GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chefs Philippe Padovani, left, and Donato Loperfido team up at Elua, in the former location of L'Uraku restaurant.
Chefs’ partnership pays off at Elua
Elua's is the last of late spring's spate of big restaurant grand openings. Several readers have been hounding me to get to this one, but I had to steel myself first. The pairing of two "name" chefs, Philippe Padovani and Donato Loperfido -- beyond the occasional event dinner -- is a first for Honolulu, and let's just say I've had enough encounters with the chef ego to know the kind of fireworks that can ensue when you put two big personalities in a small kitchen. The idea of dealing with not just one, but two chefs was mentally draining, but it had to be done.
There was also the matter of the menu. What would a dual effort look like when Padovani's and Loperfido's styles are so different?
It all made sense once I stepped into the familiar dining room, home to L'Uraku for so long, now stripped of its playful umbrellas and dressed in more formal decor. That doesn't mean it's stuffy at all. The room has an elegant, casual vibe, and it's a hot spot for a lot of Honolulu's prominent execs and attorneys. It makes sense that the restaurant would cater to a high-caliber clientele, because Elua is a delightfully adult restaurant that could hold its own against any big-city restaurant across the nation.
To my relief, the restaurant's dual-chef concept is as theme-y as it gets. There are no French-Italian fusion shenanigans on the menu, making the chefs' situation more like a casual live-in relationship than a full marriage, and I'm not about to guess how long this relationship will last. What matters is that in this moment it seems to be working. Padovani is responsible for one page, Loperfido for the other, and they both take their halves seriously.
For guests the beauty of the partnership is that couples with divergent cravings -- one wants French, the other, Italian -- need not compromise. Both can share a table here and leave satisfied.
More practically, the partnership allows them time to pursue extracurricular culinary endeavors, from Padovani's growing chocolate business to Loperfido's wine importing and association with Pasta & Basta.
If you're ordering off one chef's menu to start, however, I advise sticking with that menu throughout. In mixing and matching, I found the sharp, bright flavors of some of Loperfido's tomato-based dishes too overwhelming for Padovani's more rustic, savory approach.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Elua is an adult restaurant geared toward those who take food seriously and dislike culinary gimmicks.
If you must sample both together, try Elua's five-course tasting menu of selections chosen by the chefs. The summer tasting menu features oysters with Hawaiian mignonette; Cavatelli Piemontese shell pasta with beef and veal tenderloin, porcini, onions and truffle sauce; poached Pacific blue shrimp; roasted Muscovy duck breast with pickled ginger plum sauce; and a symphony of desserts. The cost is $80, or $95 with 2-ounce portions of wine accompanying each dish. (I didn't agree with all the wine pairings, but no one ever died from a mismatch. Live and learn, I always say.)
The entire menu is tempting but will change soon for fall. If you have the chance to visit soon, don't miss Padovani's simple fricassee of seasonal mushrooms ($12): brown clamshell, alba clamshell, crimini and shiitake drizzled with Parmesan, vinaigrette and truffle oil. I've tasted many a fricassee in this town reduced to a mushy brown mess, but this was definitely not the case here. Every 'shroom had its crunchy, woodsy dignity intact.
Fans of foie gras should not miss the chef's rich terrine of Hudson Valley duck foie gras ($28), made from a recipe he devised decades ago that is still sought in France.
Those who recently lost small fortunes in the roller-coaster stock market might be relieved to find they need not spend a fortune here to dine in style. I would have been happy dining on nothing more than a trio of appetizers that might add up to about $40. That might sound like a lot to some, but after paying well more than $100 for some really bad meals lately, $40 for excellence sounds like a steal.
You might try sharing Padovani's gently sautéed Pacific blue shrimp accompanied by a salad of shredded hearts of palm ($17) or skip ahead to an entree of crispy confit of duck leg ($21). Padovani tends to put a lot of his favorite comfort foods on the menu, so the duck is served with plain braised cabbage and sweet onions. I'm all for simplicity and integrity of ingredients, so that's just fine with me. Similarly, roasted onaga ($28) is served atop a bed of crisp slivers of humble sautéed snow peas over a mild, creamy cilantro curry sauce.
A READER also called recently to inquire where he can get Colorado lamb chops, and you can find it here on Loperfido's side of the menu, at $35, roasted with sweet Black Mission figs and balsamic vinegar.
Those favoring pastas with just a touch of meat might opt instead for the Cavatelli Piemontese ($20), billowy pappardelle with Canadian wild boar and mild tomato ragout ($18).
Whet your appetite first with the chef's fire-roasted heirloom tomato soup ($10) with the sharp citrusy bite of blood oranges, plus mozzarella Caprese that includes Loperfido's homemade mozzarella.
I would have liked to try Loperfido's Black Mediterranean Mussels ($12) with garlic, white wine and San Marzano tomatoes, but it was sold out when I visited.
Lastly, before you order dessert, make sure you have a chance to examine the cheese assortment. Most people can undertake one, not both, and I would hate for anyone to miss the option.