Maui Food and Dining

Casanova’s Restaurant Dishes Out Homey Italian Fare

August 23, 2013, 2:18 PM HST
* Updated August 23, 4:16 PM
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Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef. She offers her frank assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.

By Vanessa Wolf

The Calamari photographs a little grainy in the darkness of Casanova's back room. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Calamari photographs were a little (lot) grainy in the darkness of Casanova’s back room. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

There’s a reason Casanova’s Italian Restaurant has been in business for nearly 30 years.

Décor aside, it’s Maui’s answer to the Olive Garden: somewhat Americanized, but reliable Italian fare.

When in Rome… er… Makawao, it’s best to start with the standards.

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The Calamari Fritti ($10) arrives in a generous portion. The cornmeal breading is crisply fried and the cephalopods are accompanied by a “caper and garlic mayo.” No aioli up in this joint; the Casa keeps it real.

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The Caesar Salad ($8) is large enough to be a meal.

Sticking to the tried and true, Casanova’s doesn’t fix what ain’t broken. The undeniable highlights are the flavorful, creamy dressing (although maybe ask for a light touch) and the little cup of anchovy filets on the side.

The Caprese ($9) arrives with capers and dry oregano sprinkled on top. There’s an accompanying side of greens and for $4 more, you can add a couple slices of prosciutto. As with most things at Casanova’s, it may not be the most inspired cuisine, but the portion size feels fair.

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Service can be spotty.

The Caprese Salad. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Caprese Salad. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The starters arrive almost immediately.

Then there is stillness.

Prepare to retire to the wilds of your imagination for a really, really, really long time.

Tick.

Tock.

There we were, frolicking in a meadow on the edge of the forest.

Suddenly, a large block – whitish in color – caught our eye. It glistened in the sun a few yards away.

We approached cautiously.

Slowly we sniffed and then took a single, delicate lick just to get a quick taste.

Salt!

We began to lap at the white object. We couldn’t get enough.

It sent tingles from the tips of our antlers to the end of our bushy tails.

But then, something just seemed… off.

Was this too good to be true? A delicious treat, carelessly left alone in the middle of nowhere?

We paused for a moment, and then.

Wait just one second.

We are not deer.

The Tagliatelle All’ Ossobucco. Beware the salt licks. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Tagliatelle All’ Ossobucco. Beware the salt licks. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

This realization begs the question: why does the Tagliatelle All’ Ossobucco ($18) arrive with a dozen super insanely saline cubes of salt lick-esque cheese that contain approximately 700 times the daily recommended allowance of sodium each?

Make a fast grab for every glass of water on your and surrounding tables and guzzle, baby, guzzle.

That’s better.

Once the sodium-induced woodland creature hallucinations wear off, relocate the salt licks and start over. What you’ll find below is a comfort food dish of shredded veal, small carrot bits, and fresh parsley in a savory sauce over fresh pasta.

We wish there was more meat, but still found it to be a homey pleasure: like something your Italian great-aunt might make.

Say goodbye to your paleo diet – at least for the night – pasta is the name of the game at Casanova’s.

The Paglia E Fieno Al Fungi ($14) with “Strips of Chicken Breast” ($18) also evokes the sense of home cooking.

A creamy, garlicky dish, it’s a fairly straightforward offering of house made spinach pasta, mushroom slices and slightly rubbery chicken.

The Rigatoni Beverly Hills would send your average 90210 housewife running to the gym. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Rigatoni Beverly Hills would send your average 90210 housewife running to the gym. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The menu says that the mushrooms are “wild Italian porcinis,” but we wouldn’t mind seeing morels or even eschewing tradition with some locally grown pioppini or ali’i varieties.

The restaurant looks a bit like a remodeling job that was abandoned mid-way.

One half is dark and feels old. The other resembles a deserted disco in downtown Las Vegas. It kind of is. Most weekends and every Wednesday, it transforms into Upcountry’s only nightclub. Too bad there’s no way to hide that during dining hours.

At any rate, if you’ve ever seen one of those shows about the pencil-thin broads that live there, you’ll agree the cream-based Rigatoni Beverly Hills ($16) is probably rarely consumed in the 90210.

The rich sundried tomato vodka sauce was a bit runny, but the flavor was pleasant. The same chicken strips from the Al Fungi makes an appearance here as well.

The broccoli brought some So Cal sensibilities. Cooked al dente, it provided a colorful and fresh contrast to the otherwise heavy dish.

The Spaghetii and Meatballs. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Spaghetii and Meatballs. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

There is one gold standard in homestyle Italian American cooking: spaghetti and meatballs ($14).

Very “made by Mom” in presentation and flavor, Casanova’s version is exactly what you’re looking for when you’re looking for spaghetti and meatballs.

Let’s cut to the chase: sometimes it’s dark and chilly and rainy in Makawao and tucking into a steaming bowl of some sauce-covered, wheat-based concoction makes the whole world seem right.

When you crave homey Italian cooking, Casanova’s provides like family.

—–

Casanova’s is open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 5-9 p.m.

We welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you hear of any new restaurants opening or reopening, total menu overhauls, or simply know of a hidden treasure you want to share. Have a restaurant you want reviewed (or re-reviewed)? Drop us a line – Vanessa(@mauinow.com)

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