NEVER be afraid of criticism. Mike Trombetta takes it from professionals and uses it to improve the food and the way it's prepared at Harpo's.
pizza shop patrons
With no formal culinary training himself, Trombetta each year invites a chef into his kitchen to tweak the recipes and teach better techniques to the cooks. The chef stays for three weeks to two months.
"It's nice being jostled out of your comfort zone," Trombetta says.
His restaurant chain is celebrating its 25th anniversary serving mostly pizzas, but in the last seven years, pasta, too. It's a significant milestone in this dicey business in these dicey times.
Trombetta was an engineer in Los Angeles when he visited Hawaii in 1973 and decided it was a superior place to live. "It was just so clean. In LA you need a fork and a knife sometimes to cut through the smog."
Unable to find an engineering job, he gambled on a tiny restaurant on Atkinson Drive, where he sold pizza, specializing in pepperoni by the slice. The idea had been born back in LA, in after-work conversations with a friend who owned a pizza place. "We would discuss the 'perfect' pizza store. He thought I should open my own."
Trombetta's by-the-slice approach -- new at the time -- took off with customers, and after six months engineering no longer appealed.
By the mid-'70s he was running restaurants in Ward Warehouse and on Fort Street Mall. In 1983 he opened the flagship location, in the big green landmark building on Kapahulu Avenue that used to house Hee Hing Restaurant.
Pizzas remain the backbone of Harpo's, although things have changed some over the years. Trombetta has three counter-front operations in Daiei stores and Windward Mall. He moved the Fort Street shop to Bishop Square and left Ward Warehouse, he says, when the personalities of both those shopping areas began to change.
Perhaps the biggest development, though, was the addition of a full pasta menu to the Kapahulu location in 1993.
The point at Harpo's, Trombetta says, is to dish up the best possible Italian food, "in a casual atmosphere, at casual prices."
Case in point would be his most requested dish, the Linguine with Clams, becoming a Harpo's signature. A half portion has seven large Manila clams, a full portion 12, and always fresh, for $5.95 or $10.50, respectively.
"A lot of people like to take a picture of a clam and pass it slowly over the linguine." Trombetta says he wants to load the plate with clams, "then charge what you have to charge without gouging."
Harpo's anniversary celebration runs through March 14. For that time, the restaurant will donate $1 for every pasta dinner sold to the March of Dimes.
LINGUINE WITH CLAMS1/4 cup diced shallots
2-1/2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
3/4 cup fresh button mushrooms
4 teaspoons butter (divided use)
1/4 cup dry vermouth
1/2 cup clam juice
1/8 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 pinch each salt, fresh ground pepper and chopped fresh thyme
12 fresh Manila clams
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
12 ounces cooked linguine
Saute shallots, garlic and mushrooms in 3 teaspoons butter until mushrooms brown on the edges. Add vermouth and reduce all the way. Add clam juice, parsley, salt, pepper and thyme. Bring to a boil for 15 seconds.
Reduce heat; add clams and onions and cover. Once clams open, remove them to a plate.
Add cheese and remaining butter to the pan. Toss until butter is melted, then add pasta and toss.
Serve with clams on top of the linguine. Garnished with a parsley sprig and more green onions. Serves 1.
Approximate nutritional information, per serving: 1,050 calories, 25 g total fat, 13 g saturated fat, 155 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,000 mg sodium.*
Food Stuffs: Morsels
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