The Weekly Eater
Closure is a wonderful thing. We were all left hanging after Donato's closed last fall, not knowing where its principals would end up. Troy Haley was the first to surface in January, having kept the site near Kahala Mall and renaming the restaurant for himself.
perfectionism serve up
After that, the question was "where's Donato?" Rumors had Donato Loperfido opening his own place, then going back to his former employer Sarento's and turning up on Maui. Well, he did help Sarento's to open on Maui, but the dream was always to run his own kitchen. He has that now, and as to the question of "where's Donato?"-- lucky Manoa.
The new Donato's is in the Manoa Marketplace, where Shipley's Ale House used to be. The layout of the room hasn't changed much. The bar is still there to greet you the second you walk in. They've kept the upstairs balcony/dining area. But the ambience has done a 180, turning from casual neighborhood bar to elegant dining room.
Not all Shipley fans will adjust to the change. That's just one of the reasons opening a restaurant is fraught with peril. On top of that, a power failure at the marketplace last week led Donato's to cancel 75 dinners. (The following night I went to Swiss Haus, and they too suffered a power failure; Hawaiian Electric, please don't let this happen. We all have work to do.)
Food 1/2 Service 1/2 Ambience Value 1/2
Where: Manoa Marketplace / 988-2000
Hours: 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, 5:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Cost: Dinner for two $35 to $60 without drinks
In the long run, it's passion that keeps the chef-restaurateur going and Donato demonstrates plenty of that. He always has been a perfectionist with a penchant for cooking from scratch, so that practice, combined with the newness of it all, has meant dishes do take a while to get to the table, though not to the point of ridiculousness. A good meal takes time and I've sat through many a 31/2 hour dinner. Donato's will get you out in 21/2; much less if you're the pupu and salad type. Just think European. In Paris people are out eating 'til midnight and dining is not a marathon but an affirmation of friendship.
If you're reading Donato's menu and skip to the entrees, it will seem expensive, with prices ranging from $16.95 for paillard di pollo, a grilled chicken breast topped with arugula, Nicoise olives, tomatoes and mozarella; to $25.95 for one of the chef's specialties, cacciuco, the Italian bouillabaisse featuring fish, mussels, a jumbo prawn and other shellfish.
But you don't have to go there. After all, it's summer and the heat shrinks appetites. It may be enough to enjoy an appetizer and salad or a pizza. Start with classics of mussels and Manila clams ($11.50) served in garlic white wine broth with cannellini beans or carpaccio of beef tenderloin ($10.95) dressed with roasted portobello, caramelized shallots, shaved Parmigiano, pine nuts, lemon and olive oil.
Simpler still is the timballo di melazane ($7.95), a sort of mini lasagna minus the pasta, but with alternating layers of eggplant, mozzarella, Parmigiano and a sweet, delicate tomato ragout.
If it's pasta or rice you want, the rich mushroom risotto ($16.95), a favorite from the old days, is back, and I was content with the linguine saporita ($13.95), fresh pasta tossed with baby artichokes and homemade sausage ragout, although meat lovers should be aware the "sausage" part was negligible, just a bit of ground meat.
For those who aren't good at decision making, Donato tries to help by offering three tasting menus daily. The first two, at $25 and $35, feature three courses gleaned from the regular menu. Donato's $45 menu features four courses that mix and match items from the regular menu and the list of daily specials.
Try not to eat too much. Donato brings back two of his signature desserts: Nocciolato (hazelnut chocolate souffle) -- with its gooey gianduia filling, a recipe he's had copyrighted since we last saw him -- and his other secret recipe, Limoncello. This is the perfect time of year for the lemon sorbet, but hmm, it's hard to pass up chocolate.
This is just the beginning. There are plans for a late-night pupu menu and live music a few nights a week by early July. Just like Shipley's, but with a better menu.
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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:
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