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Fresco’s Italian Spin on Delicious Starters

By Steve Murray Photos By Nathalie Walker
October 7, 2012

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For many would-be diners, the thought of venturing into Waikiki for appetizers or a full menu of carefully prepared dishes conjures up images of traffic difficulties and parking nightmares. I’m not sure this was ever the truth because it surely isn’t now. Fresco Italian Restaurant, for instance, is a two-minute walk from the easy-to-navigate Hilton Hawaiian Village parking garage, and with free four-hour validation, it costs you nothing.

The Italian fusion restaurant overlooks the Rainbow Bazaar and the lobby/pool area of the Kalia Road resort.

Large windows let in ample fragrant breezes that makes the fine dining restaurant seem more like a country cottage than the typical dark, windowless eateries that make up still too many dining spots. And with a menu loaded with bright, colorful dishes, it would be an injustice to hide them behind false lighting and electronic air fresheners.

Bruschetta ($11.95) is just one example. Executive chef Rodhel Ibay begins with house-baked three slices of Foccacia bread that is presented with three quite different, but well-balanced toppings. One is piled with fresh Hamakua, Shimeji and Alii mushrooms that are marinated in kalamansi and garlic, and then oven roasted. The second offering consists of vine-ripened Maui and Nalo tomatoes that are tossed with olive oil, basil, garlic and Hawaiian salt. Last but not least is the macadamia nut-crusted avacado that is deep-fried and served with Gorgonzola cheese and a garlic aioli. The entire dish is topped with an aged balsamic basil oil and garnished with dehydrated basil oil that reconstitutes while chewing. Each foccacia is exceptional in its own right. The mushrooms are earthy, the tomatoes are light with a hint of citrus, and the avocado is crunchy and very creamy.

Carpaccio Di Tonno ($15.95) is great for the fish lover. Sashimi-grade ahi is sliced thin and topped with zucchini, green beans, sea asparagus, asparagus, baby carrots, yellow bell peppers, feta cheese cubes, garlic, Nalo greens, and topped with kukui nut and olive oil. Perhaps what sets this already delicious dish apart is the black and pink Molokai salt. The salt does more than add a smoky and ocean-like flavor to the dish, it also adds a necessary texture change that goes wonderfully with the buttery ahi.

One final must-try is Capesante in Padella ($15.95). After all, what’s dinner without a few scallops to get things started? The large Alaskan scallops are lightly seared and then oven roasted to remain sweet and tender. The scallops are then served with hearts of palm, roasted bell peppers and a squid ink sauce that has been sauteed with leeks, fennel, anchovies, pomodoro sauce and then deglazed with white wine. Don’t let the ink scare you. By itself the ink is tasteless, but combined with the anchovies, tomato and other ingredients, the thick dark liquid takes on a slight ocean flavor that is counterbalanced by the acidity from the tomato.

If you can’t make it for lunch or if a full dinner is not what you desire, try happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. and 9 to 11 p.m. The $8 specials include Bacon-wrapped Shrimp, Foie Gras Truffle Fries and Calamari Pepperoncino. Drinks include $5 glasses of wine and $6 cocktails including Smore-Tini, Hawaii Three-O and Raspberry Lemondrop. Hurry, the menu changes every three months to take advantage of the fresh produce as it comes into season.

Don’t miss the coupon on Page 21. Purchase any two entrees and get a free Bruschetta appetizer.

Fresco Italian Restaurant

Hilton Hawaiian Village
Rainbow Bazaar
2005 Kalia Road, Honolulu
941.8868
Open daily, Lunch: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Dinner: 5-9:30 p.m.