Heading up Baldwin Avenue recently, I noticed some new menu items on the board outside of Cafe Mambo, which piqued my curiosity. Lasagne? Tiramisu? Mambo was going Mediterranean and I had to go check it out.
Turns out Cafe Mambo has new Italian owners, Alfredo and Daniela Signoretti, who are from Rome. They aren’t interested in changing the cafe, but do want to bring some of their own influences little by little to the popular Paia cafe’s menu. Its a start for the couple who have relocated to the island but havent run a restaurant before.
I decided to drop by to taste a few of the new dishes, starting with the pasta. In Italy, lots of folks snack on pasta with happy hour, and Mambo is planning to add a pasta special for the week.
“In Paia, we don’t have any pasta,” says Alfredo. “So I think this could be a great opportunity for me.”
Their lasagne is rich and savory. But I noticed right away the layers of pasta meat and cheese did not include ricotta. Daniela says this is not how they do it in Rome. She–the mastermind behind their lasagne–says she makes it with beef and chorizo, to give it a spicy, luxurious edge. I asked Daniela what the secret was to good lasagne, besides drinking it with their Josh pinot noir.
“It’s not a secret,” she says. “Lasagne is very common in Italy. There is more béchamel, cheese and parmesan in this version. There is no ricotta. In Italy, typically there is the tomato sauce with meat–the ragu. And we add the chorizo because on Maui everybody loves the chorizo. In Italian cooking, lasagne is the starter. Then you have your main meat dish. We have a special vendor that brings us the lasagne noodle from Italy.”
“I didn’t want to serve the lasagne with a salad,” Alfredo adds. “But everyone tells me we have to serve it with a salad here. It’s the usual, but in Italy we just serve lasagne on its own. My idea is to have a few different kinds of lasagne, but a vegetarian version is coming.”
The Mediterranean salad is also new. It’s a huge platter of organic greens embellished with black olives, chopped tomato, carrots, corn and a hard boiled egg. You can also add fish, pork or duck if you want to make it a bigger meal. The oil and vinegar dressing is simple and especially tasty, and comes served in separate bottles at the table. Another new dish is the seafood soup.
“To be honest, in Italy we make our seafood soups with the cheapest fish you catch or find,” says Daniela. “Here, we do it different. We make the broth with the mahi and tomato. Then we prepare the mussels, shrimp and clams separately and add it together.”
The housemade fried croutons really add to the soup. At first, I started eating the seafood laden broth without them–they are served in a cute bowl on the side–but then I threw one in and let it soak up the soup. It was so wonderful I tossed the rest in at once. The croutons are imbued with lots of rosemary, which adds an incredible flavor to the seafood and broth. It was really perfect with the Primaterra pinot grigio. The simple mahi and tomato broth made the mussels, clams and giant bites of fish special.
They also added loco moco, which while not very Italian is super popular. The two hand-patted Maui Cattle Co. burgers on top of two mountains of rice than blanketed by gravy and over easy eggs was a winner, and is served all day.
To make their tiramisu, they have special marscapone cheese shipped in from Italy. This small detail gives the dish a spectacular big taste. I backed it up with their Italian coffee, the grand finale to my lunch.
The Signorettis aren’t planning any drastic changes for Cafe Mambo, but the few items they are experimenting with add a lot to what they have to offer.
30 Baldwin Ave., Paia