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Romano’s Macaroni Grill in Ala Moana Center’s Hookipa Terrace celebrates a longstanding tradition with innovative Italian fare showcasing quality Italian ingredients that exceed all expectations. Honor system wine and opera singers cultivate the restaurant’s heritage as well, and bring a new experience to every dining adventure.
In this week’s Dining with the Stars, local girl and singer Cheesa Laureta joined us on our most recent quest for authentic Italian delights, while also delving into her blossoming career.
Laureta made her debut on the grand stage on the second season of NBC’s hit show The Voice after she caught the ear of hip-hop singer and mentor Cee Lo Green, who chose Laureta to become a member of his team after witnessing her performance of Beyonce’s If I were a Boy. And that was only the beginning. Throughout the season, Laureta continued to wow the nation with renditions of Celine Dion’s All By Myself and Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing, which landed her a spot in Cee Lo’s top three. Despite her elimination in the quarter-finals of the show, it was evident that Laureta possessed a voice unattainable by many. And from a foodie standpoint, her palate is one to be reckoned with as well.
Once seated, we browsed through Macaroni Grill’s menu of melt-in-your-mouth Italian favorites, and Laureta made the smart choice to go with the recommendations provided by our server. It wasn’t long before heaping portions of Pasta di Mare, Shrimp Portofino, Mushroom Ravioli, Mama’s Trio and Wild Mushroom and Goat Cheese Flat Bread appeared before us, ready to be devoured.
“I love food,” says Laureta, who is as real and as down-to-earth as you can get. Although it was my first time to meet her, it was like dining and catching up with a good friend.
“I always like to check out new restaurants. Living in Los Angeles, there are so many places to try. I love Asian, Mediterranean and Italian foods. I’m excited because this is my first time at Macaroni Grill.”
This island girl relocated to the City of Angels in 2006 to pursue her musical career, yet she always makes it a point to come home — on this most recent trip it was to attend her uncle’s wedding, spread the word about an upcoming album and, of course, eat!
“Shrimp Portofino is my absolute favorite. I love seafood,” Laureta gushes, as she digs into the pasta dish loaded with jumbo shrimp, capellini, spinach, mushrooms and pine nuts in a lemon butter sauce.
“Mama’s Trio also is great because it has a little bit of everything: Chicken Parmesan, Lasagna Bolognese and Chicken Cannel-loni. The Chicken Parmesan reminds me of an Italian chicken katsu,” she says with a laugh. “The meat is so tender and the sauce isn’t overpowering.”
Through the course of our meal, Laureta shared what life is like after The Voice, but the conversation always diverted back to the food.
“The Voice really enabled me to explore different types of musical genres and helped turn me into a true artist. I wasn’t even supposed to audition for the show, but my mom and my brother forced me to. I learned to be very independent, and really got to know who I was as a person and as an artist, and I was able to build upon that to create this career that I’m shooting for right now.
“By the way, Pasta di Mare and Mushroom Ravioli are great entrees for sharing on a first date. I like sharing food,” Laureta exclaims. “Anyway, I’ve been gigging a lot with the Filipino community in L.A. and within the Mainland. Life since The Voice has been a crazy roller coaster. I did a song with Charice called I’m Not Perfect, which hit No. 1 in the Philippines, and I can’t wait to release my very own album next month.”
Titled Naked, this album (which Laureta’s brother Troy is helping produce) will showcase Laureta’s unique personal style, embodying what she calls her “craziness and quirkiness.”
“In this album there are a lot of dance tracks. It’s also very poppy. I’m able to express myself with this project,” she adds. “My personal style focuses around pop and R&B. I grew up with a lot of soul music and I sang a lot of classics. My idols are Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Frank Ocean … the list goes on.”
Although Laureta is currently back in L.A., she wil return to the Islands in April, as she will appear in Ewa By Gentry’s Pride 4 Ewa Celebration April 27 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Hoalauna Park (91-1330 Keaunui Drive) in Ewa Beach. This daylong celebration is fun for the whole family and includes crafters, food booths, keiki rides and horse rides. There will be non-stop entertainment, and Laureta is scheduled to perform at 3 p.m. with an autograph session to follow. Admission is free and parking is available.
“It’s going to be an exciting event, and I lived in Ewa Beach for five years, so this will be very cool,” she says. “I owe a lot to Hawaii.
Everyone has been very supportive of me, and it’s always uplifting to be home.”
Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Ala Moana Center, Hookipa Terrace
1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.