Hawaii Kai Eats: Assaggio Ristorante Italiano

Assagio – Osso Bucco and Shrimp Scallop Alla Bolla

Several evenings ago I took my mother and aunt out for dinner in celebration of aunt’s birthday at Assagio Italiano Ristorante in Hawaii Kai. Assagio has five locations on Oahu now, with the newest one recently opened in Kahala, while there’s also another one in Ala Moana Center, Mililani and Kailua.

Yet I think the location in Koko Marina Center in Hawaii Kai, situated right on the marina waterfront is by far is the one to go to if the view outside matters to you. Here’s exactly what you’ll see looking out the window during sunset from the restaurant here…

Panoramic view of Hawaii Kai Marina from Assagio at Koko Marina Center (click to enlarge)

Inside, the dining room is impeccably clean, cozy, elegant and romantic, with dimmed lighting (after sunset) to suit the mood.

Getting to their menu, which you can view via PDF at Assaggio’s website, it’s HUGE. Actually a bit too much, making it difficult to decide what you REALLY wanna’ try or feel like eating.

As soon as we sat down, a basket of their complimentary Italian-French Table Bread was immediately brought to the table…

While a compound herb butter or balsamic vinegar and EVOO would have been nice, it’s served with back-to-basics butter…

This house-made bread arrived piping hot, with a crisp and flaky crust, while being soft and supple inside…

Flavor-wise, it tastes just like the excellent French Bread from Safeway’s bakery. While just like the afforementioned store-bought loaf, the piping hot state it arrives in is a big plus, as that “fresh baked bread smell” hits your olfactory senses, which also allows the cold butter to  melt on, in and spread evenly. This simple yet excellent bread is “bottomless” (free refills), but I’d use restraint no matter how much you enjoy it, lest you carbo-overload and not have room to finish the massive plate of pasta that will soon follow. Hard to do, I know.

My mother and aunt both “eat like birds” (have very small appetites) and discouraged me from getting any appetizers, but we had to try at least something, so decided on trying the Eggplant Rollatini…

Assaggio – Eggplant Rollatini: Eggplant Rolled and Stuffed with Ricotta Cheese and Simmered in Tomato Sauce
with Mozzarella Cheese. $9.90.

For the main course, after having eaten very light over the past week, aunty the birthday girl was craving something meaty tonight, so from the Faranacci pasta selections, decided on trying the Sausage and Meatball Combination over Angel Hair Pasta…

Assaggio – Sausage & Meatball Combination over Angel Hair Pasta. $15.90 (small portion)

Mom also had been eating light over the past week, so on this occasion went for something “meaty”, choosing the Sausage Olio over Fettucini…

Assaggio – Sausage Olio: Sliced Sausage Pan Fried in Olive Oil, Garlic, and Anchovies. $15.90 (small portion)

Finally, yours truly couldn’t resist trying Assagio’s take on the classic Osso Bucco…

Assagio – Osso Bucco and Shrimp Scallop Alla Bolla: Braised Veal Shank with Onions, Garlic with a Lightly Seasoned Tomato Sauce. Jumbo Shrimp and Sea Scallops Pan Fried in Olive Oil, Garlic with Snow Peas in a White Wine Butter Sauce. $28.90

For dinner wine, I chose a Napa Valley Merlot…

…which was most EXCELLENT paired with that Eggplant Rollotini app’, and also helped that Osso Bucco and Shrimp along where it needed it as you’ll read in a bit.

Speaking of which, back to the Eggplant Rollatini app’, here you see the melted Ricotta cheese within’…

Of all the dishes we ordered, this appetizer was certainly everyone’s favorite. So much that we all agreed we’d consider ordering this as a main entree on a future visit. The eggplant was melt-in-the-mouth tender inside, with a wonderfully crispy crust that seemed to have been dusted with seasoned flour before they baked it, as it had this nice gritty texture contrast to the soft eggplant flesh beneath as you bite into it. Then you’ve got that creamy melted Ricotta within it that’s laced with herbs, and that ooey-gooey melted mozzarella and tomato sauce swimming around it that brings it all home. Excellent, excellent dish. Solid 4 SPAM Musubi.

Moving on, let’s have a closer look at aunty’s Meatball and Sausage Combo with Angel Hair Pasta. where here’s how that single giant meatball and sausage looks cut in slices…

I didn’t try the sausage, but did try a bite of the meatball, which I found was very soft, yet dense, having me guess there’s plenty of bread crumb filler in it. Flavor-wise, it tasted like a simple mixture of perhaps ground beef, pork, and a few herbs, including basil. The tomato-based sauce was also simple yet delicious. She raved about all aspects of the dish, giving it 4 SPAM Musubi, after I explained to her how my rating system works.

Then we have mom’s Sausage Olio…

I didn’t get to try these sausages either, but mom sure did rave about it, going as far as asking if they offered it for sale over the counter. They did say all their sausages are made in-house. She also loved the rustic flavors of the garlic and anchovies with the olive oil mixed all into the fetuccini. Based this blog’s rating system, she also gives her dish 4 SPAM Musubi.

Last but not least, we have my Osso Bucco with shrimp, where as you know, the “money” is the flavor-packed melted marrow in the core of the Veal Shank bone…

Actually, while this tiny marrow-picking fork is cute, it really would be better if it were a tiny spoon, as the 3-pronged fork was almost useless in getting the stuff out. Not to fret, as my butter knife got the job done.

The generous amount veal shank meat around the bone was fall-apart tender, succulent and juicy…

Yet the tomato sauce the shank was smothered in somehow reminded me of — believe it or not– local style plate lunch beef stew. While they probably used wine in the braising liquid, I certainly couldn’t taste any veal or beef stock, which would have given it that depth I was hoping for, but it lacked.

Then we have the “surf” side of this dish…

The white wine butter sauce was subtle, yet did a good job keeping the fetuccini lubricated and flavored without overpowering it.  What had me disappointed were that the scallops and shrimp both lacked any garlic and olive oil pan-seared edges, which is the key element of this half of the dish. Particularly, the Jumbo Shrimp, which while was properly peeled and deveined, could just as well have been “borrowed” from a (boiled) Shrimp Cocktail app’ that didn’t make it out, as they were a bit rubbery, dry and just characterless. Fortunately at least the scallops were succulent and tender.

Summing up the Osso Bucco and Shrimp Alla Bolla it gets 2 SPAM Musubi.

For dessert we shared a slice of the Strawberry Marble Cheesecake…

This isn’t on their regular dessert menu, but a limited time offer for Valentine’s, which they still had some left. As you see, there’s a birthday candle on it, which Assaggio so kindly provided this compliments of the house in honor of for our guest. And it was DELICIOUS! Not too sweet, while that chocolate cookie crust was to die for. 4 SPAM Musubi on that.

The service was first rate, with our server Michelle being friendly, attentive and knowledgeable about the menu. Water glasses were kept full. Our menu items arrived in a snap, with the appetizer from time to order to on the table within 10 minutes, and the main dishes arrived in a timely, speedy succession to it. They also granted us a prime window seat overlooking the marina that we requested for in our phone reservation, which made the visit that much more enjoyable and appreciative of genuinely considerate staff.

While I’m not exactly raving about the Osso Bucco and Shrimp Alla Bolla on this visit, I have dined here a number of times before and have had fantastic dishes in the past, and my two guests tonight certainly enjoyed theirs.  Good, (for the most part) simple Italian cuisine, reasonable prices, great service, elegant decor, and a wonderful marina waterfront location, Assaggio Italiano Restaurant in beautiful Hawaii Kai is highly recommended.

Assaggio Ristorante Italiano
Koko Marina Center in Hawaii Kai
7192 Kalianaole highway
Honolulu, Hawaii 96825

Tel. 396-0756

The Tasty Island Rating:

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)

Related links:
Assaggio Ristorante Italiano (Hawaii Kai location) – Yelp User Reviews
Assaggio Ristorante Italiano (Ala Moana location) – Yelp User Reviews


11 thoughts on “Hawaii Kai Eats: Assaggio Ristorante Italiano

  1. Assaggio may not have “authentic” Italian food, but they’ve got great-tasting food, that’s for sure! I love that place. One of my favorites is the chicken ala saltimboca romana: Chicken breast covered with prociutto, spinach, sauteed mushrooms, and cheese. Delicious!

  2. There’s also a location in Kapolei, which believe it or not I’m going to have dinner tonight! Not a big fan of sausage but that fettucini looks GOOD!

  3. I ate at the Ala Moana location about 7 years ago and was not impressed at all… it was really bland…maybe they have upgraded in these last years! The eggplant app looks mouthwatering!

  4. I had dinner at the Ala Moana location for the first time, a couple of months ago. In the San Francisco Bay Area, whenever I have pasta as an entree, I always order the larger size. Big mistake at Assaggio, especially since I had the Fettucini Alfredo. Good, but way too rich with that creamy cheese sauce.

  5. Kyle, I can certainly see how a large order of Fettucini Alfredo would have you “cheesed out”.
    The only problem I find with Assaggio in that regard is that the tables are way too small to order “family style”, which we wanted to do. But after seeing  our dinner table’s real estate size, was discouraged in doing so.
    Julia, the Eggplant Rollotini app’ ROCKED. If you decide to give Assaggio a second chance, consider ordering that as your main entree. Winner!
    Jean, ah yes, forgot to list them. Although from what I hear, the Kapolei location opened under a different name, then changed it back to ‘Assaggio’ only recently?
    Brian, if I’m not mistaken, the owner of Assaggio previously worked for and learned his “chops” from George “Cass” Castagnola, who had a successful restaurant in Manoa and Waikiki. I remember Castagnola’s Waikiki location in a hotel across Ft. DeRussy, which was AWESOME!
    Kat, next time home, you need to try the Hawaii Kai location. Reserve right around sunset. GORGEOUS!
    Speaking of house salad, Assaggio’s prepared their Caesar tableside. It seemed to be a popular choice by other patrons on this visit, as several tables around us did that. Shucks, I should have done so for our table. Will do on the next round!

  6. Pomai, you’re right about training under Cass. I remember going to his Manoa Marketplace restaurant over 15 years ago and being impressed. Interesting, Assaggio’s sister restaurant, Paesano, is now in that space. Another interesting point is that a few years ago, the Assaggio owners actually hired Cass to host at their Ala Moana location. Talk about turning tables! (I think there’s a joke in there regarding the restaurant business.)

  7. Aloha!
    I have never been to the one in Hawaii Kai but have been to Mililani and Kapolei. I like the atmosphere better but Auntie Pasto’s food is better!
    Great Blog..I will visit again!
    Mom’s Best Bets

  8. Your aunt didn’t mind you cutting in to her meatballs then waiting for the shot? My Mrs hates just waiting for me to get a photo of her dish! Never mind touching her dish…

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