You won't find bananas at Banana Leaf Pasta Cafe, just oodles of noodles
SOUP IS GOOD FOOD: The seafood soup spaghettini features calamari, clam, mussel, crab, shrimp and fish simmered in a savory saffron broth.
BANANA LEAF PASTA CAFEMCCULLY SHOPPING CENTER
1960 KAPIOLANI BLVD.
MONDAY THROUGH SUNDAY,
11 A.M. TO 11 P.M.
I have a 6-year-old son whose diet consists mainly of Asian and Italian noodles. I also have a 30-year mortgage that’s only two years old. So, when it comes to dining out, our options are usually predict-able and affordable. In other words, chain restaurants, places where I can order without menus. The food gets tiresome sometimes, but even more annoying is the dull routine that eating has become.
That’s why Banana Leaf Pasta Café is a welcome respite from the weekly grind. Located in the eclectic McCully Shopping Center, Banana Leaf, with its clean, contemporary interior design and a menu filled with home-style favorites, looks and feels like a neighborhood café, but also has the convenience and affordability that you’d find in a much larger, busier restaurant.
We visited Banana Leaf Pasta Café early on a Wednesday evening, when it was nearly empty. The restaurant is nicely designed, featuring bleached wood throughout, along with stone veneer highlights, dark wood furniture and pumpkin-colored cushions.
Banana Leaf’s menu features 50 food items — appetizers, pastas, risottos, pizzas, sandwiches and desserts — all numbered and photographed. I found it easy to navigate and, with prices ranging from $4.95 to $14.95, easy on the wallet, too. In addition, the children’s menu, which features about a half-dozen selections, is colorful and nicely laid out.
We started our meal off with a trio of appetizers: Mozzarella Sticks ($7.95), Eggplant Parmesan ($6.95) and Golden Fried Calamari ($6.95). The eggplant was perfectly cooked, its flesh soft and creamy and flavored with olive oil — light and clean tasting. The mozzarella sticks were pretty standard fare, but the calamari stood out. The squid had an extra peppery kick and a thinner batter coating that seemed to be fried at a higher temperature than most others. The result was a crispier, crunchier calamari that was reminiscent of potato chips. I only wished the serving was bigger.
For my entrée, I ordered the Seafood Soup Spaghettini ($14.95), which featured shrimp, scallop, mussel, clam, fish, crab and pasta simmered in a saffron broth. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the dish. I usually get bored with pasta after awhile, but the soup spaghettini had many layers of textures and flavors — chewy calamari and mussel, flaky fish and a vibrant, savory soup. It kind of reminded me of an Italian ramen, only with perfectly cooked noodles that never got soggy.
My son thoroughly enjoyed his Spaghettini with Meatballs ($6.50). When it arrived at our table, steaming hot, he declared: “Looks good!” and dug in. This is a ringing endorsement from him, since he almost always eats his pasta with a simple marinara sauce. My wife, however, had less luck with her Sausage and Vegetable Spaghettini ($8.95). She felt the dish was merely ordinary.
By the end of our meal, the restaurant was crowded, mostly with people like us, regular folks who were probably looking to break up the weekly routine by having a good, reliable, affordable meal in a comfortable setting. At Banana Leaf, you may be just eating out, but it feels like you’re dining out. Judging by the crowds, I’d recommend going there soon, before it becomes a chain restaurant.
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