“A restaurant where our heartbeats gather, and become local assets of everlasting quality.”

– HUGE Co.

REVITALIZING A VACANT SPACE

Rigo Hawaii ハワイ, which grand opened just a few days ago, is HUGE Hospitality Group’s first location in the United States. HUGE operates about ten restaurant concepts across 25 locations throughout Japan, Okinawa, and now Hawaii. The various restaurant concepts span a variety of cuisines, but most notably Italian, Spanish, and Mexican. For its first foray on to American soil, HUGE has opened Rigo Hawaii on Kapahulu Avenue, in the building that once housed a Genki Sushi.

The Rigo Hawaii team did an incredible job revitalizing the space. The space they’ve created is unrecognizable from its previous form as casual kaiten sushi restaurant. The dining room feels modern, yet with a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.

Rigo Hawaii

SPANISH ITALIAN

There are many options in Honolulu for Japanese-influenced Italian restaurants: Arancino’s, Bernini, Vintage Cave Cafe, and Angelo Pietro just to name a few. Rigo Hawaii takes things in a slightly different direction by creating a fusion of Spanish and Italian cuisines, with seemingly very few Japanese or Asian flavors. The two page dinner menu is split by page between starters/soups/salads and entrees. Appetizers and some entrees are categorized into Spanish or Italian sections, while the remainder of the menu appeared to be a fusion between the two cuisines.  Many of the appetizers have the option for smaller portions, great for a couple who want to sample multiple dishes.

Rigo Hawaii’s menu contains a variety of specific categories, including an entire section dedicated to ham. These cured pork products range from coppa to the prized Jamón ibérico. For entrees you have a variety of pizzas, pastas, and plates. Among the Spanish selections are entrees cooked using a Josper oven. There is also a selection of arroz (rice) dishes including paella and caldoso.

ON TO THE FOOD & DRINK...

Drinks at Rigo Hawaii
Left: Hemingway Daiquiri with rum, grapefruit, and lime | Right: Non-Alcoholic Sangria with fruits, lemon, lime, and soda

As one would expect, Rigo has a broad selection of wines. The upper level of the restaurant is actually a giant wine “cellar”. For this meal we opted for a cocktail and a mocktail over wine. Both beverages were reasonably priced and well made. Nothing that knocked our socks off, but solid.

Ham platter at Rigo Hawaii
Ham Platter (small) - Prosciutto, Jamon Iberico, chorizo, salame, coppa

The first dish that came to the table was this sampler of the various hams offered at Rigo Hawaii. The cuts are served alongside some nuts, dried fruit, olives, and a mustard carrot slaw. Each of the cured meats had intense flavor, but without being overly salty. When the platter arrived I thought I’d miss not having crostini or bread, but the flavor of the hams were reserved and not overpowering. The star of the platter was, of course, the Jamón ibérico.

Carbonara at Rigo Hawaii
Carbonara with Portobello Fritto - Homemade fresh spaghetti, pancetta, onion, cream, egg yolk, garlic, olive oil

This entree came to the table shortly after the ham platter, which was a bit odd since this was ordered as an entree and we had yet to receive two of our other appetizers. While the serving order was off, the pasta was delicious. The homemade pasta was cooked perfectly and enveloped in a luxurious sauce of cream and egg yolk. Salty pops of pancetta amped up the flavor of each bite. The portobello fritto added a light crisp and a mild earthiness. This was my favorite dish of the night and one of best versions of this dish I’ve had in Hawaii.

Croquetas at Rigo Hawaii
Croquetas (small) - Potato, chorizo, nutmeg, egg sauce, black sesame salt

These croquetas were well executed with a light crisp exterior that gave way to a soft, almost creamy interior of potato and chorizo. The egg sauce ups the richness in the dish. The black sesame salt helped with seasoning, but I didn’t get a sense of much sesame flavor in the dish.

Melanzane at Rigo Hawaii
Melanzane - Eggplant, mozzarella, house bolognese, jalapenos

This dish came from the Italian section of the appetizers, but it only read as vaguely Italian on my palate. Nevertheless, the dish was seasoned well and contained a balance of appealing flavors. The dish felt of elevated home cooking in the best way possible. The slow burn of charred jalapeno was a welcomed touch to each bite.

Pork chops at Rigo Hawaii
Pork Chops - Cooked in the Josper Oven with guava smoking chips, served with cabbage and Spanish tapenade

A lull and noticeable gap between the last dish and our final entree would prove to be the first indicator of a slow decline in our dining experience. I had selected this entree to experience the unique use of the Josper oven, which did successfully impart a pleasant guava smoke flavor into the pork. The charred cabbage was also well seasoned and flavorful. Sadly, the pork chop was very overcooked and completely dry, to the point of being chewy and stringy in texture. I ended up targeting the meat around the bone, which was more palatable, but left a decent portion of the meat on the plate.

Left: Classic Tiramisu – Coffee, mascarpone cheese, Grand Marnier | Right: Basque Cheesecake – Rich, light cheesecake with orange jam

Unfortunately the desserts I ordered were fairly mundane. The “classic” tiramisu was anything but classic; just a thick layer of mascarpone atop a thin layer of cake. It was lacking the soaked ladyfingers and, although a Grand Marnier “kick” is mentioned on the menu, it was hard to discern. Although burnt Basque cheesecake is currently trendy, the slice of cheesecake we had would likely not have been aided by being burnt. It was fairly one-note and much drier than I would have expected.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

This visit to Rigo Hawaii was a bit of a mixed bag. I really enjoyed the early appetizers and the pasta entree. These dishes were all executed well, with bold and tasty flavors. However, the pork chop entree and desserts fell flat on flavor and execution; particularly the very overdone pork chop. The early dishes were enjoyable enough that, despite the last few plates, I think Rigo Hawaii warrants a revisit to explore more of the appetizers, small plates, and pastas.

One can tell that the restaurant is new (less than two weeks old) and still working out the kinks. The timing and order of food arriving is in need of improvement. While the servers were very nice, there were some some noticeable gaps between check-ins at our table. I mention these points because it’s what happened, but I do feel that Rigo Hawaii will work out some of the service missteps over time.

The complete interior overhaul of the old Genki Sushi space is incredible. The entire restaurant is well appointed and feels welcoming as you walk in. The semi-open kitchen, high ceilings, and lighting create a vibrant atmosphere that is enjoyable to dine in. The only challenge with the location is limited parking in the small lot. I got lucky and snagged a stall fairly quickly, but with the seating capacity of the restaurant I imagine a few patrons will find themselves looking for street parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

Unfortunately the most expensive dish of the night (pork chop, $28) was also the one I liked the least. However, overall Rigo’s dollar value is decent to good, with more value to be found in the price point of the drinks, appetizers, and pastas.

SCORECARD

Food 80/ 100
Service 75/ 100
Atmosphere 90/ 100
Price Value 80/ 100
Overall Score 81/ 100

Rigo
885 Kapahulu Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96816
Ph: 808.735.9760
https://rigohawaii.com/