Trips to the East Coast result in a blur of excitement, as well as more than enough food comas that could easily lead to a month-long period of hibernation. This is what happens each time I reunite with my Dad’s side of the family. You have to understand, my relatives trace their roots back to Southern Italy — they are talkative, loud, no nonsense, painstakingly hilarious and the life of the party. (Now you can see where my chatter box trait comes from. No brainer, right? Thanks, Dad!) Most importantly, though, dinner is an evening-long production. Seriously. If my Italian family invites you over for dinner, prepare to commit to at least four hours of wining and dining around the table. Dishes of homemade pasta, hefty meat-balls, Caprese, cannolis and perhaps even a Philly Cheesesteak are just some of the items my family loves to partake in. My good, ol’ Grandmom is an awesome cook, and she can make a killer marinara sauce! Yum! And let me say, your life will change for the better once you try her cheese ravioli. Man, oh man, the first time I tried it was probably as a youngster, and I was hooked, floored, beyond impressed — whatever you wanna call it, my grand-mom had it going on.
I would share her recipe with all of you just so you can say you’ve also experienced such a fabulous thing, but sadly, Grand-mom’s coveted recipe is kept tightly underwraps, as even I don’t have it!
On numerous occasions my dad, mom and I crave my grandmom’s ravioli. This week, especially, I wanted nothing more than to cut into a pocket of euphoria. While jet-setting to Jersey wasn’t an option, I opted for the second-best thing: visiting the talented chefs at the following OYK establishments for a quick ravioli fix. Lucky for me, my craving was beyond satisfied, as I reaped the benefits of my job with ravishing ravioli.
Downtown Honolulu is a metropolis that thrives with corporate business professionals, up-and-coming and well-established entrepreneurs and a diversified accumulation of restaurateurs.
On Nuuanu Avenue, you’ll find Restaurant Epic, a trendy eatery with a relaxing vibe. The menu showcases a sophisticated selection of eats, which translates to a symphony of flavors.
A popular appetizer with Epic’s lunch and dinner crowds is Braised Short Rib Ravioli ($8 lunch, $9 dinner). Each order is served with three pieces of ravioli sitting in a small pool of aromatic truffle oil. Pillows of ravioli are filled to the brim with the restaurant’s famed beef cooked to perfection, in addition to bits of onion, capers, button mushrooms and spices. Demi and buerre blanc sauces with a trace of diced tomato top the plump Italian dumplings. It’s almost too gorgeous to eat, but this beauty of a dish is so tempting that it would be a disgrace to not dive right in.
1131 Nuuanu Ave.
Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Romano’s Macaroni Grill in Ala Moana Center’s Hookipa Terrace keeps tradition alive with ingenious Italian comfort food robust with quality ingredients that will leave you wanting more. A family-friendly restaurant, Macaroni Grill boasts everything I love about Italian cooking.
One of my “must-haves” on the menu is Mushroom Ravioli ($16). Your mouth will be watering in a second, but first, imagine this: Porcini mushroom-filled pasta dumplings in a Marsala cream sauce (made of heavy cream, Marsala wine and dry basil), each ravioli lightly crusted with Parmesan cheese and accented with caramelized onions that offer a sweet smokiness to the dish. According to executive chef Nawai Kekoolani, Mushroom Ravioli is an obvious best-seller, but Lobster Ravioli ($21) sets a high standard, as well. This bona fide entree features five pieces of ravioli stuffed with Maine lobster and doused in a light, but rich Chardonnay cream sauce topped with Italian parsley, oregano and fresh basil.
Honor system wine and opera singers are added bonuses to a great meal. Care to spruce up your Italian language skills? Well, at Macaroni Grill it’s easy to do — just pay a visit to the restroom.
Romano’s Macaroni Grill
Ala Moana Center, Hookipa Terrace
1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
For some legitimate Italian fare on the Windward side of the island, Zia’s Caffe in Kaneohe is the destination of choice. The restaurant caters to patrons yearning for Italian classics, including Caprese — a refreshing appetizer of Hauula tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, ‘Nalo basil, balsamic vinegar and olive oil — along with thin-crust pizzas topped with pepperoni, Italian sausage, onion, artichoke and more.
And restaurant owner Don Dymond capitalizes on re-inventing traditional Italian fare. Priced at $14, Molokai Sweet Potato Ravioli honors both sweet and savory, blending elements of sage, brown butter, tomatoes, asparagus, macadamia nuts, microgreens and Pecorino to present a stellar entree. Dymond has led Zia’s franchise for close to 20 years, and is a strong supporter of local farms and purveyors. As far as presentation goes, the entree is aesthetic, and the taste is a definite treat for the palate.
620 Kamehameha Hwy.