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Mediterraneo Fires Up a New Pizza Menu

Italian neighborhood restaurant gives us another reason to hunt for parking.


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The MPR pizza, which stands for mascarpone, Prosciutto and rucola (arugula).
Photos: Robbie Dingeman

 

Mediterraneo Ristorante Italiano just upped its dinner game, adding a new pizza oven as well as a new chef coaxing magic out of deceptively simple ingredients.

 

We got invited to try more than half a dozen pizza varieties at a media preview in late September.

 

Some pizza standouts: the Napoli ($24), with anchovies, capers, olives, San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella. Even the anchovy-doubters grabbed a second piece to savor the briny-salty balance achieved by the classic Italian ingredients paired with the tomato sauce. Also worth a second slice: the Romano ($26): mushrooms, sausage and truffle oil in a white sauce.

 

Each pizza could make a meal for two combined with a salad, appetizer or a shared entrée. But it wasn’t hard to imagine one hungry person devouring an entire pizza.

 

You might recall Mediterraneo for good Italian food served in that funky orange-and-turquoise restaurant that looks like someoneʻs house in the McCully area. Or you might have remembered an earlier location on King Street.

 

My two favorites were the MPR ($26) and the Margherita ($22). The MPR, because it brings together mascarpone, thin-sliced prosciutto and rucola (arugula), which brightens the dish by playing against the creamy cheese and the salty Italian ham.

 

However, the margherita proved the biggest surprise. It came late in our dinner so we felt less hungry and more analytical (thinking hard burns calories, right?) This style of pizza can be the ho-hum vegetarian option. Not this one. The San Marzano tomato sauce tasted fresh and full, and the fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella) provided the salty creamy counterpoint along with the requisite fresh basil.

 

The margherita pizza surprised us with its fresh San Marzano tomato sauce and salty-creamy fior di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella).

 

Owner chef Fabrizio Favale, who hails from Frascati, Italy, presides over the bustling eatery, checking on diners in the outdoor garden, and in the restaurant, making suggestions, answering questions.

 

Favale, who is in his 70s though you’d guess much younger, pauses to praise new chef Mauro Gramuglia, turning out pizza after pizza from the specialty oven in the garden.

 

Originally from Italy as well, Gramuglia lived on Maui since 1991 but moved to O‘ahu recently and Favale hired him. Favale says he’s been impressed with Gramuglia who has worked as a private chef, cheesemaker and at the Four Seasons Resort.

 

After tasting the new pizza selections, apologies to Mediterraneo regulars who consider it your go-to-secret spot for uptown Italian at midtown prices.

 

Favale holds court at the King Street restaurant with a worldly air and a mix of bluster and charm. “Call me Fabrizio,” he insists. “There are no last names in Italy.”

 

He rearranges tables and chairs with one hand while checking over his shoulder on diners just arriving. Yet, when another party shows up complaining about seating arrangements available that night, he shrugs and waves his arm toward other nearby restaurants.

 

Gramuglia is also experimenting with various toppings and made an oxtail pizza as a special. The meat had that comforting savory quality of a long-simmered stew but, to me, the big and fatty pieces of meat overpowered the pizza. I’d recommend the dish, but in a bowl, not on a crust. In addition to the new pizza selections, the restaurant serves a full menu that includes starters, salads, pasta, risotto, main dishes and desserts.

 

While we’d focused on the pizza, the vegetarian in the family also endorsed a plate of spinach ravioli in creamy sage butter Parmesan sauce with fresh asparagus ($22).

 

Parking remains a challenge for the restaurant because the private lot gets jammed up easily, especially by less-than-artful parking. Two of our party circled for more than 20 minutes before finding a space. However, with meters all along King Street, spaces can be found further away.

 

We also shared a sampling of desserts: including a cheesecake topped with a layer of crème brûlée, tiramisu and an over-the-top chocolate concoction.

 

The youngest member of our party devoured the cheesecake, proclaiming it the best she’d ever had: “You’d think it would be heavy with the crème brûlée on the top but the cheesecake is airy and light,” she murmured between bites.

 

This cheesecake is topped with a layer of crème brûlée.

 

With the new pizza menu off to a good start, Fazale is talking about his next project:  launching Il Tappo restaurant in Waikīkī at Hokulani by Hilton Grand Vacations (2151 Kalākaua Ave.) Field trip!

 

Open 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday, 1809 S. King St., (808) 593-1466, mediterraneohawaii.com

 

READ MORE STORIES BY ROBBIE DINGEMAN

 

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