The Weekly Eater


Larry Schmaus, general manager for Sergio's, prepares berries flambé for Risa Apeles, one of the restaurant's operations managers, and owner George Vandeman. The restaurant opened last Sunday.

The new Sergio’s offers tasty
fare in Tuscan ambience

We should all be lucky enough to have a fan as loyal as George Vandeman. The L.A. attorney and his wife Wini divide their time between here and California, and Sergio's was a favorite haunt. The 18-year-old restaurant closed its doors in the Ilima Hotel in 2000, and for a while, they searched for a "reasonable substitute" but none could replace Sergio's.

Well, talk about putting money where one's mouth is. Vandeman did some detective work and tracked down Sergio's original general manager, Larry Schmaus -- who by then had his own cookie business -- and found original chef John Stack at another restaurant, and bankrolled the return of Sergio's at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

It would have been a whole lot easier, and a whole lot cheaper to splurge on a cooking lesson, but Hawaii diners are the ultimate beneficiaries of Vandeman's effort, which has resulted in a contemporary restaurant with the charm and soul of a classic. For those accustomed to mall-style restaurants-in-a-box, it's a refreshing change. Upon being seated, a friend sighed, "At last, a real restaurant. I haven't seen one of these in a long time."

Events at Sergio's

>> Mother's Day: Service will be expanded to lunch hours from 11 a.m. Moms will receive a complimentary tiramisu dessert.

>> "A Night in Italy": Benefit cocktail party for Ballet Hawaii's 25th anniversary, begins at on May 26, with food and wine tastings, Italian music by L'Escargot -- Pierre Grill and Tony Chardo -- and Italian opera; $100. Call at Ballet Hawaii, 521-8600.

The restaurant was designed to recreate the ambience of a Tuscan farmhouse. Us land-poor types will more likely call it a villa, done up in warm woods with walls painted in a rosy salmon color, with arched entries to a cozy back room or balcony. The lighting is of the soft-focus sort that subtracts years from faces.

SERGIO'S PROVIDES affordable and healthy dining if you are willing to adopt the European approach to meals that are fresh from the garden or produce stand, simply enhanced by light sauces rather than buried under them. As appetites wane during the summer months, bodies require little more than such simple, elegant fare as bruschetta a la Sergio ($5.95), toasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped by tomatoes, basil and olive oil; and other basics such as prosciutto and melon ($10.95), which offers a mellow blend of agro dolce (sweet and sour); a carpaccio of sirloin topped with arugula and shaved parmesan; or a simple sauté of seasonal mushrooms (market price), which recently happened to be whole caps of pillowy shiitake, lightly tossed in a balsamic vinegar reduction.

Other choices include smoked salmon and toast points ($11.95), grilled shrimp ($10.95), steamed Manila clams ($10.95), and capesante al marsala, tender North Atlantic deep-sea scallops, sauteed golden brown and laced with an Italian marsala wine sauce.

Sergio's brings back old-fashioned tableside service, and many have picked up on this luxury, clamoring for the fresh Caesar or wilted spinach salads ($10.95/$9.95 respectively, per person, for a minimum of two).

In the pasta department, there is the classic pesto ($15.95); lasagna ($14,95); and penne a la Sergio ($14.95), with mushrooms and prosciutto laced with demi-glace and sprinkled with powdery Parmesan. Here, I didn't care for the cooked prosciutto, the demi-glace sapping its original flavor.

Based on description, the cannelloni ($16.95) of ground beef, veal, spinach and egg seemed too heavy to consider, but it is lighter than expected, without the greasiness that is normal at lesser restaurants. I can see why it is a favorite of patrons. Stack's approach to cooking throughout is clean and understated, with reductions and demi-glaces providing the lightning bolts of saturated flavor.

But the No. 1 dish here is the osso buco ($26.95), which often disappears by 8 p.m. If osso buco is too rich for you, there is tender veal in white wine or marsala sauce ($24.95).

Tableside service returns at dessert time, and you may want to plan your meal to save room for the flambés: Berry Flambé, Bananas Foster, Cherries Jubilee and Crepes Suzette (all $10.95 per person for a minimum of two). The latter is a citrusy treat as lemon and orange juice is stirred with sugar and orange zest, splashed with brandy and Grand Marnier and set aflame for intense, caramelized flavors. The restaurant has been open only a week, so for now, Schmaus himself is performing this bit of theater, while the waiters learn this rarely seen art on the floor.

Vandeman said he's proud of the new Sergio's, and he has every right to be. There's a lot to be said about preserving the past.


Hilton Hawaiian Village Rainbow Bazaar / 951-6900

Food StarStarStar1/2

Service StarStarStarStar

Ambience StarStarStarStar

Value StarStarStar1/2

Hours: Dinner nightly from 5 p.m. with late supper from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Cost: Dinner for two about $40 to $80 without drinks

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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:

very good, exceeds expectations;
below average.

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