Farm to table, Italian style

Columns What's Cooking?

March 23, 2015

Story By: Rachel Breit | Photos by: Rachel Briet

Eating local isn’t about hugging trees or getting back to your flower child days. It’s simply about eating better. By default, locally grown ingredients are fresher and boast more nutrients than foods that are imported. Who can deny this about a vine-ripened tomato picked at its peak that only travelled 36 miles from the North Shore to your plate versus one that travelled 7,000 miles from Chile?

Chefs like Rodhel Ibay of Fresco certainly want to get you on board in supporting local ingredients. Besides having less of a carbon footprint, locally grown foods simply taste better. Sample the best of what our Islands have to offer at Fresco where Ibay plates up Italian cuisine with local regional influence.

Visit the eatery during lunch to take advantage of some dolce deals with specials that include either lightly dressed local mixed greens or a cup of Tuscan minestrone with chunks of vegetables and thick-cut pancetta, a bread basket full of freshly baked breads and sorbet for dessert. “Every bread that we have is made here,” Ibay adds.

From a distance, the Ital-ian Style Loco Moco ($17.95, lunch special) has the appearance of a regular moco, but look closer. On top, rests a luscious fried egg and a flattened veal, pork and beef meatball lightened up with crumbs of homemade ciabatta. Below, cream, Pecorino Romano and pan-fried smoked pork guanciale coats a bed of silky rice-shaped orzo that’s balanced out with sweet Kahuku-grown grape tomatoes and throat-warming Thai chili oil. Loco moco aficionados, you’ve not see this before. Ibay isn’t lying when he says, “it’s something different for the locals, especially” about this must-try.

Spaghetti Alla Bolognese ($18.95, lunch special) also is something you’ve most likely not come across. “It’s your typical bolognese infused with local baby bok choy,” explains Ibay, who with the desire to include a locally grown ingredient, came up with this combination through trial and error. “The slight bitterness (of the bok choy) goes with the sweetness of the tomatoes,” he says. It definitely works. The still-crunchy vegetable and the perfectly-cooked noodles covered with a comforting meat sauce of beef, veal, pork, prosciutto and pancetta play nicely together.

Get your napkin ready for Caprese Panini ($14.95, lunch special). The vegetarian sandwich drips with the goodness of colorful, juicy tomatoes (local of course), slightly melted buffalo mozzarella and a hearty smear of pesto aioli made with macadamia nuts “because we don’t grow pine nuts in Hawaii,” the chef says. Pair these ingredients with house-made ciabatta bread grilled over an open flame and you’re not going to want to put this sandwich down except, perhaps, for bites of garlic fries served on the side. But, you really only need one hand for that, right?

Though these lunch specials come with a sweet ending of tropical fruit sorbet that Il Gelato custom makes for the restaurant, if you want to try something extra special, Lychee Panna Cotta ($9.95) with dragon fruit sorbet is it. The chef has specific instructions for obtaining full enjoyment from this dessert, which is to build perfect bites of all the ingredients. Start by dipping your spoon into the swoosh of pureed sweet basil coulis, then scoop up some luxurious lychee panna cotta. Make sure to get some of the citrus-infused powdered olive oil in, too — Ibay’s nod to molecular gastronomy. “It reconstitutes once it touches your tongue,” Ibay explains. Finally, “your ending should be your sorbet,” says the chef.

Fresco Italian Restaurant

Hilton Hawaiian Village, Rainbow Bazaar
2005 Kalia Road
Daily, 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5–9:30 p.m.
Kamaaina discount presents 15-percent off a la carte menu. Self-parking is free up to four hours.

Honolulu, HI 96815

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best