Uncovering the Perfect Panna Cotta

Columns Ono, You Know

December 2, 2012

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Leah Friel

Happy Sunday, Ono readers! Get your sweet tooth ready because I’ve cracked the code on desserts! Yup! And you can bet your bottom dollar that panna cotta is one of the most exquisite, visually appealing, yet adaptable delights to ever hit the dining scene. The word panna cotta means “cooked cream” in Italian, and when you ask an Italian girl, like myself, to dig in deep into a rich and savory dessert like this one, it really doesn’t get much better than that. Tough assignment, I know.

So, this week, I spoiled myself silly with magnificent panna cotta masterpieces at the following Ono, You Know establishments. Imagine simmering together cream, milk and sugar and then mixing this with gelatin, letting it set and finally topping it off with fresh fruits, herbs, chocolate, caramel, what have you. In fact, you can personalize the topping exactly how you wish — almost anything goes!

Served chilled, panna cotta is painstakingly amazing and perfect for the holidays with a bounty of sweetness to bring out the merriment in everyone.


It’s the holidays, so why not treat yourself to a premier dining experience at Hoku’s at The Kahala Hotel & Resort? Here, the stars shine nightly amid an elegant and dynamic setting, and Hoku’s chefs prepare award-winning cuisine, which spotlights exotic Asian, Hawaiian and European flavors.

And yes, here at Hoku’s, you can have your cake and eat it too! Executive pastry chef Michael Moorhouse is the mastermind behind all of Hoku’s sinful delicacies, and adds his own unique touch to your typical panna cotta dessert. Priced at $12, Thai Basil Panna Cotta has been on the dessert menu for less than a year, but proves to be a favorite among guests. Moorhouse describes it as a classic cream and milk panna cotta set with gelatin and infused with Thai basil leaves, finally topped with an Italian granita and coconut sorbet.

“Our panna cotta is unique because we use an herb (Thai basil) to flavor it, which really isn’t a common thing to do,” Moorhouse says. “Panna cotta is a great go-to dessert because it’s extremely versatile. You can flavor it with whatever you want and you may serve it however you wish — spices, chocolate, fruit, anything,” he adds.

Surely, Hoku’s Thai Basil Panna Cotta cleanses the palate, and no visit to Hoku’s is complete without a bite. Share it with your special someone and wish upon a shooting star for yet another fabulous culinary journey at Hoku’s.

The Kahala Hotel & Resort
5000 Kahala Ave.

Panya Bistro and Bakery

Any meal is bound to be a good one with Panya in the equation. This 15-year-old eatery is always at the top of its game when it comes to satisfying its guests with a wide array of ethnic cuisine within a contemporary atmosphere filled with lush decor. Owners and sisters Annie and Alice Yeung, also known as the “A-team,” have transitioned Panya from what was initially just a bakery into a thriving full-service restaurant. Catering services also have been added into the mix.

There is no limit to what Panya can offer, and signature items such as Panya Burger and Laksa, an authentic Malaysian-Singapore-style noodle dish, are just the tip of the iceberg when referring to the establishment’s worldly cuisine.

A unique treat that may not come to mind when you think of Panya, but one definitely worth trying is Italian Panna Cotta ($5.50). Found on the dessert menu, Italian Panna Cotta bursts with a myriad of fresh fruits, including morsels of strawberries, oranges and green apple, over a creamy and rich vanilla bean Italian gelatin.

According to Panya staff, the vanilla bean Italian gelatin is made in-house for a unique, one-of-a-kind delight, and the dish itself is in high demand among dine-in customers. If you choose to get Italian Panna Cotta to go, know that it’s served sans fruit for takeout orders, but believe me, the succulent gelatin is already to die for as is.

Panya Bistro and Bakery
Ala Moana Center

Top of Waikiki

Top of Waikiki’s Fresh Island Fruit Panna Cotta ($6). Photo courtesy Top of Waikiki

On the top level of Waikiki Business Plaza is Hawaii’s only revolving restaurant, Top of Waikiki. Made famous for its eclectic global cuisine and its full but subtle 360-degree rotation every hour, this iconic Waikiki landmark opened its doors in October 1965 and has been dishing up spectacular meals ever since.

While executive chef John Neff is a pro in the kitchen, whipping up restaurant classics such as Anise Braised Pork Belly, Cioppino with Linguine and Herb Roasted Chicken, to name a few, it is of the utmost importance when dining here to save your appetite for the creme de la creme of desserts.

Enter Top of Waikiki’s Fresh Island Fruit Panna Cotta ($6), which presents diners with a decadent dish of creamy citrus Italian custard topped with a vibrant fruit medley of papaya, Kula strawberries, orange segments and blueberries adorned with lime-infused honey.

“We incorporate local ingredients into our dishes as often as we can,” says Neff, who received his culinary training from The Art Institute of Seattle, and has worked with a number of acclaimed chefs including Roy Yamaguchi, Michael Mina, Anthony Amoroso and Chai Chaowasaree.

With the perfect texture combination of smooth and chunky blended with the marriage of sweet and tart, Top of Waikiki’s panna cotta is a force to be reckoned with.

Top of Waikiki
Waikiki Business Plaza
2270 Kalakaua Ave.

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best