Get a true taste of Sicily at this Beach Walk gem.

BY MARGIE JACINTO

HARDLY ANYONE EVER QUESTIONS the authenticity of Japanese cuisine here in Hawai‘i. Whether it is a hole-in-the-wall eatery or an award-winning establishment, diners mostly agree that Hawai‘i can hold its own among its Tokyo counterparts. But what happens when one goes beyond the Pacific, say to the waters of the Mediterranean? Is there a venue that can give diners a genuine food experience from that side of the hemisphere, smack dab in the heart of O‘ahu’s largest tourist locale? In a word: yes.

Enter Taormina. Named after a quaint Sicilian village off the coast of Italy, the restaurant’s aesthetic is crisp, modern and welcoming. An elegant respite from the perennial foot traffic and tour buses that usually come and go right outside its doors, the two-story venue on Lewers Street attracts a majority of Japanese tourists (perhaps thanks to its detailed bilingual bill of fare and other Japanese-visitor friendly details) as well as those looking for a more upscale dining option. Though according to Taormina general manager Conan Paik-Rosa, local denizens make their way to the restaurant to a lesser degree—dining there more for special occasions rather than a regular night out.

As for its menu, it doesn’t scream, “island fare,” unless the island referenced is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Executive chef Hiro Mimura—who once called Italy home before planting his roots here on O‘ahu—prides himself on offering southern Sicilian dishes with finesse.

Visitors who drop in for lunch can order a la carte—either off the dinner menu or their abridged lunch menu, which contains some of the restaurant’s most popular offerings. Main dishes on the lunch menu come complete with either a refreshing chilled green pea soup or fresh greens served with a tangy blood orange dressing, as well as gelato for dessert. But if you want an ultimate sampling of what the restaurant has to offer, “A Taste of Taormina” is worth looking into. For $60, you can savor a multi-course meal comprising an appetizer, soup, a pasta selection and meat course, and naturally, the dessert del giorno.

Come evening, the dinner menu is brimming with sumptuous offerings— selections are divided into several categories, starting with antipasti (appetizers) like sliced prosciutto with melon, arugula and fresh mozzarella, marinated squid and octopus; all the way down to sweet endings. But in between starters and toothsome treats lies a medley of mouthwatering entrees. Noteworthy plates include the signature Uni Pasta “Ricci Di Mare,” spaghettini, tossed with fresh sea urchin and olive oil; and Fresh Pasta Nero “Frutti Di Mare,” squid-ink linguine sauteed with squid, anchovy and bottarga (cured fish roe). If those sound just a tad too adventurous, Taormina’s pasta pomodoro is a safe bet. It’s a light, yet satisfying dish made up of spaghettini al dente sauteed with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil, garlic and basil. Unlike fare found in other parts of Italy, Sicilian cuisine is partial to bright, clean flavors, and of course, the generous use of extra virgin olive oil. And thanks to Spanish and Arab influences, Sicilian fare also makes use of more exotic ingredients such as saffron, raisins and pine nuts. These very ingredients are found in Taormina’s “Linguine E Sardine”—a delicate medley of linguine, combined with sauteed sardines, garlic, saffron, pine nuts, almonds, anchovies, raisins, breadcrumbs and olive oil. Though there are many components in this particular dish, the flavors blend flawlessly together, without overpowering the palate.

You’ll also find heartier items on the bill of fare. Carnivores won’t be left wanting with the Colorado lamb, roasted pork shank or grilled beef tenderloin, while the full-flavored porcini mushroom risotto topped with foie gras satisfies with every rich bite. And speaking of foie gras, chef Mimura recently introduced his Bolognese Classico—a bold stab at the traditional tomato-based meat sauce—his version is made with beef, prosciutto and Hudson Valley foie gras, served atop fresh fettuccini. One of the heavier pasta items available, the new addition is predicted to become a favorite.

When it comes to wine pairings, diners have a hefty list of more than 100 bottles to choose from. Oenophiles will appreciate the extensive wine list, thoughtfully selected by master sommelier Roberto Viernes. Wines are classified either by type or by region. One page of the menu is solely dedicated to Italian varietals while the other contains Viernes’ favorites from Napa, Australia and more. Moreover, each wine was chosen to match the flavors found on the menu—don’t hesitate to ask your server for a recommendation or two. But wine pairing or not, Taormina will certainly leave you with an authentic Sicilian dining experience by the time you finish that last sip of espresso.

Waikiki Beach Walk, 227 Lewers St., 926-5050, www.taorminarestaurant.com