Dining: Eat, Memory
Sometimes the newer the restaurants are, the more familiar they seem.
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1341 Kapiolani Blvd. // 955-3582 // DTuesday to Friday 4:30 p.m. to midnight, Saturday and Sunday 5:30 p.m. to midnight // saporihonolulu.com
“Oooh, oooh, oooh,” said one of my friends. “Little fishy french fries!”
To be more accurate, little french-fried fishes.
We were, much to our surprise, happily munching on fried smelt at Sapori.
Sapori is chef Donato Loperfido’s new incarnation, in the same Kapiolani space that once held Elua, Loperfido’s partnership with Philippe Padovani. The room looks much the same, a bit formal-looking for what it has become—a tapas-style, casual, drink-with-friends kind of place.
I’ve been following Loperfido since the early ’90s, when he was in the kitchen of the old Baci Due on Waialae Avenue. So Sapori (the word means flavors, tastes) is for me Donato 3.0, maybe 4.0.
I have to say, though, the fried smelt was new.
With his new tapas menu, Donato has done a great job of avoiding the obvious. We just started ordering dishes that sounded good—and, at the last minute, I added smelt. I didn’t expect much, but I can seldom resist ordering something I haven’t had before.
There are any number of fish called smelt—in Italian, bianchetti, and in Japanese, shishamo. These were tiny, silver, 3- to 4-inch saltwater fish that Donato brings in fresh from California, cleans up a little, then coats in seasoned flour, head and all. Rather than deep fry them, he sautés them in olive oil. You eat them whole. They were just crunchy enough, just salty enough, just seafood-y enough.
“These are delicious,” we told our waiter. He looked dubious, as you, too, might be when confronted with Fishy French Fries. “Try one,” we said. He turned his back on the dining room and crunched one down. (Donato, you’re absolutely not allowed to fire him for this.) “Oh,” he said, shocked. “They’re good.” You’ll agree.
If the smelt weren’t the best thing on the menu, that’s only because there’s a parade of pleasurable things—like Donato’s celebrated stracciatella. This isn’t exactly new for Donato, but he’s the only one crazy enough to make it. First, he has to make fresh mozzarella, no picnic. He ties the strands of mozzarella into knots and chills them. Then he reheats them, and, when they’re so hot he can barely touch them, unties the knots and shreds the cheese.
It’s already sort of creamy, but he marinates it in cream, dots it with lightly dressed cocktail tomatoes. A little basil, a squirt of basil oil. Can you taste this yet?
Donato says that, if it’s not on the menu, people demand it anyway. Coupled with a nice, dry white wine, it tilts your palate toward bliss. Thinking we should have some greens, we ordered an asparagus salad—a dish that here might more properly be called bacon and eggs with a little asparagus. There’s a sunnyside up egg with a slice of pale yellow Montasio cheese melted on top. The bacon is not precisely bacon. It’s speck: baconlike strips cut from the leg rather than the pork belly, and air-dried. This particular speck is smoked over bay leaves. You won’t miss bacon.
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