saltimbocca: modern italian cucina at the ma‘alaea harbor shops

Saltimbocca, pastaMamma mia, who doesn’t love Italian cuisine? According to the Food Network, it’s the most popular ethnic cuisine in the entire country. And no wonder: Italian food is warm and satisfying like a hug from your nonna (grandmother). Saltimbocca, one of the newest entries into the Maui dining scene, promises authentic Italian cuisine and affordable fun in a warm family atmosphere, and it delivers handsomely on all three.

It’s a typical windy evening in Ma‘alaea when Charles and I enter the warm, welcoming Saltimbocca. Occupying the prime oceanfront spot at the Harbor Shops, Saltimbocca’s drop-dead-gorgeous commanding views have made this spot one of our all-time favorites.

Our server Joe (he tells us he also goes by Joseph or Giuseppe) says Saltimbocca’s Chef Mirko hails from Southern Italy, making him the “real deal.” Assistant server Jobi brings house-made focaccia and sourdough bread—both are absolute knock-outs—along with olive oil and a robust balsamic for dipping. Restaurant owner Masha Bateman delivers glasses of bubbly champagne perfect for sharing a “Lucky We Live Maui” toast.

Charles and I sink a little deeper into our chairs and take in the surroundings. Masha and her husband Jim (former general manager of Mala Wailea) have created a little slice of Italy right here in Ma‘alaea: Saltimbocca’s walls are painted in a palette of soothing earth tones reminiscent of the Mediterranean; paintings depicting scenes in Italy grace those walls; while instrumental “world music” plays softly in the background. The ambiance is more than comfortable—this a place to kick back, relax, and enjoy a leisurely dining experience rather than just a dinner out.

>From the Antipasti section of the menu, we’ve selected the Beef Carpaccio ($14) and Roasted Gnocchi ($11). Masha surprises us by also bringing an order of Scallops and Jumbo Prawns ($15). The carpaccio is a gorgeous work of art: thinly sliced raw beef tenderloin is fanned out beneath a mound of fresh arugula, and topped with generous shavings of parmesan and creamy dijon dressing. It tastes even better than it looks, and Charles and I roll our eyes heavenward with each delectable bite.

The scallops with jumbo prawns dish breaks the “rule” against pairing cheese and seafood, and we’re delighted it does. Three beautifully seared prawns are accompanied by two equally lovely scallops, and are presented atop a pool of the creamiest, most addictive parmesan fondue a human being could imagine. After we devour the seafood morsels, it’s mandatory Charles and I wipe up every dot of remaining sauce with that fresh-from-the-oven bread I told you about earlier.

Next we dive into the roasted gnocchi, which are oven roasted with rosemary and sage. These little pillows of goodness are light and airy, and their delicate flavor profile provides a nice counterbalance to the savoriness of the carpaccio.

By now, the wind has subsided to a gentle breeze. Masha stops by to check on us. When we mention that it’s obvious Chef Mirko has carefully thought out every element of his dishes, Masha tells us he inspects every plate before it leaves the kitchen. “He pays incredible attention to detail,” she says. “He’s all about the food, and he’s always trying new flavors and combinations.” Charles and I wonder how one signs up to become Chef Mirko’s taste testers.

For salads, we’ve selected Caprese ($14) and Insalata Mista ($11). The former features ample slices of juicy red vine-ripened tomatoes alternated with equivalently sized slices of ultra creamy and rich buffalo mozzarella. The dish is finished with a drizzle of balsamic and a chiffonade of fresh basil, resulting in a refreshing fusion of some of Charles’s and my favorite flavors.

The Insalata Mista, an Italian classic, is composed of spinach, arugula, frisee, and julienned carrots piled high on the plate with sprinkles of toasted pine nuts. It’s finished with Tuscan dressing that contains Hawaiian honey. This salad is a delightful symphony of textures—the dressing is so light you can taste every element, and the pine nuts provide a pleasant crunchiness.

Chef Mirko and his culinary team house-make Saltimbocca’s pasta, which makes all the difference in the world in terms of taste and texture. Masha’s Pasta ($29) is calling my name: housemade tagliatelle with prawns, mushrooms, asparagus, and truffle cream sauce. Named for Saltimbocca’s owner Masha, she tells us it’s a creation Chef Mirko concocted with her favorite ingredients. And, naturally, it’s practically mandatory we sample the restaurant’s namesake—Saltimbocca ($31)—pounded veal stuffed with prosciutto and sage, with white wine, eggplant, roasted potatoes, and ratatouille.

Masha’s Pasta smells positively intoxicating: earthy mushrooms along with perfectly cooked prawns and fresh asparagus. It’s a generous portion of creamy goodness with a complex depth of flavor that’s oh, so satisfying. The Saltimbocca sports a sprig of fresh rosemary, and it’s served with dreamy roasted potatoes that practically melt in the mouth, and a brightly colored ratatouille that looks like Christmas on the plate. The veal is unbelievably tender and the ratatouille is a tasty combination of red and yellow bell peppers, zucchini, and carrots that instantly converts non-bell-pepper-person Charles.

On our next visit to Saltimbocca, Charles and I have earmarked the Lobster Tagliatelle (housemade tagliatelle, fresh lobster meat, cherry tomatoes, white wine, and lobster bisque—$29) and the Linguine Alle Vongole (clams, diced zucchini, leek sauce, roasted garlic, white wine, and pepper—$27).

Saltimbocca has some special menus, too: Early Bird, offering one antipasti and one main course for $20; Vegan, offering a nice selection of dishes including Penne All’Arrabiata ($18) and Garden Pasta ($22); and Gluten Free, featuring pastas made with rice and corn, plus Ossobuco ($33) and Fresh Catch ($29). The Bambino menu tempts keiki with spaghetti & meatballs; penne pasta with butter & parmesan or tomato sauce; or tomato & parmesan bruschetta—$5 each.

Saltimbocca’s beverage list, “Italian Gastronomy at its Best,” contains cocktails such as the Saltimbocca Margarita (Hornitos Reposado, Amaretto Disaronno, fresh lemon juice, and simple syrup—$11) and Maui’s Best Bellini (House made mango puree topped with Prosecco—$9); along with beers by the bottle and on tap, and a nice variety of Italian and domestic wines by the glass and bottle.

Saltimbocca’s kitchen team makes all of their dessert offerings from scratch: Profiteroles ($12), Panna Cotta ($9), Semifreddo ($11), and Tiramisu ($11), to name a few. Charles is a die-hard chocoholic, so we opt for the Pot de Creme—70% dark chocolate mousse with balsamic reduction ($11). It’s indeed a chocolate lover’s dream come true: rich and decadent, with sliced juicy strawberries and uber-crunchy candied pecans for a nice textural contrast.

Saltimbocca offers something for everyone’s palate and preferences. Jim and Masha invite you to come to Saltimbocca, where authentic Italian cuisine meets affordable fun in a warm family atmosphere. Let go, relax, and tempt your palate with great food and great wine. Andiamo a mangiare (let’s eat)!

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Saltimbocca, serving affordable modern Italian cuisine in a breathtaking oceanfront setting, with friendly Italian-style hospitality and an upscale casual atmosphere.

WHERE •

At the Ma‘alaea Harbor Shops. Plenty of free parking.

WHEN •

Open nightly for dinner from 5pm to 9:30pm.

HOW •

For reservations: 243-DINE (3463); saltimboccamaui.com.

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