Delighted Diners Cry Wolf at Il Lupino
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After working as a waiter at Peter Luger Steak House in Brooklyn for 40 years, Wolfgang Zwiener spurned retirement and instead chose to open his own chain of immensely popular steak houses. While finding an empty seat at one of his restaurants is as rare as one of the perfectly cooked pieces of dry-aged beef, success ceases to slow down the 72-year-old.
Instead, the former head waiter of New York’s top steak haven decided to offer customers a taste of his initial culinary passion: Italian food. Zwiener developed a liking for the delectable fare while growing up in Europe and spending time traveling through Italy. He earned the nickname Il Lupino, translated to mean “little wolf” in Italian, and his eatery — which stands directly below his highly acclaimed Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in Royal Hawaiian Center—appropriately bears the moniker.
Il Lupino Trattoria & Wine Bar offers up stellar customer service and authentic Italian cuisine in a casual, relaxed atmosphere. Nestled alongside a tranquil garden and situated behind the historic Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Il Lupino stands out as one of the center’s culinary crown jewels. Eaters have the option of dining alfresco in the restaurant’s outside patio area that features its own bar, or may remain in the comfortable dining room that offers views of the restaurant’s vast wine collection and a glimpse into the open kitchen.
Executive chef Nicola Sayada is the mastermind behind the mouth-watering menu, and works tirelessly to craft dishes that include authentic Italian recipes and ingredients, including pasta imported from Italy. In his work as both acclaimed chef and restaurateur, Sayada brings 40-plus years of experience to the table.
“I bought a whole bunch of Italian cookbooks to see what the new chefs are doing,” says Sayada, who was trained in French cuisine in San Francisco. “We’re doing some nice, classical cuisine. It’s not regional, it’s all the classical dishes that Italians have been making.”
Linguine alla Carbonara ($18) features a bed of noodles coated with Parmesan, pancetta and egg and incorporates tomatoes, bacon and chili flakes for an added kick. The Bucatini all’Amatriciana ($17) and Linguine alle Vongole ($19) both feature the hearty pasta while the latter includes fresh clams served with a choice of white wine or tomato sauce.
“Manila clams open up and have a little muddy flavor to them,” says Sayada of the typical clam served in pasta dishes elsewhere. “We get our clams from Florida; they’re littlenecks. They’re much more flavorful and have some more saltiness in their water; they’re awesome.”
Those looking for a light meal are encouraged to try Insalate di Rucola ($14), a vibrant green arugula salad that offers a distinct swath of flavors. “The American palate is not really set up for the bitter lettuces,” says Sayada when describing the taste associated with arugula. “So, we came up with this salad and in order to tailor it more toward the American palate, I put pears in it that we pan-sear with vinegar, butter and brown sugar. I glaze them in that and add some extra-virgin olive oil vinaigrette, some Parmesan, and caramelized Marcona almonds to finish.”
What would a classic Italian eatery be without pizza? Il Lupino bakes its thin-crust pies to order, including Zucchini e Melanzane ($15) that offers an array of oven roasted zucchini and eggplant with tri-color peppers and Parmesan cheese. Other traditional favorites include Polpettone al Pomodoro ($10), a massive veal, pork and beef meatball served on a bed of tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, and Ravioli ai Funghi ($19), wild mushroom ravioli in a zesty sauce.
“I add a little flavor to enhance certain items, but I don’t bastardize the dish,” Sayada says. “Our pasta comes from Italy, and I dare to say that there’s not one restaurant in Hawaii or in the majority of the Mainland that uses our pasta. It’s the real thing. It’s incredible pasta. You want to keep it as close to the root of Italian cooking as possible.”
The “Chef Nic Touch,” as regulars have come to know it, also comes through in Il Lupino’s dessert selection. Panna Cotta al Cioccolato Bianco ($10) features an Italian white chocolate creme with a rich compote flavored with cardamom, lavender, orange peel and Madeira wine. Tiramisu al Cioccolato ($11) offers fluffy layers of Mascarpone cheese, espresso, eggs and chocolate cake served on a bed of almond creme anglaise and cocoa powder.
The delectable desserts will have diners crying wolf — a positive side effect of the Il Lupino experience.
- Royal Hawaiian Center
- 2233 Kalakaua Avenue, Building B
- Honolulu, HI 96815
- (808) 922-3400
- Open daily
- 8 a.m.- 10:30 p.m.
- Sunday – Thursday
- 8 a.m.- 11:30 p.m.
- Friday – Saturday
- Take advantage of multiple Happy Hour specials available daily from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Enjoy $7 cocktails, including Il Lupino Mai Tai made with premium rum and fruit juices. Wine by the glass also is available for $5, as are selected $4 beers. Also, Indulge in Calamari Sicilian Style ($5) or Happy Hour Pizza ($5).