Makiki Eats: Cafe Sistina

Cafe Sistina’s Pollo Limone dish with Chef and Artist Sergio’s restaurant mural art in background

Yesterday our gang celebrated Diner C’s birthday at Cafe Sistina, an Italian restaurant that’s been in business in Honolulu for over 20 years now.

Cafe Sistina is owned and operated by Chef Sergio Mitrotti, who’s been labeled a ‘Renaissance Man’ for his diversity of accomplishments in life, including a successful career as a graphic artist in his native Italy, as well as being the proprietor of a boutique clothing shop in Beverly Hills, to where he is now as a restaurateur in Honolulu.

His artistic background is clearly evident once you set foot into the dining room at Cafe Sistina, where you’re greeted with entire wall-to-ceiling replica paintings of the renaissance artists’ work in Vatican City’s Sistine Chapel.  All painted by Chef Sergio himself, which I must say, the work is VERY, VERY impressive!  It’s also rather uncanny, being that right outside the door of this “Italian oasis” if you will, stands an otherwise nondescript office building filled with insurance, medical and dental offices.

Without further ado, have a look for yourself at Chef/Artist Sergio’s magnificent work adorning Cafe Sistina’s dining room…

Entrance to the men and womens restrooms…

The entrance from the back of the lobby in the parking structure has a deceptively painted door on the wall…

Hmmm, which one do we enter from?

Now when you have a chef who’s that artistic with paint on canvas (or wall for that matter), imagine what his or her capabilities could be with food on a plate!

Chef Sergio learned his culinary craft back home in Italy from mediterranean fisherman, housewives in the local markets, as well as watching and helping his mother and grandmother in the family kitchen back in his native city of Turin in the northern region. Combining all those learned techniques, his dishes are said to be earthy, creative and truly authentic.

That said, let’s have a look now at what’s on the menu…

Sorry about the out-of-focus results on some of these menu photos. Hopefully you can read most of it without hurting your eyes. Otherwise, go to their website here, where you can view some (but not all) of what you’d actually find in the restaurant and menu as presented here.

As you see, the menu is predominantly pasta-based, with just a few other selections prepared with either risotto (rice), polenta (cornmeal) or gnocchi (sometimes potato-based). Which is fine with me, as I think of pasta first and foremost before anything else when it comes to Italian cuisine. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Anyhow, on this first time visit to Cafe Sistina for all of us except Diner AC, since we were told the entree portions here were quite large, we skipped appetizers and went straight for the main dish, starting with Birthday Girl Diner C’s dish, the Pollo Limone…

Cafe Sistina – Pollo Limone: Chicken breast sautéed with cremini mushrooms Capers in a zesty lemon wine sauce, linguine. $15.75

Continuing with a similar chicken theme, from the ‘SPECIAL COLLECTION’ menu, Diner A went with the Pollo Noci E Marsala dish…

Cafe Sistina – Pollo Noci E Marsala: Chicken sauteed with garlic in special walnut sauce with penne. $15.75

Going into another direction, Diner E went with this very interesting and mighty tasty Italian sausage dish name Salciccia al Chianti…

Cafe Sistina – Salciccia al Chianti: Italian sausages sauteed with onions and garlic in a zesty tomato wine sauce with Penne. $14.75

In this case, Diner E subsituted Penne for Linguine pasta, which they were happy to do upon request.

Diner AC, who’s been here a few times in the past and is fond of their eggplant dishes, on this occasion continued that trend,  this time trying the Orecchiette Melanzane…

Cafe Sistina – Orecchiette Melanzane: Olive oil, onions, garlic, eggplant and basil in a Light tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella. $14.75

Last but not least, after a weekend of meat-heavy Super Bowl indulgences, I decided to lighten up for the new week with what they tout as a “great vegetarian choice”, opting for the Penne ai Porcini…

Cafe Sistina – Penne ai Porcini: Great vegetarian choice….spinach penne in a Wild porcini and forest mushroom sauce. $14.75

Included with every meal is complimentary “bottomless” (continuously replenished as needed) table bread…

Cafe Sistina – complimentary table bread with compound butter, Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil

Speaking of vegetarian, we all got a little greens in by sharing this generously-portioned Insalata Contadina…

Cafe Sistina – Insalata Contadina: Large-Mixed greens, grilled eggplant, zucchini, onion, bell peppers, frittata, feta cheese. $11.75

In fact, while we didn’t do that on this visit (and folks on Yelp don’t really mention it), all the dishes were so generous in portion, that I’d recommend dining family style here due to the nature of how they’re plated.  Each main entree plus a salad could easily feed two hungry adults. I’d say 2 main entrees plus a salad could easily feed 4. Or if you’re really hungry, just go by the general rule and order one dish per person shared family style.  Can’t go wrong there.

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed my heaping helping of spinach penne that was tossed in that WONDERFUL forest mushroom sauce. De-lish! Not to forget the generous helping of sliced sauteed Porcini that totally ROCKED this dish. God, how I love mushrooms with pasta. Mushrooms with just about ANYTHING, actually!

As for the Spinach Penne, while the green color may have you think it tasted really “green”, in reality it was mostly just a coloring agent and didn’t taste much different that standard penne pasta, if not being ever-so-slightly “earthy”. Yet that said, the sum of its parts surely proves to add up!

Here Diner E shows off that fantastic house-made Italian sausage, as he rolls it up on his fork along with a helping of perfectly al dente linguine…

It was difficult to pinpoint the spices in the sausage on just the one slice I tried, but I’d say it’s like a cross between Chorizo, Hawaii style Portuguese Sausage and Salami, if that helps at all. Kinda’ spicy, a little dry, yet the sauce provided a pleasant moisture contrast to it, while also adding an acidic element from the tomato sauce. Very, very nice! If Chef Sergio were willing to sell this sausage to me on the side, I’d buy some!

Overall, while I can’t go into details of every nuance of flavors for every entree here, trying my best to convey it all in a nutshell, I will say from the bite I had from each one that my fellow diners shared with me, the recipes certainly live up to how I explained earlier where Chef Sergio’s culinary roots are held. The food was all certainly authentic tasting (to what I imagine in my mind of the region), while indeed being earthy, rustic, creative and — yes — ARTISTIC  in a simple, yet well-executed way.

Kind of going in reverse here, the table bread, which was served before the meal with Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil (which didn’t taste like Extra Virgin) and an herb-infused compound butter was served nice and warm/hot (points on that), with a fresh, soft and supple interior, while being slightly flaky-crunchy-crusty outside. Nothing outstanding or unique, yet certainly not a disappointment as far as basic table breads are concerned.

As for the Insalata Contadina (salad), THAT had a wonderfully-flavored Extra Virgin Olive Oil-based Vinaigrette dressing, while the grilled Eggplant and various fresh veggies all met expectations for quality. Of course can’t forget the Feta Cheese. Overall, no complaints. Very good.

While as usual we were all quite stuffed, we made room for a few desserts on this birthday occasion, which here we shall take a look at the menu for that…

First arriving on the table was a complimentary Birthday slice of their Tiramisu…

Cafe Sistina – House Specialty. A homemade authentic Italian dessert. $6.50 (birthday comp’d)

Following that, we have the Passion Mango Cheesecake…

Cafe Sistina – Passion Mango Cheesecake: Layers of creamy smooth passion fruit (Lilikoi) and mango topped with tart passion fruit curd and finished with a thin layer of passion-mango glaze. $5.50

Wrapping it up, the Cafe Ole…

Cafe Sistina – Cafe Ole: A dessert for coffee lovers, flavorful layers of espresso, chocolate and cream served on a toasted hazelnut crust. $5.75

I’m quite confident just by the looks and SOUND of the descriptions of each of these desserts, I don’t need to tell you each and every one ROCKED, do I? OMG, Delicioso!

Just one note is that the Passion Mango Cheesecake tasted more like LEMON Cheesecake, as that tart-flavored Passion fruit “glaze” dominated its flavor. Still good though!

The Cafe Ole? AWESOME. Same for the Tiramisu. I really liked that one, which was super moist and refreshing, not heavy. None of these desserts were too sweet either. All had good balance. I’m going with an overall solid 4 SPAM Musubi on all the desserts.

Summing it up, satisfying our hunger for some good Italian pasta, Cafe Sistina delivered. Across the board, the food met or exceeded our expectations, with a rustic and simple yet sophisticated flare to each dish.

The ambiance was clean and elegant yet not too pretentious nor casual. While the artwork adorning every wall and ceiling was a feast for the senses, not to mention a great conversation piece as you wait for your food.

The service on our visit was very good. Food arrived at the table within a reasonable time, while our servers were both genuinely friendly and attentive and knowledgeable about the menu. Add to that the convenient FREE parking in the building with validation.

All that said, if you haven’t been here yet, or haven’t in a while, absolutely do put Cafe Sistina on your must-do/redo list.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, if you’re looking for a romantic “hidden gem” that won’t break the bank, Cafe Sistina should make an excellent choice!

Cafe Sistina
1314 South King street
Honolulu, Hawaii  96814
Tel. 596-0061

The Tasty Island rating:

(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!)

Related links:
Cafe Sistina – Yelp user reviews


7 thoughts on “Makiki Eats: Cafe Sistina

  1. The one time I ate at Sistina was years ago. I ordered something with shrimp, and was really disappointed to discover that it was overcooked and tough. I guess I’ll have to give the place another try.

  2. I love this blog! I’m a Hawaii girl going to college in New Mexico, and I always look at your blog when I miss home. Love all the pictures! Everything looks sooooo ono!

    Keep it up!!

  3. I dunno, Pomai. The art is really distracting, and I know it’s classical stuff and all, but (and I’m not a prude) all those naked body parts while I’m eating just doesn’t work for me. 😦 The food looks good, though.

  4. Jodi, none of us in our party felt distracted at all. Neither did it seem the case with diners sitting around our table. Especially once the food arrived, where at that point we weren’t staring at the walls, but ( pun intended)  just what we were eating!
    Aldona, mahalo! Will do.
    Kat, I have NO IDEA what a “sunshine award” is, but I’ll certainly read your blog post tomorrow to find out!
    Spotty, sorry to hear about the tough shrimp. That’s an easy blunder to happen, I don’t care WHAT restaurant you’re talking about. It all comes down to who’s in the kitchen, time and condition.

  5. Unlike Jodi, I don’t mind naked parts, or more specifically, lady naked parts. Whether or not I would be able to eat a meal or just act goofy over the rolls is another story.

    All of it looks good, especially the desserts.

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