pleasure your palate at bistro casanova…

A culinary offspring of Makawao’s long-time favorite, Casanova, Kahului’s Bistro Casanova forges its own profile with a Mediterranean-inspired menu. From the cuisine’s bold flavors to its chic interior down to the friendly scene, it is obvious that high-spirited owner Giovanni “Steven” Cappelli has once again given the island a crave-worthy venue.

“Of course, we always aim to please our locals,” says Cappelli. “But we also would like to draw in the visitors who are passing time before their red-eye flight and want a great last meal on Maui, the folks coming from a concert at the MACC or the honeymooners who find themselves in Kahului and want a romantic dinner.”

My friend Lily and I walked into the non-descript office building and what was previously Manana Garage, a Mexican restaurant before my time. The atmosphere is a warm palette of beige and brown, which turns a bit more nautical as you go further in. Gone are the hubcaps and industrial motif and in go the white tablecloths, centerpieces of a single heart-shaped lily and original work from local artists. But the vibe remains down-to-earth.

We perch ourselves on dark wooden chairs close to the bar where a large painting of Ponte Vecchio in Florence by twins Marcello and Alessio Bugagiar hangs on a wall. Gaze upward and an illusion of a skylight with fluttering birds is actually a fresco by Ana Gaion. In a private dining room are driftwood panels by Piero Resta, and Rick Strini’s original hand-blown glass pendant lights dangle all around.

Head chef Matt Paet leads the kitchen under the direction of executive chef David Gemberling who oversees both restaurants. Cappelli and Chef Gemberling collaborate closely in creating the dishes, while Chef Paet infuses island inspiration to the repertoire. Representing the Italian side of the Mediterranean shores, Bistro Casanova’s menu makes a hefty space for Casanova’s well-loved items—like the delightfully layered eggplant parmigiana or the deliciously fall-of-the-bone ossobuco—all of which come straight from Cappelli’s family recipes. Fresh-baked breads, and house made cheeses and pastas are also naturally part of the offering. It all makes sense. After all, sustainability and homemade comfort foods are the very foundation of Casanova’s prominent run for more than two decades now, so why mess with the program?

General manager Jean Francoise Lefebvre is charming and, quite frankly, adds to the lovely scenery. He gives some helpful recommendations and introduces us to our server, who is ready with a basket of warm dinner rolls, always a great thing. During our visit, the restaurant had just newly received its alcohol license, and they had a nice, affordable list of wines, cocktails and bubbles to offer.

First up is the Kula salad, which is a safe bet of organic greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and olives with balsamic dressing. A braver option would be the Quawck salad, shredded duck (from the duck confit entrée) over greens, tossed with onions, with scattered pine nuts and dried cranberries, rounded up with a raspberry vinaigrette and topped with goat cheese.

We gobbled up the tortelloni al granchio, lovely pouches of crab, shrimp and ricotta are set like petals around a small heap of parsley in the center, over a wonderfully rich vodka tomato cream sauce. Other classic pasta options include linguine with wild mushrooms in a garlic cream sauce; angel hair tossed with spinach, garlic, pine nuts and tomatoes; and fettuccine with shredded veal shank in tomato and red wine sauce plus dry ricotta. All entrees  were nice large portions.

The seafood bouillabaisse had a lot going on but worked beautifully altogether. A tender stew of seafood includes fresh fish, mussels, clams, shrimp and scallops, jumbled up with potatoes, tomatoes and zucchini, and served with a garlic crostini. The full flavors and textures in a heart-warming saffron broth dance merrily on the palate.

If you are looking for straight meat, our server swears by the filet mignon, served with frites and a small salad. Dress with your sauce of choice—olive oil, garlic and rosemary infusion; green peppercorn and brandy cream; marsala wine and mushroom; and creamy Dijon with rosemary to name a few.

There’s not a big selection of desserts but save room for some crepes. We enjoyed a banana and Nutella crepe with whipped cream and a light-handed swirl of chocolate sauce. I believe they call this the Mrs. Add rum, and the dessert is named the mistress. Maybe it should be the other way around!

I cannot wait to come back for lunch and graze on a bunch of small plates from the tapas menu, which more accurately rings Mediterranean. While it changes weekly, the day’s offering sounded quite inviting—mussels steamed with a spicy garlic tomato sauce, lentils simmered with vegetables and served with Italian sausages, roasted eggplant over a crostini, or grilled Portobello mushroom over polenta with gorgonzola sauce. Accompany with your choice of wine and it makes for a blissful afternoon!

— eliza escano

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