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The arancini, or lightly fried balls of risotto with foie gras, white truffle and Parmesan

Bravissimo

by Mari Taketa Photography by Linny Morris | Hawai'i magazine | October 31, 2013

Forget the lasagna and eggplant Parmesan. Instead, think housemade capellini dripping with lobes of fresh sea urchin. At Arancino at The Kahala—the newest addition to the resort’s dining roster—the upscale Italian menu truly leans toward the artful and contemporary.

If you have any conceptions about finding the same dishes at Arancino’s two casual, trattoria-style outposts in Waikīkī—aside from some brick-oven pizzas at lunch—well, leave those behind, along with your casual attire. Just off The Kahala’s porte cochere, Arancino’s alfresco flagstone patio, under trellises twined with young vines, is a place to see and be seen. So, resortwear is an obvious must.

The menus here are prix fixe, with four and five courses in traditional Italian style. Courses offer five choices each and progress from salad or bisque starters to antipasti, pastas, meat dishes and sweets, but you can veer off to create your own menu, or order a single dish if you like. Be forewarned, though, all the possible permutations add up to more than 3,000, which is thrilling, if somewhat mind-blowing; and portions are stylishly delicate, so if you’re ravenous you’ll want the full treatment.

Let’s start with the visual fantasies. Bagna cauda, that staple of fresh, ready-to-dip vegetable crudités that’s favored by upscale, Japanese-owned Italian dining spots like Arancino, comes dressed for fun in a terra-cotta flower pot, crunchy baby vegetables arrayed in playful mushroom “dirt” and ready for dipping in a hot garlic-anchovy olive oil. And the insalata caprese? On this plate the tricolor Italian salad becomes the most adorable miniature armada, boats of Hāmākua cherry tomato halves topped with mozzarella dressed with baby basil leaves, lying on the fresh cheese like contrite emerald sails.

Evoking a whimsical seabed with its profusion of tiny, verdant microgreens, the crostacei di mare is a wonder of citrusy bursts and tender, sweet shrimp and abalone. And the Muscovy duck, anatra alla griglia, gently cooked in a sous vide bath and arrayed with organic mushrooms, drizzles of roasted duckling stock reduction and artfully strewn maple leaves, is an instant pass to a delectable autumn.

Are you getting the picture? It’s clear that back in the open kitchen, white-toqued chef Daisuke Hamamoto is having some fun. Plates are gorgeous; sauces dance between light, citrusy notes and warm, rich stocks; and the unexpected—especially if you haven’t had Italian in Tokyo’s chic Azabu district lately—abounds. “People might say, ‘This isn’t Italian. It’s French,’” says owner Ichiro Inamura. “High-bred Italian restaurants nowadays, in order to compete, make their food fancier and nicer so it becomes like French cuisine. But the food itself is still Italian.”
Hamamoto’s creations are bolstered by a wine list of Italian and Pacific Rim standouts selected by Shinya Tasaki, whose résumé includes a year as title-bearer of the World’s Best Sommelier award. Tasaki’s pairings are listed next to each dish, from a dry prosecco to accompany the hearty grilled Caesar salad to a crisp sauvignon blanc for the sea urchin pasta, or spaghetti ai ricci di mare, a perfect choice that ends up extending the dreamy, creamy sweet uni aftertaste to infinity.

For pure flavor showstoppers, don’t overlook the sous vide Colorado lamb, listed incongruously on the menu as arrosto di agnello because it shares the plate with two rosemary-grilled chops. The lamb, pink and melting, is served under a glass dome filled with kiawe smoke that permeates the flesh, the aromatic lifting of which turns heads all around. The bright purple Okinawan sweet potato gnocchi with prosciutto and walnuts is a delight. And you don’t have to be a vegetarian to fall in love with the tagliatelle con funghi. The profusion of organic eryngii, shimeji and maitake mushrooms rivals the most generous forest bed, and a saute in butter, garlic oil and pepper brings them to melting life. The surprise is that the housemade noodles, paper-thin and perfectly al dente, are equal stars.

The menu saves its final stars for dessert. White chocolate-pineapple mousse, panna cotta with tomato sorbet, a decadent dark chocolate-kumquat torte, an improbable chestnut Mont Blanc filled with celery custard—there isn’t a miss.

We will say this: A perfect lunch in the Kāhala breezes, under that trellis with the growing vines, would be the mushroom pasta followed by the light panna cotta and tomato sorbet, brought together by a sweet tomato compote and a cool sea of translucent gelée. Or the sweet potato gnocchi with a dessert of creamy pineapple mousse. And the wine, of course. Always the wine.

Arancino at The Kahala
The Kahala Hotel & Resort
5000 Kahala Ave., Kahala, 380.4400, arancino.com
Lunch, 11:30am-2:30pm; dinner, 5-9pm; limited a la carte menu, 9-10:30pm

Cost
Four-course menu, $85; five-course menu, $100; a la carte items, $15-$27 at lunch, $15-$38 at dinner; desserts, $7-$12 at lunch, $13 at dinner

Parking
Validated valet and self-parking is available at The Kahala Hotel & Resort.

Who’s There
Lunch and dinner draw guests of all ages. After sunset, find dressed-up locals celebrating birthdays or romantic nights out along with resort guests.

Where to Sit
Choose from the four-seat bar; the minimalist, warmly lit dining room; or on the trellised patio right off the porte cochere.

Dish it Up
For the five-course prix fixe, order the bagna cauda, crostacei di mare, tagliatelle con funghi or gnocchi viola con prosciutto, arrosto di agnello and any dessert.

Sip Service
Trust the man who once held the title of World’s Greatest Sommelier. Shinya Tasaki’s pairings from his extensive wine list are on the menu next to each course.