A few hours after a wonderful meal with my father at Pho 97 (November 25, 2011), I met with my uncle and two aunts -- my father's brother, his wife, and my father's sister -- for dinner at Bernini, an extremely popular chic fine dining Italian restaurant near Ala Moana Center. Bernini's flagship restaurant is in Tokyo, Japan, led by Chef Kengo Matsumoto.
The last time Aunty K ate here, she became addicted to their bagna cauda ($12). As a result of her emphatic praise of the garlic infused anchovies in olive oil, we shared the platter of sweet vegetables and were dazzled by the simplicity of ingredients and complexity of flavors. I am convinced by the texture and intensity of olive flavor that the oil was not the sole contributor. I have vowed to recreate this.
Pizzas at Bernini are advertised as Roma style and are categorized as either rossa or bianca, with or without tomato sauce, respectively. I feel guilty for saying this, but the size is enough for me to eat in one sitting easily. My aunts and uncle took pizza slices home as leftovers...the reason I am overweight and they are not.
Uncle D ordered the pizza special of the day, a mushroom white truffle oil pizza (~$21). Since I love mushrooms, I enjoyed this. The truffle oil was difficult to tease apart from the intensely flavored mushrooms. Their wood-fired oven and pizza dough created a crust I enjoyed -- something I will rarely admit.
Aunty D ordered the Bismarc pizza ($20). I think nothing of putting spinach, broccoli, or basil in my pizza. Asparagus, for some reason, has never crossed my mind. The Bismarc also included pancetta, mozzarella, and a soft boiled egg at the center.
When the pizza arrived at our table, the server broke the yolk and spread it without disturbing the other ingredients. This is a wonderful idea in print and visually, but doesn't quite work in practice. I love yolks, to the point of enjoying them raw, but the slices at the points were soggy, which was quite regrettable for an otherwise good pizza.
When our server listed the specials for the day, my eyes lit up when she described with scrumptious detail the fresh Alba white truffle they just received which would be shaved over tagliatelle. She quickly noted the dish cost $48, which was not a surprise; however, my intrigue for this dish waned.
My uncle mentioned being intrigued by the truffle tagliatelle and said that was what I was having. It was tempting to scream, "woohoo!" but this was a $48 dish that would unlikely be on my dime. I perused the list of pizzas and finally narrowed my choices down to caprese (mozzarella, tomato, and basil) and carciofi (mozzarella, anchovy, artichoke, capers, and garlic). When our server arrived, my uncle ordered the Alba truffle tagliatelle for me. It wouldn't have taken an astute observer to notice how elated I was.
When the dish arrived, all eyes were drawn to the platter to witness its arrival amidst imaginary horns and banners. I held my breath. A large handful of fresh pasta was set in the center of a shallow bath of cream sauce. A pungent musty aroma arose from the platter. I was overjoyed when I took a bite of the tagliatelle and discovered the pasta was cooked to my desired doneness; a splendid vehicle for the truffles and cream sauce. The sauce was a perfect canvas to lighten the pungency without defiling the flavor. Of course, I shared the experience with everyone to lukewarm reviews.
Aunty K ordered the Siciliana pizza ($17), another unusually topped pizza of eggplant, anchovies, and capers. The wild impact of anchovies and capers to the tongue was met with the meaty and neutral eggplant -- a mini meeting between an immovable object and an unstoppable force.
We indulged in two fantastic desserts -- chestnut mousse and hazelnut mille crepe. My poorly taken photographs were a great disappointment, so I decided against posting them.
A few of my favorite Japanese and Romanian desserts are made with chestnuts as they have a tendency not to be cloying, just sweet enough to enhance its naturally sweet and mellow flavor. Additionally, the smooth and rich texture is exquisite.
We swooned (seriously) over the "cake," layered with 10-15 wispy thin crepes stacked alternately with thinly spread light whipped cream then sprinkled with toasted hazelnut slivers. A wedge of caramelized pineapple sat on the plate ignored until the cake disappeared. My uncle proclaimed that the dessert was divine. My uncle does not lightly bandy about that type of praise.
My family was very gracious in taking me to a chic restaurant with delicious and unusual offerings, allowing me ample time without pressure, actually encouraging me to take pictures. I was appreciative to be given the opportunity to enjoy this time with my family. Since the day I arrived in Cleveland, I have always known my days in the city are numbered. With each trip, leaving my family to return "home" grows increasingly difficult and the rift evident. I must be getting old.
1218 Waimanu St
Honolulu, HI 96814
Tel: (808) 591-8400