Courtney Love just served me a Bellini. Okay, she just looked like C-Love, but her attitude was more Cobain–salty, sexy and full of don’t-piss-me-off.
“You’ve got to have another ID, man,” she says to my partner, whose license is crumbling to pieces. Perhaps her tone was a little intense, but I was into it, and she was just doing her job. Right?
Two beers and another Bellini later (hush, I was sharing) I realize that Il Lupino Trattoria & Wine Bar is probably the only wine bar in Waikiki where two people can drink, dine and deliver a signature upon a $21 receipt.
Yep. And that’s why Il Lupino makes my “Best Of” list for Best Pau Hana Place East of the Ala Moana Mai Tai Bar.
Happy Hour is from 3–6:30pm (outside and at the bar only) and appetizers start at just $5. Drinks start at $4 and the place is well, not a Hole in the wall. (Sue me, I’m not letting the Courtney allusions go.)
First to the table is a single meatball. But this meatball isn’t your average contorted meat-thing swimming around in a plate of pulverized tomatoes. It’s soft, tender and about the size of a baseball. In other words, it’s big enough for two, and it actually melts in the mouth instead of slowly decaying in one’s acid-ridden intestines.
My partner slices the meatball like a pepperoni and uses it to decorate his mozerella pizza ($5), paying close attention to spacing, spices and size.
Behind the bar, Miss Love stops in her tracks. I’m thinking she’s going to smash his head with a peppermill, but instead she says, “brilliant,” and mixes a basil drink for our neighboring patron. Love likes us.
It was in fact a brilliant idea. And so was Il Lupino’s idea to put veal, pork and beef into a soft ball atop a pool of pomodoro and Parmesan (Polpettone al Pomodoro, $6).
There’s nothing too special about the house bread, other than the fact that it’s there. The olive oil is sweet, the balsamic a bit too tangy for my taste but the Beef Carpaccio ($7) is a perfect topping if you’re brave enough to make a mini-sized Italian panini and face judgment by the bartender. Thinly sliced prime beef filet, baby arugula, lemon juice, olive oil and parmesan; it’s not the same experience as the meatball, but it’s pretty darn buono.
I’ve heard things about their dinner menu: “the cheese and truffle stuffed gnocchi are divine”; the veal piccata is “tasty enough to make you forget where veal comes from”; and the “golden beets and basil pizza are authentically Italian.” But I’ve also heard that the place is “overpriced” and “stuffy,” and that the “carbonara is bland.”
My response is this: Why the hell are you ordering Linguine alla Carbonara ($17) when you can order Tagliatelle ai Tartufi for the exact same price? I mean, come on–“parmesan, pancetta and egg” vs “citrus cream sauce with asparagus spears and black truffle puree.” Tartufi wins in round one.
But who am I to say this? I’m only reviewing Il Lupino’s happy hour, and it’s happy enough that I’ve been back twice. Perhaps I’ll adventure on to the dinner menu one day and experience the Zucchini e Melanzane or the Ricotta Stuffed Gnocchi. But for now, me, my budget and my affection for meatballs will endure the economic crisis with a certain sensibility.
In truth, Il Lupino’s white tablecloths and entrées like Ossobuco (a house specialty of braised veal shank with pine nuts, olives, golden raisins and risotto alla Milanese, $47) is probably too rich for my pocketbook. But, as you can see, there are ways around it. They offer a million dollar view for the price of a four-dollar drink.
Take this advice: Go, eat and pray that Love likes you.
Il Lupino also carries a sophisticated selection of cured meats from around the world.
Prosciutto de Parma
Dry-cured ham from Parma, Italy
Dry-cured and smoked prosciutto from Alto Adige, Italy
Seasoned Italian sausage from Emilia-Romagna
Tuscan pork salami seasoned with garlic and wine
Hot dry salami
Molinari spicy salami from San Francisco
Brain terrine with gelatin from Genoa, Italy
Prices are $3–$15