Dining: East Side Story
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Take something as simple as what Takasaki calls his Waimanalo crostini salad. The Waimanalo baby romaine and slices of red ripe Hauula tomatoes are served with a dressing (a balsamic vinaigrette thick with fresh Waimanalo herbs) that’s actually a dip. You dunk the little hearts of lettuce and slices of tomato. If you need more fun, the plate is punctuated by four little crostini—each topped with something tasty and different.
Then the appetizers. Ahhh. Duck crostini, ample slices of toast, topped with confit of duck and fresh tomatoes. These I could have for dinner, maybe with a bowl of soup. Then there are good-sized, soft-shelled crabs, simply sauteed, delicious. Finally, the foie gras. People tend to overdo foie gras, but Takasaki’s is elegant in its restraint. The square glass plate ends up looking like a modernist painting. Four slices of foie gras, in a clingy sauce made from reducing the pan with Calvados, the dry apple brandy from northern France. Outside of some artful swirls of flavored oils and balsamico, the plate contains in addition only a half dozen thin slices of lightly grilled apple and two big bites of aromatic cooked pear.
Takasaki’s entrees tend to be filling. In a concession to smaller appetites, he makes them in full and demi sizes. You may want the demi, because you may hear the whisper of dessert in your ear.
Listen to it. Oh, sure, you’re likely to order the chocolate bread pudding, with its vanilla ice cream. Or perhaps, thinking you’re full, you’ll order the “paradise cake,” with light layers of guava, mango and haupia sorbet. But evade the obvious.
What you really want to order, if you can’t have all the desserts, is the classic French apple tart, a thin layer of sliced apple on a puff pastry shell. I once saw the great Andre Soltner of Lutece whip up one of these elegantly simple desserts—Takasaki’s tastes just as good and is better looking. It’s an adult dessert, not too sweet, though you get a dab of ice cream to satisfy the kid in you.
A full dinner for two runs about $120, with wine by the glass, Selby chardonnay to begin and rich Coppola claret thereafter.
In case anyone tells you the only first-rate restaurant in East Honolulu is Roy’s, tell them they are wrong. There’s Le Bistro.
Antonio’s New York Pizzeria
4210 Waialae Ave. 737-3333
Tues.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 12-8 p.m. Free parking, no credit cards
Oh sure, you say, just what I need, a brace of pricey restaurants. OK, OK, I also found you an inspired hole-in-the-wall. People are always looking, usually in vain, for inexpensive, unprepossessing restaurants with great food. This is one.
Our pizza-tasting team at HONOLULU named Antonio’s the best pizza in our March “Best of Hono-lulu” issue. At that time, we’d only had its pizza out of a cardboard box. However, later, when I finally managed a conversation with co-owner Anthony Romano, I realized that Antonio’s is not just a pizzeria. It’s a restaurant, with tables and chairs and food cooked only to order. “My wife makes the cheesecake herself, one cake at a time,” he said.
Antonio’s, across from Kahala Mall on Waialae Ave., is not exactly the dressiest restaurant you’ve ever seen. Women tend to deplore the restroom. As one put it, “Freshen up at the mall and walk over.”
It’s the kind of place where there’s often a bunch of cops enjoying Code Seven at one of the tables. The cops know what they are doing. Here, the food takes everyone by surprise.
The pizza’s New York. How do you tell the difference between a New York and a California pizza? Hold up a slice. The California pizza sticks straight out. The New York slice bends under the weight of the cheese and oil. At its best, New York pizza combines a softness to the bite and a tendency to pull into long, chewy strings. Antonio’s is as close as you are going to get without a plane ticket. Advice: Get the spicy tomato sauce instead of the plain.
But there’s more than pizza. “Come on,” I said to my family. “Try it with me.” They were late. Not very patient, I ordered lots of items, just to try things. I didn’t really expect my wife and two teenage daughters to make a dent in the food.
They finished almost everything. A small pizza. A large salad of romaine heaped with salami, pepperoni, ham, olives, onions and peppers. “What’s that dressing?” asked the kids.
“That’s what Italian dressing is supposed to taste like,” I said.
There were sandwiches—sausage and peppers with a touch of marinara, grilled chicken breast with tomato, lettuce and Italian dressing. Even reasonably good vegetarian pasta.
Instead of complaints about how much food I’d ordered, there were complaints I hadn’t ordered the deep-fried mozzarella, a lack I immediately remedied.
The food is so good and so inexpensive (a 9-inch personal pizza is $3.50, sandwiches $6 and $7), you’ll be tempted to eat forever. Save room for dessert. The cannoli (pastry tubes filled with a sweetened ricotta mix) will make you wish you were born Italian. The cheesecake will just make you happy you were born. It, too, is the real East Coast deal, not too soft, crumbly, but just moist enough, not too sweet, with a rich butter and graham crust. It brought back years of East Coast memories.
East Coast, East Honolulu, it’s an interesting world.