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Reaching new culinary heights

By Lynsey Beth Futa Photos By BODIE COLLINS
August 2, 2015

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It’s easy to become mesmerized when listening to chef Edmond Kwok talk about food. His mind constantly is churning with original recipes and new ideas, such as what vegetable to pair with what reduction, and so on and so forth. Kwok brings his artistic creativity to the kitchen of Sarento’s at the Top of the “I,” where he currently is in the process of revamping the menu as the fairly new executive chef.

“We’re still trying to figure out our direction and where we’re headed,” Kwok says of his evolving vision for the Ilikai Hotel restaurant, but he does want to modify the happy hour menu, as well as possibly offer brunch and prix fixe menus in the near future. While plans are in action, Kwok also shares his desire to eventually bring in more local clientele. “I use as many local products as possible and am hoping to incorporate some Hawaiian-influenced dishes very soon.”


Surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, which offer breathtaking views of the city, Sarento’s always provides the best experience, and Kwok shares his plans to uphold the establishment’s pristine culinary reputation. “We’re going to keep what we’re known for. We might tweak the starches or the vegetables, but otherwise, the main components of the dishes will be the same.”

Diners can expect to devour Italian dishes with innovative twists. Caprese ($12) is a great way to start a meal, as it boasts local, vine-ripened tomatoes, local mixed greens and thick slices of Buffalo mozzarella. The appetizer is drizzled with an arugula pesto — as opposed to the traditional recipe — giving the dish a peppery bite. A balsamic reduction olive oil dressing, sweet onions and water-melon radishes also join the plate with surprising flavors. To top it all off, pillows of gnocchi mixed with ricotta cheese and herbs are deep fried. “The Gnocchi acts like croutons in this dish; soft in the middle, but crunchy on the outside. It’s like a modern version of a tater tot,” Kwok explains.

“One of the better dishes that we’re known for,” Kwok says, is Osso Buco ($44). The large serving of veal shank (between 15 to 20 ounces) comes served with a fork plunged into the bone for “marrow-picking” to your heart’s content. The shank is braised in a veal stock for six to eight hours, served on a bed of saffron risotto and accompanied by baby carrots, broccolini and freshly made gremolata. Kwok describes the dish as “rustic, not heavy, but definitely filling.”

A dish that loyal patrons will be happy to see reinvigorated is the famous Hand-made Pasta and Filet Mignon Meatballs ($38). The meatballs could be a meal in-and-of themselves, as the dish packs a total of 9 ounces of meatball-mass.

However, you won’t want to miss the handmade tagliatelle Kwok is serving with it. Once prepared with toasted spaghettini, the dish now showcases thick cuts of noodles tossed in a pomodoro and chili flake sauce, which perfectly complements the moistly rich meatballs.

After dinner, you definitely will be more than satisfied, but it’s wise to make room for Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta ($12), which melts in your mouth with every bite. The smooth milk pudding is infused with vanilla bean, which is speckled throughout the delicate dessert, and a mixture of berries balances everything out with some tartness. A brush of berry coulis is swiped across the plate for refreshing bursts of color and sweetness.

Only after eating this necessary dessert can you finally sit back and exhale with satisfaction. As the city lights twinkle beneath you, you’ll feel as if you’ve reached new, magical heights of flavor and happiness — a high you’ll never want to descend from.

SARENTO’S AT THE TOP OF THE “I”
WHERE Ilikai Hotel 1777 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu
CALL 955-5559
HOURS Daily, dinner: 5:30-9 p.m. Happy hour: 5-6:30 p.m., Thursday-Tuesday, and all day Wednesday