Dondero’s: The Tastes Of Italy

Dondero’s servers Nemcio Padilla and Vanessa Carano. Daniel Lane photos

Gorgeous landscaping, ocean views and exceptional service make Dondero’s at the Grand Hyatt in Po’ipu a firstclass choice for fine dining. But, if you crave a dash of luxury and a splash of sophistication, consider an upscale pau hana.

There are six sections to the menu, and four of them are affordable pau hana options. Add a Twentieth Anniversary Martini, and you’ve got yourself a great way to relax after work. But, if it’s dinner you want, the Primi or Secondi courses are ample enough for a satisfying meal.

My husband Dan and I are dining al fresco on Dondero’s scalloped portico. Tiki torches, black against the setting sun, send out orange flames that dance against shades of blue. Pink-, salmonand lavender-tinged clouds cling to the ocean. Silvergreen leaves on a gnarled olive tree flicker on branches that stretch along the horizon.

Monchong with artichokes braised in white wine sauce

After Nemcio Padilla discreetly fills our water glasses, Vanessa Carano goes over the specials for the evening. I’m impressed with her detailed knowledge of the menu she knows the types of mushrooms in today’s soup special. This level of detail, combined with her accommodating attitude, are critical components that elevate casual dining to fine dining.

Ten antipasti selections for under $10 make excellent options for a tranquil pau hana. The Sautéed Calamari ($8) is a snappy dish accented with Hawaiian chili peppers grown in the Hyatt’s organic garden. Sautéed squid curl around bits of fresh tomato and float in a flavorful broth that’s spiked with fresh-cracked black pepper.

Petto Di Pollo with panzanella and garlicky green beans. Daniel Lane photos

Minestrone lovers will find Chef de Cuisine Patrick Shimada’s version scattered with veal and white bean ravioli ($9) on the menu, along with four salad selections. But it’s the Zuppa Di Giorno ($8), or Soup of the Day, that’s worth going out of your way for. Tonight’s potato and mushroom soup is exquisite: thick, rich, creamy and booming with the earthy essence of fungi. “I’d drive to Po’ipu for this soup!” Dan exclaims. I laugh because we live in Kapa’a, but see his point.

The pizza menu features four single-serving options, each on house-made dough and topped with a housemade sauce. The Salsiccia ($9) is dotted with handcrafted pork-and-chicken sausage; the crust is fireroasted and cracker-thin.

Salsiccia pizza

The first course, or primi, is traditionally a risotto or pasta, and at Dondero’s there are nine meat and shellfish selections. The handmade Rigatoni Con Vodka ($18), is served al dente, or firm, and lightly dressed in a tomato cream sauce.

The secondi, or second course, offers Pesce Di Stagione con Carciofi Barigoule ($38), or fish of the season with artichokes braised in a white wine sauce. Juicy pomfret mukau in Hawaiian and monchong in Japanese is sautéed and placed on a bed of baby artichokes, fresh fava beans, peas, Kaua’i Fresh Farm tomatoes and crispy pancetta. A transcendent broth surrounds it all.

Zabaione, a classic Italian dessert

Petto Di Pollo ($34) simply means chicken breast, but this is no simple dish. Seared organic chicken sits under a veil of creamy fontina cheese and crispy prosciutto. The chicken is set upon a bed of grilled ciabatta panzanella (bread salad) and garlicky green beans.

For dessert, we share the Zabaione ($10), made with eggs yolks, sugar and sweet wine. The whipped custard adds a feathery caress to the fresh berries and papaya. It’s a luscious ending to our meal, and makes me feel like I’m living la dolce vida.

Dondero’s Grand Hyatt Po’ipu 240-6456 Monday-Saturday, 6 to 10 p.m. Reservations recommended