Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Appetito Craft Pizza & Wine BarRestaurant Insider
December 27, 2020
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
ANNE LEE speaks with Appetito Craft Pizza & Wine Bar general manager JENNIFER ONG-CUA and regional executive chef HIROYUKI “HIRO” MIMURA
Since opening in January 2018, Appetito Craft Pizza & Wine Bar has thrived under the direction of regional executive chef Hiroyuki “Hiro” Mimura, who started at Appetito’s sister restaurant Taormina 13 years ago. He now oversees the culinary direction for both establishments, but this week shares what’s new at Appetito heading into 2021.
AL: How did you get into the restaurant industry?
HM: I loved to cook and especially eat. I was double my size, I was crazy fat! I also was in eating competitions and won a lot of them, and held records in some of the competitions. I started cooking Italian food in Tokyo for about four years but really wanted to learn how to make authentic Italian cuisine. I was already passionate about soccer and the culture and cuisine, so I moved to Italy. I didn’t know how to speak English or Italian, I couldn’t even order what I wanted to eat. Thirteen years later, I moved to New York City and met the president of our restaurant group, interviewed and was hired to open Taormina.
JOC: I grew up in the industry. My dad had a restaurant in Carson, California. I’m also musician, so being in the restaurant industry is par for the course for artists and actors. I have been a dishwasher, a line cook, host, waitress, and every aspect of how to run a restaurant including front of the house, and back of the house. My first big break was opening up Mahina & Sun’s at The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in 2016.
AL: What makes Appetito unique to Hawaii’s restaurant scene?
HM: Appetito in Italian means “appetite, to eat.” Wine and pizza are important in Italian cuisine. How we decided on opening Appetito came from our customers’ requests for pizza at Taormina, which is more fine dining. In Italy, fine-dining establishments do not serve pizza.
The pizza we serve here is Napoli pizza. I remember eating this pizza 20 years ago, and it was surprisingly good. When they decided to open Appetito, I knew this was the pizza we were going to make because it fit with my method of Italian cooking. Napoli pizza cooking time is only 90 seconds and has to have a temperature minimum of 700 degrees to make it fluffy. Our wood-fire pizza oven almost delayed our opening. For the first six months, we didn’t serve pizza as we were ironing out the kinks with our pizza oven. That’s how important the oven was.
JOC: We are more of a casual restaurant offering quality Italian offerings, with an extensive wine list featuring Kenzo, Caymus and Italian wines. Chef Hiro is always evolving, and our restaurant gives him a way to show his creativity of his Italian method of creating casual dishes. At Taormina, he can do more upscale fine-dining options, and he can switch it up here to casual dining and tell his beautiful story about his journey in Italy authentically.
AL: Tell me more about your wine list.
JOC: We have an array of eclectic wines, curated by Jill Shiroma who previously owned Shiroma’s Wine and More. Our goal is to bring consciousness to the food and beverages that we offer, tuning in to our community needs where we have to take care of our bodies.
AL: What are the bestselling items and customer favorites?
HM: From our small-bites menu, we have our popular Spicy Meatball (call for cost), with green curry tomato sauce. This is a very interesting dish as this isn’t really authentic. This originally had three smaller meatballs, but I felt that the texture wasn’t always consistent — sometimes it would come out dry. Now, it’s one larger meatball that holds more moisture and added tomato to make it red.
The Portobello Fries ($11) are flash-fried portobello mushrooms with pesto aioli, topped with Grana Padano. This is an Appetito signature.
We also have the Prosciutto Pizza Napoletana ($23), topped with San Daniele prosciutto from Northern Italy, fresh arugula, mozzarella and shaved Grana Padano cheese; Homemade Bolognese with Pappardelle ($21), made with fresh pappardelle tossed in our housemade beef ragu sauce; Skillet Lemon Chicken ($28), brought over from our sister restaurant Taormina; and Atlantic Grill Salmon ($28) with prosciutto cream sauce, served with kale faro salad.
AL: How has Appetito adapted after reopening?
JOC: We had to modify and edit down the bar and food menu, and added a few things. We reopened Dec. 10 after closing our doors March 27.
We were able to really think about how to adapt. It gave us time to check on operations and really look at what was working and what wasn’t. It also allowed us to take care of ourselves and our family.
We made our tables lower to seat our guests more comfortably, before they were high tops and harder for families to sit, especially children. We have open-air dining and throughout the dining room, the air flows through the restaurant since we open our glass doors for great ventilation.
AL: Anything else you’d like to share about the restaurant?
HM: We have catering options and will be offering Savage Steak (our popular steak created at Taormina) to-go in the new year. It has a wildly popular following that we created over the summer.
JOC: We have contact-free ordering. Access it on our Instagram (@appetitowaikiki) or online at appetitowaikiki.com. There’s free three-hour parking at OHANA Waikiki East by Outrigger. Reservations recommended.