First Taste: Il Lupino, Royal Hawaiian Center

There's a new Italian eatery in the Royal Hawaiian Center, and that's good news.



The lobster risotto at the new Il Lupino in the Royal Hawaiian Center comes with a whole lobster tail.

John Heckathorn

What did Biting Commentary get for Christmas?  What he likes best: a brand-new restaurant worth eating at.

Il Lupino Trattoria & Wine Bar soft-opened Christmas Eve in the Royal Hawaiian Center.  It expected to do about 40 covers.  So inviting are the restaurant's open spaces, though, that more than 100 customers showed up.  That included four of us.  It was the restaurant's first night ever, but it pulled off the evening with hardly a hiccup.

Il Lupino is an high-end Old School Italian eatery.  Outside of the weather, and the palm trees lining the back of the Royal Hawaiian Center, you could be on the East Coast.  Which makes sense, because owner Wolfgang Zweiner got his start in New York City, after growing up in Europe, where apparently he developed a deep hunger for Italian food.

Deep hunger is the key here.  We kicked off with caprese and spinach gnocchi, made even more celebratory by a sparkling bottle of Montesina Franciacorta.  (Enjoyable wine.  It has some of the green apple tinge of prosecco, but it's mainly chardonnay, made with the traditional méthode Champagnoise.)

Then we got serious:

Risotto con aragosta, a deeply flavored risotto, cooked presumably in lobster stock, topped with an entire lobster tail.

Veal scallopini--as you can see here, gleaming with caper butter, over mashed potatoes.

Ravioli di funghi, round mushroom ravioli in a classic pomodoro sauce.

• And a deeply satisfying osso buco.  Pictured here (right), it was a massive veal shank, in a thickly reduced red sauce with wine, pine nuts, olives and golden raisins.

I didn't think I could finish the osso buco, especially as it was accompanied by one of the richest, cheesiest risotto I've ever sunk a fork into.  But I persevered to the last bite.

Manager Pila Sunderland dropped by the table to say sorry, they'd inadvertently locked the storeroom with the marrow spoons and no one had a key.  I told him if that was the only thing that went wrong opening night, it was a great evening.  I couldn't have eaten any more anyway. 

Sunderland is a good guide to wine, and had given us a killer recommendation to go with the entrees--a Barolo from Serralunga d'Alba.  "If reasonably priced Barolo isn't an oxymoron," he said, "this is one."

Entrees here are priced $13-$38.  Go hungry.  Nobody goes out to nibble at Italian food.

Il Lupino is on the first level of Royal Hawaiian Center, 2233 Kalakaua Ave.  (808) 922-3400, website here.

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