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Twice as Nice

Chefs Donato Loperfido and Philippe Padovani team up to create one good restaurant

I used to be a big fan of the television cooking competitions, Iron Chef and Top Chef. With good food, high drama and cut-throat competition, they are irresistible food fights.

But I’m getting a little bored with them, because these television shows seem to be more about the cult of the celebrity chef rather than the food itself. It’s the chef as star and tortured artist. Just shut up and cook.

SAY CHEESE: Elua’s fresh homemade cheese soaked in heavy cream and served with yellow and grape tomatoes. photo: Jimmy Forrest

That is why I was pleasantly surprised and relieved when I opened Elua’s menu. Elua means “two” in Hawaiian, and the restaurant features the dynamic duo of Donato Loperfido and Philippe Padovani, very fine chefs, who I have praised in these pages before. You would think that management would turn such a celebrity team into a theme throughout the restaurant. Instead, the lunch menu is simply split down the middle, with one half devoted to each chef. It was all about the food.

Of course, you’re free to mix and match any of the two chefs’ appetizers, salads and entrées, but I ended up going with Padovani. I started my meal with a Fricassee of Seasonal Mushroom Salad ($12), which featured a large handful of the fungus on a bed of greens. The mushrooms were stewed in something buttery and salty, so they had a rich, savory, almost beefy flavor. Shaved Parmesan added more creaminess and salt, but not too much. The greens, drizzled with a tart vinaigrette, provided nice contrasting flavors.

ELUA RESTAURANT & WINE BAR
1341 Kapiolani Boulevard
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Dinner: Daily, 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. 955-3582

For my entrée, I chose the Crispy Confit of Duck ($21). The well-done bird was accompanied by braised cabbage with sweet onions and perfectly cooked fingerling potatoes. The dish also featured something called jus of parsley. Everything was delicious.

I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but the duck leg reminded me of old-school fried chicken, left under the heat lamps long enough so that its oil has drained away and its flavors have concentrated. Like that chicken, my duck had a pleasingly crispy outer layer. But inside, unlike the chicken, it was filled with moisture and even more flavor.

The side dishes offered differing textures and tastes. The braised cabbage was saucy, sweet and tart, while the potatoes were nice and firm. I ate everything, and had I dined alone, I might have taken the bare bone with me to gnaw on in the car.

For dessert, I had Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream with Berries ($7.50). It wasn’t a complicated dish and neither were its flavors. The ice cream was vibrantly vanilla and I’m not sure how he did it, but the chef took just a little edge off the berries without losing their fruity (and sometimes sour) character. He stepped aside and let the berries be berries. Again, it was all about the food.

I think I’d be a lousy judge on Iron Chef.

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Hawaii Business,October