Saying ‘Ciao!’ To An Italian Treat
What’s just as creamy as ice cream but won’t melt before you can take the last bite? I’ll give you a hint: It has a slightly gelatinous texture that’s reminiscent of haupia, but it’s even more luxurious, to the tune of a slice of rich cheesecake. If you guessed panna cotta, then you know what I’m talking about, my fellow foodie.
Though this posh and puddling-like Italian dessert — made from real cream — is classically cooked and set into molds, it’s traditionally served chilled, making it the perfect solution for your summer day’s sweet tooth. You’ll find panna cotta on the menus of some of Oahu’s most notable restaurants, where chefs have been known to put a local spin on the standard recipe.
My taste buds have done some exploring into the best panna cotta renditions in town, and when you taste the special treats I’ve lined up for you, all you’ll be left wanting to do is exclaim, “Ciao, Bella!” to each and every one of them.
TAKE YOUR TASTE BUDS ‘HY-ER’
Nowhere else will you find a steak-house experience quite like that of Hy’s. The fine-dining restaurant is home to top-ranking USDA Prime steak and other exclusive cuts, like you’d expect at any good steak house, but Hy’s handling of them in its iconic kiawe-wood broiler renders each bite uniquely savory, smoky and superlative.
Local flair on Hy’s menu is met with the aloha spirit of its staff, who have helped give the restaurant its reputation as the kamaaina’s steak house of choice for the past 40 years. It comes as no surprise, then, that the dessert menu is whipped up with island stylings as well.
That’s where Kona Coffee Panna Cotta ($9) comes in, a sweet ending infused with Hy’s own blend of Big Island joe.
Coffee and cream already are a match made in culinary heaven, of course, but this dessert gets even better with the addition of chocolate ganache, only to be crowned by an airy mound of fresh whipped cream — yes, there is always room for more cream in a panna cotta dessert.
Guest relations manager Bob Panter likens the flavor of this cool, smooth treat to mocha, while I pick up on hints of tiramisu in the delicious flavor profile.
If all this sweet talk leaves you wanting more, be sure to ask your server about Hy’s tableside flambe desserts, a fine-dining tradition that is hard to come by these days. Pina Colada Seasonal Flambe Special, for instance, features pineapple pieces that are set aflame with rum and brandy, then used to adorn pineapple-studded coconut ice cream presented in a coconut shell along with a dazzling drizzle and toasted coconut.
Hy’s Steak House
2440 Kuhio Ave., Waikiki
A ‘WISP’ OF DESSERT BLISS
When out on the town for a nice meal, it’s easy to fill up on the main course without leaving room for dessert. You don’t have to worry about that at WISP Restaurant & Lounge, however, as the kitchen makes the perfect sweet treat to enjoy even after devouring every last bite of its mouthwatering Hawaii Regional Cuisine.
That, my friends, is Yuzu Panna Cotta ($8), something co-owner and general manager Lani Nakamura describes as “our most popular item on the dessert menu.” She adds that “it’s a really light and refreshing dessert — it doesn’t weigh you down after your meal.”
Though still creamy and indulgent, this specialty gets its lightness from the Asian citrus fruit, which is incorporated into the panna cotta recipe itself, as well as a yuzu syrup that glazes the top of the dish. Strawberries and blueberries on top only add more brightness to the panna cotta, and because it’s made in-house, it’s always nice and fresh. As a fun bit of extra spunk, the dessert is served in a chilled martini glass.
Nakamura attributes the success of Yuzu Panna Cotta to the fact that it falls in line with the restaurant’s approach to its overall menu. “We try to use Asian and local ingredients to put a twist on classic recipes,” she explains.
Don’t forget to stop by WISP Saturday nights to enjoy some throwback music and weekly drink specials during the eatery’s Golden Party summer promotion. It all goes down from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Wisp Restaurant & Lounge
Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head
2885 Kalakaua Ave., Waikiki