is good italian really that hard to find on oahu?
i used to eat in little italy in manhattan, and find quite a number of restaurants here to my liking. then again, i find olive garden to be ok for what it is - most bang for your buck and not bad, esp. considering the sheer number of choices.
i'm not too fond of assagio kahala, but have had good food in kailua.
i really like verbano kaimuki. the king st was fine, i don't remember the particulars, but i really didn't like the pearlridge location, it was more like an express type restaurant, maybe it was just that one time; i can't see how the family could let one location be so drastically different and worse.
my sister took me to cafe sistina a long time ago (we're talking years) and i enjoyed myself. hopefully they have the same quality as before.
ate at matteos way back when and i was unimpressed, esp. for fine dining.
i found the restaurant at the hilton complex to be... bad.
haven't tried arancino.
haven't tried bravo, but heard negative talk.
i'm sure i'm missing a lot of other places.
there was a resto on waialae maybe ten years ago, right near the old verbano location, where i had, i think, a gorgonzola-laced salad, perhaps with pear, which made me rethink (definitely in a positive way) mold type cheese. i had some kind of ravioli too. i don't think it was c&c pasta, which was there too, but another place. i'm also recalling a dish with duck. not a traditional italian menu at all.
this one last one was around about 8 or 9 years downtown, under detox bar (old players on alakea). i forget what it was called, was the chef's name, but his food was so damn good. that was where i first tried puttanesca. he didn't last over about a year, but it was great.
There are some good, but no great Italian restaurants in Honolulu. I agree that Matteo's is atrocious. I had bad experiences with pasta at both Sistina and Mediterraneo on King St. As far as i'm concerned if an Italian restaurant can't get their pasta al-dente I'm not interested in anything else. I avoid them both whenever possible. Bravo in Aiea is a joke, a bad one at that.
Like you I am very fond of Verbano in Kaimuki. For some reason a lot of their customers were unable to figure out they had moved around the corner to Koko Head Ave. I don't know how many people have told me how sad they were that Verbano closed. Uhhh.. no it didn't… Ricardo's in Pearl Kai is good too for a "hole in the wall" type place. And Assagio (various locations), while overhyped and a bit overpriced tend to be very good as well, although I hear not such wonderful things about their venture in Kahala. The new place down on Kapiolani (Il cuccino?) has been getting very good reviews as well.
Suggest you give Sabrina a try. It's a BYOB tratoria close to the corner of St. Louis Drive and Waialae, so parking is problematic. Sabrina is from Rome, her husband is the only cook, so the service is somewhat slow. The osso bucco, which has to be ordered a day in advance, is excellent.
I'm not sure K-Man's experience with overcooked pasta at Sistina and Mediterraneo is typical as I've eaten at both places many, many times over the years without that happening. A lot of Italian restaurants have their pasta semi-cooking, so if the pasta is overdone it has been sitting in the hot water too long. In that event, the owner/manager should be called on it.
La Cuccina is run by a former employee of Mediterraneo so the menu has a striking similarity to that restaurant.
I was at Assagio's in Ala Moana a couple of weeks ago. The food was very good, but was your basic Italian-for-Americans (i.e, those that think Caesar's salad is an Italian dish, not that there's anything wrong with serving what people want, even if it's not Italian). The service, however, was close to that of your typical Chinese chop suey house.
I miss cc pasta too.
While not "dining" by any means, you can seek out Onda Pasta if you want Italian from an Italian (Roman) guy. He and his wife Jessica (a sweetheart!) pop up at Taste somewhat frequently as well as the Kakaako and Haleiwa farmers markets. They make ALL of their own pasta and sell prepared dishes as well as the fresh pasta for you to take home. Haventy had too many of their dishes bt I do enjoy the Ragu. One day they'll have a brick 'n mortar when the timing and $ is right....