Rigo Serves Spanish and Italian Dishes and One of the Best Budget Wine Menus Around
Raise a glass to this stylish setting.
The best Extreme Makeover of 2019: Rigo, previously Genki Sushi on Kapahulu, remade by the Japan-based restaurant group Huge. All traces of conveyor belt sushi have been conveyed right out the floor-to-ceiling windows. Now, a bull’s head bust, blanketed in red as if straining against a matador’s cape, bursts out over a midcentury modern meets French bistro, kitted out with chartreuse leather banquettes, a Don Draper-esque lounge in the back and handsome bar in the front, where I’ve been finding myself a lot recently. Because what I love about Rigo are the great wine deals. A wine importer told me that Rigo should be charging way more for its wines. But instead, it offers interesting wines by the glass for less than $10 and bottles for less than $30. You’ll find a soft and light red made with cannonau grapes (also called grenache) from Sardinia ($7.50 a glass) and a fresh and crisp verdejo from Spain ($6.50 a glass). Among the 24 bottles for $28.50 each are the Medici Ermete Lambrusco Reggiano Secco (a dry, fizzy Italian red) and the Burgo Viejo Rioja Crianza (an easy Spanish red). There’s also an extensive wine list with bottles from $32 and up.
I don’t know anywhere else on the island where you can find such compelling wines at that price—and in such a captivating dining room. It is refined enough to feel special, and yet casual enough that you can wear a baseball cap, order a Neapolitan pizza, bottle of wine and bucket of ice for your wine glass (#solodininggoals).
And the food? In Tokyo, you’ll find expert Neapolitan pizza and French pastries that rival the best Italian pizza restaurants and French bakeries in the world. So when the Japanese want to imitate a cuisine, they are capable of nailing it.
Rigo, however, is not that kind of restaurant. Its Spanish tortilla ($9), more of an American omelet, is not what you’d find in Madrid, nor its carbonara ($16), with fried portobello, in Rome. Which isn’t to say they aren’t good—the crisp slices of mushroom are a welcome break from tradition. And though the menu includes a papaya gazpacho (recommend) and Caesar salad with black sesame tuile (don’t recommend), it tilts slightly more traditional Spanish and Italian than Angelo Pietro. My favorites are the seafood paella ($23) with plenty of clams, shrimp and squid, and none of it overcooked, and the arrabiata ($15), with al dente pasta tossed in a bright tomato sauce made mysterious with chunks of smoked mozzarella. The pizzas are baked in a wood-fired oven from Naples, but the dough lacks the lofted edges I love in Neapolitan-style pizzas. They are, however, at $12 to $16, a good deal.
Even the open kitchen is like a showroom of Italy and Spain. Not to be outdone by the Italian pizza oven, there’s a Josper combination oven and grill from Spain, fueled by charcoal but probably more famous for its price tag, up to $20,000. I don’t have a hankering for one, but I do for the pork chop ($28) that emerges from it, kissed with smoke.
Try to save room for dessert, which includes tiramisu and crema catalana ($7 each), the latter like a crème brûlée, and both sensually creamy.
Rigo’s menu, though a hybrid of influences from Italy, Spain, Hawai‘i and Japan (still trying to convince myself to try the chilled pasta with Hokkaido scallops, bok choy and soy sauce), manages to convey what I love most about Spanish tabernas and Italian trattorias—a place to linger over food alongside highly drinkable and affordable wines.
885 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 35-9760, rigohawaii.com. Open Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight; Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight.