Sarento’s still soars with great food, view
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From the very first step into the private glass elevator that goes directly to the 30th floor of the Ilikai hotel in Waikiki, it’s obvious that Sarento’s is no ordinary eatery.
The long ascent to the world-famous penthouse restaurant provides a sweeping view of bobbing masts in the yacht harbor, west Honolulu and the Waianae mountains in the distance.
Inside, the restaurant’s enormous windows frame even more magical vistas: Waikiki, Diamond Head, and — for those lucky enough to be there any Friday evening at about 7:45 p.m. — a sky that glows with fireworks.
It might just be the best view in town, especially when seen over a plate of something delicious. Executive chef Amanda Cortez enthusiastically recommends Burrata Caprese Salad ($14), featuring Maui beefsteak tomatoes, balsamic “syrup” with fresh basil, arugula pesto and Hawaiian sea salt. “I love the creaminess of the Burrata,” she says, referring to the buttery cheese made from mozzarella and cream.
Originally from Whittier, California, Cortez worked with Mediterranean cuisine and American seafood for eight years before taking the helm in the kitchen at Sarento’s in January. Her background informs her style in the kitchen, and especially in the trio of fish and seafood dishes highlighted in Dining Out this month.
From the restaurant’s Small Plates menu, Ahi Bruschetta ($15) features locally caught yellowfin tuna, local avocado, Roma tomatoes and Kalamata olive pesto, all stacked on ciabatta crostini. Those who cannot get enough of this melt-in-your-mouth treat might save their appetites for Grilled Ahi ($38).
“That’s a steak-style treatment of ahi, grilled medium rare,” explains Cortez. “It’s served with a rich Cabernet port wine beurre rouge, Parmigiano-Reggiano risotto and grilled asparagus.” Like a filet mignon, adds Cortez, the ahi pairs well with a full-bodied red wine.
For those craving a decadent feast of fruits-de-mer, Lobster Seafood Risotto ($54) is evocative of a complex paella. “We make ours with Italian sausage and saffron risotto for an Italian twist,” says Cortez. “It features diver scallop, shrimp, calamari, Manila clams and a whole lobster tail.”
Traditionalists might gravitate to Sarento’s braised veal Osso Buco ($44), Sarento’s signature dish since the restaurant opened its doors 23 years ago. “The bone marrow is garnished with fresh citrus gremolata, which adds refreshing acid to the richness,” explains Cortez. A glass of Barolo from Italy’s Piedmont region is Cortez’ pairing choice for this dish.
Speaking of spirits, Sarento’s has an excellent wine list, and signature cocktails for every palate. “Before dinner, I enjoy the Adriatic, made with fresh grapefruit juice, Amaro Montenegro, Aperol and a splash of grappa,” Cortez says. “It’s a great aperitivo (cocktail that stimulates one’s appetite).”
Though she’s only been at the restaurant since the beginning of the year, Cortez is settling into the longstanding establishment nicely. “What I like most is the family-like atmosphere among the staff,” she comments, adding that she’s grateful to her cooks for always being ready to create amazing food and present new ideas. “Our food, our view and our service set us apart. I’m proud to be the chef here.”
‘Speakeasy’ does it
All the dishes showcased in this article are included in Sarento’s “Speakeasy Special,” available every day in the restaurant’s bar and lounge area. Enjoy live music, 40 percent off any menu item with each purchase of a signature cocktail and, of course, that world-class view! The special is offered nightly from 5 to 6:30 p.m., and all evening Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Wine and Dine
Mark your calendar for Aug. 24! That’s the date of the next installment of Sarento’s wine pairing series, hosted by Patrick Okubo — one of just a select handful of Master Sommeliers in the state.
For this very special evening, Okubo and Sarento’s executive chef, Amanda Cortez, will collaborate to create a pairing menu of regional dishes and the wines of Masi, an iconic Venetian winery. Call 955-5559 for reservations.
SARENTO’S at the Top of the Ilikai
Ilikai Hotel & Luxury Suites
1777 Ala Moana Blvd., Waikiki
DINNER Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.
BAR Sunday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight