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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 15, 2002

New Sergio's comes up short on quality, service

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Since reopening at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Sergio's Italian Restaurant has struggled to meet expectations. On several recent visits the appetizers — including scallops in Marsala wine sauce and vongole al brodetto — were excellent, but the entrees proved disappointing.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Sergio's Italian Restaurant

Hilton Hawaiian Village

2005 Kalia Road

Dinner, 5-11 p.m.



The setting is lovely; the upstairs open-air dining room is beautiful, and the stage is perpetually set for a wonderful dining experience. That's what you hope for.

Sergio's Italian restaurant opened at the Hilton Hawaiian Village with a bang in April. Despite all the hype surrounding what really was a reopening (in 2000, Sergio's had closed its doors after 18 years at the Ilima Hotel), the restaurant has had a rocky start behind the scenes and is struggling in the dining room.

Longtime general manager Larry Schmaus was brought back to head up this version of Sergio's; he has now departed, and Risa Apeles is in charge. Additionally, the first chef left soon after the restaurant's opening; Matthew Johnson is the chef now.

Two recent visits (I have visited three times altogether) revealed a restaurant with many obstacles to overcome.

On my first visit, I was told to wait at the bar while our table was being set — but the restaurant was half-empty, and a quick glance at the dining room showed me that every table in sight already was set.

After we were seated, our waiter approached and recited the various specials for the evening, the soup, and the fish and beef entrees. Unfortunately, he did not mention prices, and it is helpful for patrons to receive this information.

We enjoyed the appetizers quite a lot, especially the capesante al Marsala ($9.95), scallops in Marsala wine sauce with a mound of baby greens. The sauce was clearly a demiglacé with just a hint of Marsala, savory without any sticky-gooey sweetness. The edge of the plate was sprinkled with bits of parsley and red pepper, making this a hit both visually and taste-wise.

Vongole al brodetto ($10.95) was a very pleasing version of tiny, tender and tasty Manila clams steamed in white wine, garlic, butter and herbs. We soaked up every last drop of the sauce with our bread. The Contadina salad ($7.50) was simple and hit the spot; slices of vine-ripened tomatoes are topped with avocado slices, with shaved sweet Maui onion and tarragon vinaigrette. Once again, this dish's presentation was lovely.

We should have stopped there.

Entree service was disappointing. Both entrees were sent back on our first visit. I ordered the osso bucco alla Milanese ($32.95), but it was clearly overcooked and tough. The other entree, involtini di vitello alla Bolognese ($25.95), sounded good on the menu — veal bundles filled with prosciutto and cheese, and sauteed in brandy demiglacé — but it never arrived. Instead, petto di pollo imbottito ($21.95) was placed on the table, a chicken dish similar to the veal I had ordered. Our waiter should have noticed that our entrees were wrong before bringing them to our table.

Some of the consternation attached to the entree mix-up was dispelled by general manager Apeles, who approached our table and was extremely contrite. She apologized, took the entrees off our bill and offered to buy us dessert. That's a difficult moment for any manager, and she handled it graciously.

We chose crépes Suzette ($10.95 per person) for our dessert, which were prepared tableside, as are many other dishes such as the caesar salad, some pastas and desserts.

Our waiter rolled the cart up and proceeded to caramelize the sugar, squeeze the fresh orange and lemon, and prepare the sauce for the crépes. Unfortunately, he was using a metal fork to stir and scrape, inside a metal pan. The resulting noise was worse than nails on a chalkboard. The crépes were fine, but the experience was not.

Another visit showed a bit of improvement, but I cannot yet recommend Sergio's.

Reach Matthew Gray at mgray@honoluluadvertiser.com.