Chow Bella

The latest Arancino locale touts upscale Italian, presented with panache.

With the graceful ambiance of an italian villa, and al fresco dining on a shady patio appointed with muted flagstone accents, the newest Arancino aims to please the rich and/or famous clientele of The Kahala Hotel & Resort.

The restaurant’s comfortable, upscale setting allows diners to settle into the leisurely pace of the Italian way of life, while enabling executive chef Daisuke Hamamoto to realize some of the ambitious ideas he had while working in the kitchens of the original Arancino on Beachwalk Avenue, and Arancino di Mare in the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort. He’s taken the menu far beyond basics of marinara and carbonara, with a casual a la carte pizza and pasta menu by day, and extravagant four- or five-course prix fixe dinners by night, with dishes designed to surprise and delight.

There is contemporary artistry in presentations that start with charming mini loaves of house-made focaccia, whole wheat bread and cheese sticks, graphically arranged on a plate with unsalted butter and a pinch of Molokai black salt on the side.

The full range of the Arancino at the Kahala experience is best showcased through a progression that begins with a choice of insalate or zuppa, followed by antipasti, primi, secondi and dolce courses.

One of the insalate choices not to be missed is the classic Piedmont bagna cauda. Here, the warm anchovy, garlic and olive oil dip is presented with a whimsical mini garden arriving in a clay pot with purple and orange carrots, potato, okra, tomato and other greens planted in mushroom dust, ready for dipping. The restaurant is also known for its second course of meats prepared sous-vide to retain all their juices, delivering remarkable flavor and tenderness. Two highlights are the lavender-infused Tajima beef and Colorado lamb in a lamb stock reduction sauce with a slice of Okinawan sweet potato. Ichiro Inamura considers Arancino at The Kahala to be another playing card toward winning a global gamble. The CEO of the homegrown Italian restaurant chain says each of his restaurants serves as a template for additional locations.

“When you look at other restaurant chains, wherever you go, those restaurants are the same,” he says. “For me, I decided I would like to have many cards to play with, with the style of restaurant depending on its location and the local culture, so wherever I’m opening, it’s the right fit.

“The first Arancino is very casual. The second is a little bit classier than the first, and the third is very upscale. If I open in Okinawa, I’ll probably use the second restaurant as an example. If I open in Beverly Hills in the future, I’ll use my Kahala card. But wherever you go, the food quality is the same.”

Among the restaurant’s luxurious attributes are a private dining room for 12, with vaulted ceilings and adjoining wine cellar housing more than 3,000 Italian and Pacific Rim selections carefully chosen by Shinya Tasaki, 1995 winner of the World’s Best Sommelier Award. Villeroy & Boch flatware, Laguiole cutlery and other table details were selected by Inamura’s wife and daughter Aya, who serves as the company’s vice president.

It took a year-and-a-half to develop the menu before Arancino at The Kahala opened in summer. Every detail has been carefully considered. The lavender beef is beautifully embellished with a sprig of the violet herb, and garnished with petite potatoes topped with sheer onion petals, arugula, a dab of whole grain Dijon mustard, and small mounds of cracked black pepper and sea salt.

Similarly, a plate of Muscovy duck is dressed in the season’s golden autumnal colors, with organic mushrooms and a tangle of lightly fried leeks and burdock representing heaps of fall leaves. Adding drama to the dining experience, slow-roasted Iberico pork arrives under a hazy glass dome removed with a flourish to release its savory, smoky air.

In between salad and main course are antipasti courses, including the house version of the classic melon and prosciutto combination, with local papaya blanketing thin-sliced sheets of Iberico ham.

Those who enjoy documenting their meals via Instagram will be taken by the more painterly dishes of carpaccio of Kona kampachi and ‘ahi plated with a grid of ogo and sea asparagus, or crostacei di mare, comprising bits of abalone, amaebi and greens drizzled with herb oil.

Pasta first shows up in the primi course. The chef is most proud of the chitarra alla pescatora, the house-made, squid-ink pasta cut with an instrument reminiscent of the guitar, or “chitarra,” that gives it its name. The dish boasts a small dice of lobster, scallops, shrimp, topped with larger pieces of tender, sweet grilled calamari.

The essence of the ocean is captured in tagliolini stirred with a pungent sea urchin and garlic-wine cream sauce, and risotto or gnocchi of purple Okinawan sweet potato await those with gluten intolerance. Some of the pastas also show up on the more casual lunch menu, where a la carte options include salads, and pizzas made in a Marra Forni brick oven.

Dessert offers a mix of the traditional and experimental, including dishes that run more savory than sweet, such as the creamy chestnut purée and celery custard Monte Bianco. There’s also panna cotta accompanied by a Hamakua tomato sorbet.

On the more traditional side, there’s tiramisu, although it’s been deconstructed to take on a more sculptural form. And the classic taste of citrus and chocolate comes in the form of a glistening, decadent dark chocolate torte, accompanied by a kumquat compote and finished with the glint of gold leaf.

While Inamura says many have congratulated him for what they believe to be the zenith of the company’s achievement in Italian cuisine, he feels he’s just at a starting point for expansion into new territories, and holds a winning hand.

BETWEEN SOMMELIERS

Master sommelier Patrick Okubo chats with Japan’s most famous sommelier Shinya Tasaki, who designed the restaurant’s grand master wine list comprising premium wines from Pacific Rim countries.

PO: Why did you create a Pacific Rim-focused wine list?

ST: Considering Hawai’i’s central location in the Pacifi c and its influences from the Pacific Rim countries, I wanted to introduce wines from countries and regions surrounding Hawai’i rather than wines from Europe and California-many people are already familiar with wines from those areas.

PO: How did you select specific wines for food pairings?

ST: Arancino offers course-style dining, which includes the following: salad, antipasti, primi, secondi and dolce. Since there is no one specific wine that goes well with all of its 25 dishes, I chose to pair my selections with each of Arancino at the Kahala’s menu offerings. Additionally, I was also careful to make the sure that the price point of the wine pairings was similar to each particular course for consistency.

PO: Are there wines available in Hawai’i that you cannot find in Japan?

ST: There are more wines available in Japan than Hawai’i. I wanted to introduce more great wines from Australia, New Zealand, but unfortunately, availability was limited in Hawai’i.

PO: How many wines should a good wine list have?

ST: At the restaurant, “Tasaki’s List” showcases an exclusive collection of the best 100 Pacifi c Rim and Italian wines ranging from $70 to $800.

PO: How often do you plan on changing or updating your wine list?

ST: I would like to select new wine pairings whenever the menu offerings change. As for Tasaki’s Best 100, it will also be revised from time to time, depending on availability and feedback from the guests of the restaurant.

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