When a restaurant has heart and soul, you can always taste it in the food. But in the best restaurants, you can also experience it in the way the staff treats you, see it in the decor, and hear it in the “buzz” of the restaurant. Heart and soul is certainly evident at Bistro Casanova, Giovanni Capelli’s newest venture. Sister restaurant to upcountry’s institution, Casanova, Bistro Casanova reminds us that big-city style can blend with paradise.
The dark wood, hand-blown light fixtures, natural stone, and Mediterranean colors of Bistro’s interior looks like a good restaurant should look. It’s noisy, but the handful of tables outdoors allow for more intimate conversation. Shrouded by palms, the patio dining manages to evoke a casual elegance — even in dowdy Kahului.
Meanwhile, the menu — bistro specialties from France, Italy, and Spain — has settled into a routine for the kitchen. We haven’t been able to get a good steak in Central Maui in … well, in memory. But now we can, and do. The filets, rib eyes, and T-bones are grilled perfectly and served with your choice of several sauces, from a creamy green peppercorn brandy concoction to a Marsala wine and wild mushroom, to a béarnaise (and more). Served with a side salad dressed with excellent vinaigrette, the steaks also come with frites.
Chef David Gemberling is Belgian, and by tasting his frites we’d guess that he has been frying potatoes since childhood. Is there anything better than a serving of crispy-on-the-outside-tender-on-the-inside hand-cut potatoes? His are perfectly seasoned and Perfectly Addictive.
The rest of the menu features more good bistro food, including an excellent duck confit. A leg of duck is roasted and carefully laid on top of a bed of tender, flavorful, slightly smoky lentils. Garnished with sautéed potato disks and truffle oil (which does what truffle oil does best: taste deliciously rich), this was eaten in its entirety.
The homemade pasta dishes are less consistently delicious. We’ve enjoyed the linguine al funghi — wild mushrooms in a creamy, garlicky pan sauce — and the calamari appetizer — lightly fried and served with a homemade tartar sauce. The paella is cooked to perfection (challenging in a dish combining everything from chicken to sausage to mussels and shrimp and clams and scallops), but too salty. So is the chicken cacciatore — though we like that it’s organic. The smoked salmon over squid ink pasta is absolutely gorgeous, especially the studding of peas, leeks, and tobiko (salmon roe) … unfortunately, the flavor the servers rave about has escaped us on two occasions, possibly due to an excess of water in the pasta — we saw some separation in the sauce. The bolognese sauce, on the other hand, is flavorful and rich. The meatballs need less salt.
One of our all-time favorite desserts is Crêpes Suzette, and we’ve had a gorgeous, fresh-as-a-daisy version here. Unfortunately, its quality has slipped over the years: slightly stale crepes and nearly flavorless sauce. We’re concerned: where has the sunshine gone?
At lunch sandwiches, savory crepes and panini round out the menu, as well as an extensive salad list. The Quawk salad with shredded duck, dried cranberries, and goat cheese over organic greens is ample enough to serve as a meal. We also like the caprese, which features Greek olives, feta cheese, and cucumber salad along with the obligatory slices of tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella. Prosciutto is extra, but generously portioned, and if you’re looking for something light before or after a movie, this is a good bet.
The tapas menu, served after 3pm, rotates with tempting specialties such as duck l’orange (can you tell we like their duck?), a juicy rib eye sandwich, and calamari in puttanesca sauce over polenta — all for under $10.
Reasonable prices for good to very good food is a compelling combination, but we resist recommending Bistro Casanova wholeheartedly because of chronic service problems. The wait at the door is often much longer than it should be — on one occasion the manager made us wait for nearly five minutes while he gave a sharp tongue lashing to an employee. The wait inevitably continues at the table, where the water, bread, and server are all slow to appear, and entire courses seem to arrive by parcel post. Service is friendly and knowledgeable, but this does not compensate for the inexcusable, interminable waits. We recommend the food, but please, don’t arrive hungry.
If you’re hosting a largish celebration of some sort — a birthday, rehearsal dinner, or reunion — the Bistro has an elegant private dining room. Dishes are served family-style on giant platters and, with a dedicated server or two you’ll get all the attention you need.
Bistro Casanova has set the goal of being an upscale-but-casual, unstuffybut-professional neighborhood place welcoming to visitors as well as locals. When it opened in 2009, we predicted that it would thrive in the new location and perhaps become one of Maui’s most successful restaurants. They’re still a work in progress, and we’re a little concerned that their love quotient has dipped slightly since they first opened … but overall, we’re happy they’re here.
NB: Check their website for promotions. As of publication, if you bring your boarding pass the day of your flight (before or after your flight) you get a complimentary crepe.
Address: 33 Lono Ave, Kahului, HI 96732
Location: At Kaahumanu Street and Lono Ave., turn onto Lono and make first left into parking lot
Meals: Lunch, Dinner
Hours: M 11am – 2:30pm; Tu – Sa 11am till closing