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Authentic Italian Cuisine at its Best

Digest Foodie Fare

September 4, 2011

Story By: Dining Out Team |

When it comes to finding a taste of authentic Italian cuisine in Hawaii, Paesano Ristorante Italiano’s got you covered. From antipasti to farinacci (pastas) to all things in between, this locally run eatery has a wide assortment of classico Italian dishes prepared just the way Mama used to make with only the best quality ingredients and highest attention to detail.

  • Paesano general manager Rae Tanaka and Paesano Manoa manager Ka Ming Lam. Leah Friel photo
  • New York Steak with Shrimp Scampi ($30.90)
  • Chicken Siciliano ($21.90)
  • Seafood Arrosto ($28.90)
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“Our food is good because my boss before (see On The Side for full story) used only the good products,” says Billy Rattanasamay, who today, with wife Nila, owns and operates Paesano’s two locations in Manoa and Waimalu .

“He used only the most expensive ones, and we don’t want to lose that touch, so we have to buy all the same quality tomatoes, cheese, pasta, prosciutto, olive oil, and then make the food look and taste better too!”

One dish that truly stands out for both its flavor and appearance is the New York Steak with Shrimp Scampi ($30.90), a true testament to Paesano’s talented cooking staff.

“We really take pride in our steaks,” Rattanasamay states. “We cook by the order, so we cut the steak right when they order it. Then we trim off all the fat and put it all together in a pan in the oven, so what happens is that the flavor from the fat goes into the steak.”

After baking in the oven for a few minutes, the steak is moved to the stovetop and sautéed in a house red wine butter sauce made fresh on the spot.

“It’s a lot of work!” Rattanasamay says of the meal, which is served with a side portion of Shrimp Scampi, loaded with lots of garlic and tail-on jumbo shrimps.

Speaking of seafood, a rare treat few know exists is the Seafood Arrosto ($28.90).

“This one is not on the menu,” says Nila. “It is one of our daily specials.”

What makes the arrosto so special, no doubt, are the huge helpings of both scallops and shrimps that go into each dish.

“A lot of people will have Scallops Alla Scampi Style or Shrimp Scampi (both $25.90), but what they really want is to have a combo,” Rattanasamay explains. “With this, they can have half of this and half of that, and everybody is happy.”

Adding to diners’ delight are linguine, roasted red peppers, mushrooms and basil all swimming in a light garlic scampi sauce.

“All of our food has garlic,” Rattanasamay reveals, “but only the Sicilian Chicken ($21.90) doesn’t have any added garlic, or pasta!”

Instead, the popular dish gets its flavor from roasted potatoes, bell peppers, onions and boneless, skinless chicken thighs. (White meat chicken can be used instead upon request.)

“Every day when the cook comes in first thing in the morning he has to peel the potatoes,” Rattanasamay notes. “Then they roast them, they bake them, put white wine, garlic and olive oil so they’re ready when the orders come in.

“And, of course, with all the food we use the best Italian olive oil,” he adds. “That makes it really good.”

On the Side

Many of Hawaii’s most popular Italian eateries Verbano, Assaggio and Paesano can trace their roots back to Castagnola’s.

Started by George “Cass” Castagnola in 1982, the original Castagnola’s opened in Manoa Marketplace in the exact spot Paesano Ristorante Italiano now stands.

This is no coincidence when Castagnola decided to close down his business in the early ’90s, a young Billy Rattanasamay decided to keep the popular eatery running, opening Paesano in its place.

“I took over the restaurant with my sister (Siri Ky), and this year is 20 years,” says Rattanasamay. “So Cass had it for 10 years, and I’ve had 20 years.”

Over the years, Paesano has established itself as a neighborhood gathering point where customers can enjoy good food, good wine and a pleasant side of good company.

“It’s almost like Cheers, where everybody knows your name,” says general manager Rae Tanaka, who has been with the Paesano familia for the past seven years.

“They know what you like to eat, what you like to drink you can just come and be yourself and have a good time.”

To celebrate two decades of successful business, Tanaka has planned a few special offers for loyal customers; however, as of press time, details were still being finalized and cannot fully be revealed just yet.

But what isn’t a secret is Paesano’s long list of authentic Italian specialties, which include Eggplant Alla Parmigiana ($18.90), Veal Scallopine Alla Marsala ($25.90), Lasagna ($19.90), Shrimp Scampi ($25.90), Calamari Vegetable ($21.90) and Cioppino ($30.90), a mixed seafood medley that also includes Hamakua mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, peas and capers simmered in wine with lemon grass, saffron, fennel and tomato broth.

“We have a pretty big menu,” Tanaka says with a laugh, noting among her favorites are Linguine Chicken Anchovy Olio ($21.90) and New York Filet Mignon (only available on weekends).

“Our restaurant in Manoa is always busy,” adds Rattanasamay. “When you last for 20 years, that says something.”

Paesano Ristorante Italiano

  • Where
    • Manoa Marketplace
    • 2752 Woodlawn Drive
  • Call
    • (808) 988.5923
  • Hours
    • Open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday(lunch)
    • 5-9 p.m. Monday-Sunday (dinner)
  • Where
    • Waimalu Plaza Shopping Center
    • 98-1277 Kaahumanu St.
  • Call
    • (808) 485.8883
  • Hours
    • Open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (lunch)
    • 5-9 p.m. Monday-Sunday (dinner)
  • Website
  • Note
    • Ample free parking available at both locations