DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Amy LaBlanc, head server at Spada in the Wyland Waikiki Hotel, holds the Pesce Del Giorno (Fish of the Day), left, macadamia-crusted waloo and crab cakes made with blue and king crab, served with tarragon mascarpone and tomato coulis.
Spada aims high but misses its mark
I try to be open to new experiences, resulting in a spontaneity that drives other people crazy. In Waikiki earlier this week, I was en route to another restaurant when I spied Spada, a jewel box of a restaurant attached to the Wyland Waikiki, with gleaming glass walls through which I could see its spare, modern, elegant but nonfussy interior.
SPADA BAR & RESTAURANT
Wyland Waikiki, 400 Royal Hawaiian Ave. / 931-6222
Hours:: Breakfast 7 to 10:30 a.m. and lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily; dinner 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
Cost:: Dinner for two $40 to $85 without drinks
Note:: Valet parking available
It looked like a place I would find comfortable, and with Italian cuisine, how could I go wrong? I Blackberried my dinner guest with the change in plans. Luckily, she had driven past the restaurant in search of parking and had taken notice, too, so she knew exactly what I was talking about.
The name sounded familiar, and yes, it is sister to the Spada restaurant in the First Hawaiian Center downtown. I haven't been back to that restaurant since it opened in 2004, so I can't tell you how similar the menus are.
Lunch is served at both sites, but dinner is unique to Waikiki Spada, and priced with the usual Waikiki premium, which I have calculated to be 25 to 30 percent higher than dining in the 'burbs. I can't say that's not fair when factoring in rent costs and ambiance, but I think diners have to be reminded about the business of restaurants in making their assessments. Unfortunately for restaurateurs, many people begin and end their value calculations with only the food on the plate. Is it worth the price or not?
At first I thought so, when presented with warm, fresh-baked foccaccia lightly dusted with salt and so delicious I devoured it in minutes. That's one way to save money while dining out. Fill up on bread, though that wasn't my aim. I would have been thoroughly happy just eating the bread and spinach salad ($16.95) tossed with shallot vinaigrette, onions, roasted mushrooms, candied walnuts and bacon, and accompanied by four herb-coated jumbo shrimp and a couple of balls of goat cheese rolled in a mix of peppers.
An appetizer offering of Shrimp Saltimbocca ($10.95) had sage layered between shrimp and its prosciutto wrapper. Those who have traveled through the Southwest will be familiar with the herb; for others it will be an acquired taste, and while it might be great with classic veal saltimbocca, it
didn't do much for the shrimp.
I wish our waiter had pointed out the abundance of shrimp in the spinach salad. The two dishes together felt like overkill, unless of course, you really like shrimp. Even with the redundancy, the saltimbocca was preferable to the small crabcakes ($14.95), sitting in an acidic tomato coulis.
They're doing a lot of things right here, starting with fresh ingredients and cooking from scratch, so I would like to say I liked it more, but I found the dishes I tried to be a tad off, from flavors to messy, overwrought presentations that strike me as being very 1990s.
Linguine Alla Pescatore ($24.95) should have been easy to pull off, but the pasta came in a small, rather deep dish that made it hard to pull the pasta up through the top layer of shrimp, scallops, mussels, dime-size clams and deep-fried calamari, which, due to the steam rising from below, was soggy by the time it arrived at the table.
Pizza, especially the Chef's Signature Pizza ($15.95) of roasted chicken, caramelized Maui onions, roasted mushrooms and goat cheese, also should have been a no-brainer, but the weight and water content of the pre-cooked onions and the thick-cut mushrooms - the same that were on the spinach salad - quickly turned the crust soggy.
Chicken Marsala ($22.95) was served with rich mascarpone mashed potatoes, but the marsala's sweet assertiveness could have been softened more. It tasted better as leftovers a few days later.
The restaurant redeems itself by coming closest to authentic tiramisu ($8.95) of anyone on Oahu, with its house-made ladyfingers, thick, velvety mascarpone and splash of espresso and Frangelico.