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Elaborate renditions of traditional and delectable pastas, along with other magnificent entrees tracing their origins to Italy, remain unsurpassed at Paesano Ristorante Italiano. Owners Billy Rattanasamay and wife Nila opened the restaurant’s first location in Manoa Marketplace in 1992, and in 2008, the couple opened a second eatery in Waimalu Plaza Shopping Center.
Today, this authentic Italian ristorante features the perfect combination of excellent service and immaculate cuisine. With a team of nearly 40 talented chefs and staff dedicated to Paesano’s success, Rattanasamay and his staff prove that treating customers like family is as valuable as serving up culinary masterpieces.
Dining Out recently sat down with Rattanasamay and Raenette Tanaka, general manager of Paesano’s Manoa location, over a five-course meal to get the scoop on Paesano Ristorante Italiano’s success.
DO: It’s been 19 years since Paesano first opened its doors and began satisfying customers’ cravings for Italian cuisine. How did Paesano come to be?
Rattanasamay: You could say that I wanted to open my own restaurant ever since high school. About 40 years ago, the former sous chef of Michel’s, Khamtanh Tanchaleun, helped me get into the restaurant business. I started working as a busboy at Michel’s, and it was there that I met a couple who later opened Castagnola’s in Manoa in 1982. I became very good friends with them, and 10 years later when Castagnola’s closed, my wife Nila and I, along with my sister Siri Ky, opened Paesano.
DO: And the rest, as they say, is history. Tell us more about Gerry Quach, who serves as executive chef at both the Manoa and Waimalu locations.
Rattanasamay: Gerry has been with us since day one. He’s always at the restaurants and he really loves what he does. You can tell, as his passion is evident through his cooking. Gerry also has a great cooking staff that helps him.
DO: Paesano is known for its authentic Italian cuisine. What signature dishes and specialty items can diners look forward to?
Tanaka: I personally love the Cioppino ($28.90) because it has a little bit of everything in there, including Alaskan King crab, jumbo shrimp, fresh clams, scallops and fresh island fish paired with Hamakua mushrooms, sugar snap peas, fresh tomatoes, capers and more. The broth itself is delicious, with lemongrass, saffron and tomato. The dish is served with garlic bread, however, you can have it with pasta instead, but Cioppino is usually popular for bread dipping.
Then we have the Osso Bucco and Shrimp Scallop Alla Bolla ($28.90), which is a combination of our two most popular items. The Osso Bucco features veal shank with onion and tomato sauce. The Shrimp Scallop Alla Bolla consists of jumbo shrimp and sea scallop sauteed with peas and a wine and butter sauce, served with pasta. A lot of people request for both of these items on a regular basis, so we just thought why not just put it all together.
The Sicilian Chicken ($16.90, small portion; $19.90, regular portion) is a classic dish with boneless chicken sauteed with roasted potatoes, bell peppers, onions and mushrooms, with a splash of white wine to bring it all together. It’s a very popular dish because people do like to have their chicken and potatoes from time to time.
A special on our menu is the Seafood Dori ($25.90), but it also can be served upon request. When we do serve it, it’s made with a homemade lobster sauce also featuring an assortment of seafood such as scallop, shrimp and clams mixed with garlic, onions, mixed bell peppers and spinach.
DO: Paesano Crab Cakes ($11.90) appear to be a popular choice at your restaurant. Why do you think that is?
Tanaka: Honestly, it’s the sauce. It’s a special chili sauce that we make in-house that’s not too spicy, and the Hamakua tomato relish that we place atop the crab cakes is really good. When it comes to our crab cakes, we don’t put too much breading on it and instead of deep-fried, it’s pan-grilled in a cast iron pan and baked in the oven for a bit. There’s a real fresh taste to this appetizer.
DO: Wonderful! Speaking of great dining, what’s an authentic Italian meal without wine?
Tanaka: (laughs) We have an extensive list of wines by the glass and wines by the bottle. We have everything from champagne to Italian wines, American wines, French wines, Australian wines, and the list goes on.
DO: Paesano’s Manoa location will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next year. What is the secret “ingredient” behind the restaurant’s success?
Tanaka: The food is just really good, I don’t know how else to describe it (laughs). But honestly, we do use a lot of fresh ingredients. I would say 95 percent of our menu is made-to-order. Everything from the marsala sauces to the picatta sauces are all made-to-order — so it’s definitely that fresh factor. Our meatballs also are made in-house with a combination of both beef and pork or just ground chicken — they both have Italian herbs and spices. As for our pasta, it comes directly from Italy. Our standard pasta is linguine as opposed to spaghetti. This way, there’s a bit more texture, as a flatter pasta. It just tastes better.
But more importantly, I think the success behind the Manoa restaurant lies within the community. Billy and Nila were there every day from the get-go and are really able to connect on a personal level with customers. We try very hard to make everyone feel like family when they come in.
Paesano Ristorante Italiano
- Waimalu Plaza Shopping Center
- 98-1277 Kaahumanu Street
- Aiea, HI 96701
- Manoa Marketplace
- 2752 Woodlawn Drive
- Honolulu, HI 96822
- (808) 485-8883 (Aiea)
- (808) 988-5923 (Manoa)