Authenticity for the Palate, Italian-Style

Cover Story Features

December 29, 2013

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Leah Friel

Although Il Lupino Trattoria & Wine Bar is ostensibly Italian, its owner Wolfgang Zwiener and his son Peter Zwiener, the restaurant’s managing partner and president, are, in fact, German. Regarded as highly respected restaurateurs — both nationally and internationally — together they prove that the best cuisine spans cultural boundaries.

As the pioneer Italian restaurant for this father-son duo, Il Lupino Trattoria & Wine Bar opened its doors Christmas Eve 2010 at Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour and late-night fare, the establishment quickly has become a hot spot for locals and visitors alike.

Translated, Il Lupino means “the little wolf” in Italian, and Wolfgang Zwiener attained that name during his travels throughout Italy.

“My father spent a lot of time in Europe as a teenager, and while in Italy people had difficulty pronouncing his name, Wolfgang, so the Italians affectionately started calling him ‘Il Lupino,'” Peter explains. “Many people wonder why we opened an Italian restaurant — being that we’re German — but my father has always been in the restaurant business and we love all kinds of food. I believe Italian cuisine symbolizes comfort food — pastas, pizzas, paninis, etc.,” he adds with a smile.

With five-star, avant-garde creations at affordable prices, this sleek, modern eatery sits in a relaxing, sophisticated setting, featuring indoor and outdoor dining, al fresco bar and an open kitchen. The intimate indoor dining room, accentuated with decor direct from Italy, seats 140 patrons, while the outdoor lanai seats around 50. And as the first restaurant to bring the Italian tradition of salumeria to the Islands, Il Lupino offers prosciutto, salami and other cured meats and Italian cheeses carved fresh at diners’ request.

Italians are masters at transforming simple, everyday comfort food into dishes that manifest an out-pouring of love, resulting in fare that is undoubtedly delicious. Il Lupino’s head chef James Donohue prepares an array of mouthwatering dishes utilizing essential elements found in Italian cuisine, while also staying true to local tastes and concepts.

“I get a lot of ideas from Peter, as he travels around the world and presents new ideas that we are able to integrate into our cuisine here at Il Lupino,” says Donohue, who at the age of 24 has been trained and mentored by Peter since he was 18 years old. “At Il Lupino we don’t like to keep things stagnant, so in April, I’ll be spending some time in Italy to learn from the chefs there.

“Even though we want to remain true to Italian cuisine, it’s also important that we cater to the specific tastes of our clientele,” he adds.

Take, for instance, Uni Pasta (market price), an Il Lupino special featuring fresh uni (sea urchin) on a bed of al dente linguine that’s tossed with olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and accented by a dash of chives. According to Peter, the pasta is so flavorful and fresh, as locally grown ingredients are priority.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on the flavor of the uni, and it’s the uni that gives the pasta a nice, creamy texture. We emphasize the freshness and genuine tastes of our ingredients — so we don’t mask it with a lot of sauce or spices. It’s a dish that our Japanese clientele really enjoy,” Peter says.

Il Lupino’s menu is diverse, offering antipasti, soups, salads, brick oven-baked thin crust pizza, pasta, and chicken, beef, fish and pork entrees. Donohue works diligently in the kitchen creating seasonal, ingredient-driven dishes, such as Gamberoni Salad ($17), consisting of sweet morsels of shrimp, fresh mango, red onions and avocado with local mescaline greens tossed in a refreshing lemon oil vinaigrette.

Perfect for the season, Peter and Donohue suggest warming up with a bowl of Minestra di Fagioli ($12), a slow-cooked, Tuscan-inspired vegetable and cannellini soup with pancetta, Italian sausage, barley and fresh herbs. Donahue also notes that Prosciutto Pizza ($18 lunch, $24 dinner) is one the eatery’s many signature dishes, as it’s a classic thin-crust Italian-style pizza pie topped with Mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses, and adorned with savory pieces of prosciutto di Parma, fresh tomatoes and arugula.

“We want our customers to experience high quality cuisine, but at reasonable prices, which is why we decided to turn our restaurant into a trattoria, where you can get pizzas, pasta, paninis, and salami and cheese plates. But, you can also get higher-end entrees, including Ossobucco, Black Squid Ink Linguine and wonderful wine selections,” Peter says, noting that there are at least 30 mainstay items on the menu and eight to 12 new drinks spotlighted each week. Il Lupino also offers patrons a full bar featuring an assortment of wine from various regions of Italy, and patrons can expect their server to recommend the perfect wine pairing.

At Il Lupino, guests are encouraged to sample multiple courses and dine family-style for a truly memorable dining experience. And with the new year here, the restaurant has a slew of incredible dishes in store, including Rigatoni con Ragu di Salsiccia ($24, rigatoni with spicy sausage in a ragu sauce), Ripiene di Carciofi ($15, roasted stuffed artichokes) and a 20-ounce Prime Rib ($41), to name a few.

A taste of Italia awaits diners at Il Lupino Trattoria & Wine Bar, where-fine dining fare meets casual ambiance.

Il Lupino Trattoria & Wine Bar

Royal Hawaiian Center, Bldg. B, Level 1
2233 Kalakaua Ave.
Monday-Friday, 7 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Happy Hour, Thursday-Sunday, 10:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m

Cartier Royal Hawaiian, Honolulu, HI 96815

Ilima Awards
Hawaii's Best