three large pork-and-beef meatballs. Then, billed as a guest favorite, there is spaghetti alla pescatora ($29), with a garlic, white wine and olive oil saute of shrimp, calamari, clams and mussels.
I also liked the dessert menu, which offered something beyond the typical tiramisu ($9). For starters, there is a frozen orange creme brulee infused with Grand Marnier ($8) finished with a slice of candied orange. For a lighter touch there is refreshing champagne sorbet drizzled with a thin fig sauce ($7). Go with the former if you like your desserts rich. Other desserts are doused with liqueur, such as vanilla ice cream and mascarpone drizzled with Baileys and cinnamon ($10) or sorbet finished with Stolichnaya, almost guaranteeing you'll leave with a smile on your face.
Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.