Staying On Top of Fine FareCover Story Features
June 12, 2016
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Anthony Consillio
Since 1994, Sarento’s at the Top of the Ilikai has helped define the top tier of approachable fine dining and exemplary service, all presented in an inviting setting complete with a five-star panoramic view. As part of the restaurant’s current mission to reintroduce itself to island diners, the kitchen team is excited to bring a breath of fresh air to their beloved menu of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine.
Taking the lead in Sarento’s gradual transformation is executive chef Edmond Kwok, the local boy who’s proving that you can put a fabulous Italian eatery in the Islands, but you can’t take the Islands out of the restaurant. Kwok, who’s been with Sarento’s for a little over a year, is starting to revamp the entire menu, keeping the signature items Sarento’s is known for in tact — such as Osso Buco and Handmade Pasta and Filet Mignon Meatballs — while adding more local inspirations to the selections.
“We’re trying to keep Italian and European-style cuisine, but gear the menu more toward showcasing local products and flavors,” explains Kwok, who was trained at Gros Bonnet Culinary Academy of Honolulu and Western Culinary Institute in Oregon, and previously has worked in many top-notch establishments locally, including Nobu Waikiki and Trump International Hotel Waikiki.
To kick off the revamp, Sarento’s is unveiling three starter specials, which eventually will make their way to the regular menu. Dining Out has the scoop on these scrumptious new bites, starting with Ahi Tartare ($18).
Truffle-kissed ahi rests on top of chunky avocado bliss, mixed with parsley, tomatoes, onion and a citrusy squeeze of lemon juice in this pupu. Kwok says the inspiration for the dish is one of Sarento’s most popular salads, the Gabriella, which contains many of the same ingredients. To put his own Hawaiian-style spin on the classic, the chef uses fresh fish in place of bay shrimp from the original recipe.
Shrimp Scampi Appetizer ($20) is another new bite guests can look forward to, showcasing crispy head-on shrimp locally sourced from Kauai that’s given a garlic-filled slathering of white wine sauce. Juicy bursts of cherry tomatoes bring balance to the light yet creamy sauce, while the shrimp itself is perfectly plump.
Kwok calls his third new creation, Asparagus Salad ($18), “a salad for the non-salad eater.” That’s because it’s filled with hearty and indulgent ingredients, from the fried egg on top to crisp prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. Fried kale chips add the crunch factor, while sauteed garlic mushrooms, garlic aioli drizzle and shaved Parmesan make the starter downright drool-worthy.
Any dish is made even more delicious when paired with Sarento’s unbeatable scenic view. According to general manager Joe DePolis, diners now can rest their eyes on stunning ocean and mountain sights not only during the usual dinner service, but also when dining with a larger, private party during the day. Sarento’s Lunch Exclusive menus cater to groups of 15 or more and are ideal for everything from business meetings to weddings and other special events.
The Lunch Exclusive offerings come in the form of two preset menus, the first of which is priced at $30 per person and features Sarento’s Caesar salad, Rigatoni Alla Vodka with pancetta, Bermuda onions and creamy pomodoro for the main course, and Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with raspberry coulis and fresh berries for dessert. There’s also a $40 menu option presenting a choice of entree — Chicken Avgolemono with pesto orzo; Penne Calabrese with homemade Italian sausage, eggplant, Roma tomatoes and goat cheese; or Eggplant Parmesan Canelloni —along with the Ceasar and Tiramisu.
DePolis emphasizes that the Lunch Exclusive selections are customizable. “Nothing’s set in stone. We’re pretty flexible when it comes to substitutions, dietary restrictions or preferences.”
In addition to rolling out new menu items and offering lunches for private groups, Sarento’s already has jazzed up its offerings with happy hour and more live music. The eatery, which is part of island-based Tri-Star Restaurant Group, also has an $85 prix-fixe menu in the works, something it’s never offered before. There’s plenty to look forward to at this top-of-the-line restaurant.
Sarento’s at the Top of the Ilikai
Ilikai Hotel & Luxury Suites
1777 Ala Moana Blvd., Waikiki
Sunday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m.,
Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight;
Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-9 p.m.,
Friday-Saturday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.