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Broka di Moutha

Buca di Beppo taps into the universal desire to have a very large meal at a reasonable price, while surrounded by friends and family.

I have to admit that when I first saw Buca di Beppo several months ago, I never thought it would work. The Italian restaurant at the Ward Entertainment Complex hadn’t opened when I peered through the window and saw a mishmash of memorabilia — photos of famous Italian Americans and various Roman Catholic icons — that covered the walls like cheap wallpaper. Manufactured mementos are pretty standard stuff for theme restaurants like Buca di Beppo, but this eclectic collection seemed so specific to a people and a place. Could this all work in far-off Hawaii?

You betcha. And it has nothing to do with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or “The Sopranos.” I think Buca di Beppo taps into the universal desire to have a very large meal at a reasonable price, while surrounded by friends and family. That’s very Italian but also very Hawaii.

Big Night: BIG NIGHT: Family-style dining at Buca di Beppo

My family and I visited Buca di Beppo on a late Sunday afternoon. We had a total of eight adults, two children and one very sleepy infant. We were promptly seated in the Cardinal Room, which is a roomy, very red alcove that pays homage to the princes of the Church. It’s right down the hall from the Pope Room.

We started out the meal with the restaurant’s signature Di Beppo 1893 Salad ($15.95), which was ringed in mortadella, pepperoni and pepperoncini. The restaurant claims that the very large salad has never been consumed in one sitting, but we got very close to cleaning the plate. The salad was flavorful without being overpowering and it also stayed crisp during its short lifespan.

Next was an order of Garlic Bread with Mozzarella ($8.95), which looked like a medium-size white pizza. Generous slivers of garlic sat atop copious sprinklings of mozzarella. It was probably the best garlic bread that I’d ever had. Crunchy and almost saucy, the bread was a savory explosion in the mouth. If the dinner ended right there, my father-in-law would have left a happy man. He already planned the menu for his next meal with my mother-in-law, salad and garlic bread.

Next came the entrees. We started with Chicken with Lemon ($19.95), a delicately flavored dish that turned out to be the perfect complement to the robust pastas we had coming. The half a dozen chicken breasts were lightly breaded and fried and covered in smooth lemon caper sauce.

The chicken was followed by Linguine Frutti Di Mare ($23.95), pasta with shrimp, mussels, clams and calamari, which I found to be a little too salty. The pasta itself was cooked perfectly. We also had an order of Spaghetti Meat Balls ($19.95). The meat balls were the size of bocce balls. I found the garlic in them a little overpowering. And I’m half Korean! Both pasta dishes were enormous.

For dessert were shared orders of Spumoni with Chocolate Sauce ($7.95), Tiramisu ($8.95) and Double Chocolate Cake ($7.95), which was the clear winner of the trio. Moist and rich, it wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet or gooey. You could really taste the chocolate. The tiramisu was mediocre and the spumoni was okay. Unfortunately, our dessert plates were brought out piping hot and wet, not conducive conditions for ice cream or any dessert for that matter.

At meal’s end, everyone declared the evening a success. I guess my brother-in-law said it best.

“Tell your readers this,” he said as he held a glass of chianti aloft. “This place is broka di moutha.”

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