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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 7, 2001

Dining Scene
Zia's Caffe needs to perk up food, service

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Tomato salad and seafood scampi at Zia's Caffe. Recent visits found the Italian fare uninspired and the service less than satisfactory.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Zia's Caffe

201 Hamakua Drive, Kailua

Lunch: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays

Dinner: 4-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; 4-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday


Note: Zia's is also at 45-620 Kamehameha Hwy., across from Windward City Shopping Center


Eating at Zia's, you ask yourself, "Dove á la passione?" ("Where is the passion?"). You may also be wondering why your food isn't hot. Both times I visited, I encountered uninspired Italian fare and lukewarm food.

This is a cute place; almost all the tables enjoy an open and outdoor feeling. The service is friendly; however, it's not all that professional. The first time I visited with a friend, our waitress arrived at the table to take our order without a ticket or pad to write on. "Wouldn't you like to write this down?" I asked in an attempt to ensure an error-free dialogue.

"Oh, I don't need to write anything down ... I'll remember," she answered. Oh dear. Less than a minute later, she was back to recite our order — incorrectly, of course. Sigh.

Mussels Zia-style ($7.95) promise green-lip mussels steamed in a white wine, roasted garlic and tomato sauce, or you can have a butter and garlic sauce with no tomatoes. I chose the latter, which I hoped would be redolent of garlic and herbs, but it was underseasoned and had an unpleasant gluey texture, as though a thickener had been used. Or it may have been that the sauce was congealing because the dish was not hot. Our other first course, wasabi shrimp cocktail ($5.95), delivered overboiled chilled shrimp with a passable kicked-up cocktail sauce.

The Caesar salad ($5.95, with chicken $6.95, with shrimp $7.95) was the best dish of the day. This time, the shrimp was sauteed perfectly — juicy and spicy, a welcome hot contrast to the cool salad. The pear and blue cheese salad ($7.95) is a fine match, but steer clear of the Italian tomato salad ($5.95) with fresh basil, mozzarella and black olive pesto unless you're sure they were able to get really ripe tomatoes that day. Crunchy, tasteless tomatoes don't work.

The meatball sandwich ($7.50) and the Spadaro sausage, onion and pepper sandwich ($7.95) were misses. First off, the sandwiches are very skimpy (two lone meatballs on one, and one smallish sausage on the other). The meatballs had an odd texture, as though the ground beef got wet back in the kitchen. The sausage sandwich fared slightly better because the Spadaro brand is a good one, but the onions and peppers were not properly grilled.

On another visit, Miss A and I tried some of the house specialties. An order of meat lasagna ($9.95) sat there on the plate, limp and lonely. Chicken picatta ($8.95) lacked the necessary zing that white wine, butter, garlic and capers usually provide. Chicken parmesan ($9.95) was yet another mediocre creation; the chicken wasn't tender, the sauce wasn't flavorful.

I can't believe we stayed for dessert, but I felt like a coffee, which I hoped would be a big, strong Italian-roasted blend, but it missed by a mile, being weak and thin, a cup of cafe sadness. The tiramisu was good, though, provided by an outside vendor.

As we left the restaurant, I noticed a take-out menu with an almost prophetic message at the bottom:

C-Ya@Zia's. See ya, indeed.

Reach Matthew Gray at ChefMatthew@LoveLife.com.