The caption below the photo on the wall said, “Arancino: A Spaghetti Place.” But Arancino on Beach Walk is much more than your run-of-the-mill spaghetti place. I figured that out the first evening I walked out of Outrigger Regency on Beach Walk in search of dining options and saw the crowd of people hovering outside the sliver of a restaurant located on a quiet street in Waikiki.
A quick search on Yelp revealed the place receives four stars out of five by reviewers.
Instead of waiting, though, I returned the next day for lunch. I got seated immediately when I arrived promptly at opening time—11:30. But by the time I left, almost every one of the 14 red, checker-clothed tables was filled.
And because I was as near to Rome as I could ever get in Waikiki—I ordered an Italian soda—blood orange. It was a little early for Chianti, although bottles of the wine were lined up on a shelf above the tiny bar in the back. Too, the inside of the place held the rustic charm of what I could only imagine to be an Italian farmhouse. Probably a little more kitsch than Frances Mayes’ renovated villa in Under the Tuscan Sun. There were shelves of miniature pumpkins, tin watering cans and old cookbooks; a string of ceramic chili peppers dangling; and the obligatory Italian flags hanging here and there. The walls were covered in cheap art prints of Italian cafes.
I started with a garden salad done right—a variety of fresh greens, steamed cauliflower and broccoli, watermelon radish, chopped mango and sea asparagus. And while that impressed me, I was smitten when my entrée arrived.
Instead of spaghetti, I opted for the day’s special—gnocchi in a creamy, mushroom pesto sauce—and while a hefty portion size for lunch, I ate every bite-size, potato dumpling on my plate. What made it more special—and what I went home telling my husband about—was the infused oil that Nick, my waiter, ushered over to my table in two hands. “This is my favorite,” he said. “I put it on everything.”
“It” was a bottle of olive oil filled three-quarters full with crushed, red pepper. And it was an amazing taste addition to my gnocchi—a smooth, easy-going heat.
“We've got to try that at home," I later said to my husband.
While Arancino’s may seem as homey as your Italian grandmother’s—if you had an Italian grandmother—its menu isn’t exactly down home. Or, at least, the kind of “down home” food I’m used to in my non-Italian family. And that may explain why Arancino’s menu stands out for me.
Because Arancino’s does serve spaghetti—several, unique kinds, in fact. The offerings on the menu are not dissimilar to the list of shrimp options rattled off in the movie Forest Gump. You’ve got your spaghetti with fresh sea urchin; spaghetti with a medley of seafood; spaghetti with squid; spaghetti with crabmeat and zucchini; spaghetti with a whole, Maine lobster; spaghetti with tobiko and calamari; spaghetti with fresh mozzarella and basil; and the kind of spaghetti you may be most familiar—spaghetti with pork and beef meatballs. Plus, the menu offers mushroom risotto and rigatoni. As well as, a selection of pizzas, traditional and exotic, vegetarian and loaded with meat.
This week is known as “Restaurant Week,” in Hawaii, when restaurants around the state offer special menu items and proceeds as a way to support Hawaii’s four-year culinary program--the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Diamond Head. Arancino’s is one. So, too, are Hula Grill, Ocean House, and Roy’s Waikiki--more than 50 restaurants participate. Restaurant Week is reason enough to go out for dinner this week. As if I need one;-)
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