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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

Dining Scene
Zazou transports diners to a different world

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Zazou patrons dine around a fountain and are surrounded by Sergio Mitrotti's paintings. The food at this European-style cafe hints at many different countries of origin.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

. . .


3 1/2 forks = Good to Very Good

3046 Monsarrat Ave.

Breakfast and lunch:

Tuesday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Dinner: Sunday-Thursday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m.


Sergio Mitrotti is one of my favorite restaurant people. He's the guy behind the (no longer in business) Cafe Cambio on Kapi'olani, tracing back to 1987. He left there a couple years later in the midst of a "messy divorce," and in 1991 opened Cafe Sistina on King Street, which is still going strong and about to celebrate its 10th year. Sistina is a special place for many different reasons — the food, of course, and the gorgeous re-creations of Sistine Chapel paintings done by Mitrotti himself.

"I am a decorator, not an artist," Mitrotti says, his modesty resounding in a definitive fashion. "I like to work with spaces, not canvas, perhaps use my talent to please people, their eyes and their taste buds."

Ah, yes, the taste buds. That leads us to his new restaurant, Zazou, a European-style cafe.

Zazou is fun to say. Its derivation is French, according to Mitrotti, but its meaning is something along the lines of "cute, nice, ready-to-go, hip ..."

The pace of the cafe, once you're seated, is slow and relaxed, casual in its most literal form. The smallish dining room is once again decorated by Mitrotti's paint brush, albeit in a less-formal style than his previous work. It's an open-air feeling, with a fountain in the middle, surrounded by a dozen or so tables. A few tiny tables are out on the sidewalk if the urge is for al fresco dining.

The food hints at many different countries of origin. Flavors that will remind you of Greek, Turkish, North African, Spanish, French and Italian are perceptible. Open for only four months, the menu continues to evolve, but I sense Zazou's mission statement would be something along the lines of wanting to redefine fast food that is fresh and simple.

Breakfast offerings include a handful of egg dishes ($6.95 includes delicious Brazilian rice or Tuscan roasted potatoes, and toast) such as scrambled eggs Florentine, bacon, egg and tomato cups, and a frittata. If you'd prefer a croissant ($1.75), Danish ($1.75) and a wonderful cup of Italian coffee ($1.50, $1.75) instead, Zazou has those.

Lunchtime is more exciting with its gourmet sandwiches ($6.50) served on ciabetta or focaccia. The tuna provenzale has onions, capers, Calamata olives, olive oil, harissa (a tangy North African sauce traditionally served over couscous), lettuce and tomato. Its flavor will wake up your mouth. This ain't your mama's mayo-laden tunafish. 

The roasted vegetable sandwich combines eggplant, bell peppers and buffalo mozzarella with a drizzling of oil and balsamic vinegar, and an aromatic garlic spread. The house also makes a sun-dried tomato spread that's on the roasted turkey, roast beef and cold cut (imported salami and mortadella) sandwiches.

The gyros sandwich ($6.25) is a spiced lamb and beef mixture served on pita bread, with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and Greek olives. And the pita pizza ($6.50) is baked with your favorite spread and three different toppings.

A selection of salads abound: pasta (small, $2.25; large, $4.50), spicy green bean ($2.95, $5.50) and Nicoise potato ($5.50).

At dinner is when Mitrotti brings out the big guns, the wonderful pasta creations he is known for.

Puttanesca ($9.75) has anchovy, Calamata olives, onions, capers, tomato and garlic. The chopped clam pasta ($11.50) has porcini mushrooms in it for a creative departure from the norm. Shrimp pasta ($11.75) sautees everyone's favorite crustacean in their shells with garlic and tomato sauce. It's a gutsy dish to serve because eating it can get kind of messy, but here you can enjoy peeling those babies without a second thought. Just ask for extra napkins.

Several other pasta dishes grace the menu. There are also three different kebobs on the menu that came flying out of the kitchen: lamb ($12.95), chicken ($11.75), and shrimp and fish ($12.75), skewered and fire-roasted until tender, served with Greek salad and Brazilian rice.

Desserts include a very fine New York cheesecake, tiramisu, chocolate mousse ($4.75 each), baklava ($1.95), various tarts ($2.75), chocolate suicide cake ($5.75) or Italian gelato ($2.75 for one scoop, $3.75 for two scoops).

Zazou is a place to enjoy with no hurries and no worries. Take your time, bring a bottle of wine if you want and reflect upon chef/owner Sergio Mitrotti's words as he rolls up his sleeves for another day of work: "The most beautiful moment is creation."

Reach Matthew Gray at ChefMatthew@LoveLife.com.