Amici Italian Bar &Grill emerged on the West Hawaii food scene in 2012, with the intent of providing authentic food from Chef Giovanni Saffioti’s home country.
For the most part, Saffioti said things went well and there were regulars at the Kainaliu location, which was next to the Aloha Theatre, but consistency was a challenge. He was also dealing with an unexpected loss of a family member.
Saffioti and fellow co-owner Devon Drake recently relocated the restaurant to Kailua-Kona to spread their culinary offerings farther. The new establishment on Kuakini Highway has been open for about a month. It is in close proximity to other popular businesses in the Old Industrial Area, is more accessible to foot traffic, has plenty of parking and includes an outdoor dining area, Saffioti said.
It’s also “a fresh start,” he added.
Saffioti, 60, was born and raised in Genoa, a city and major Mediterranean seaport in the Ligurian region of northwestern Italy. While the area is known for many things, the most famous is a sauce — pesto, he said.
His family moved to Canada in 1969. Possessing a passion for cooking, he traveled back and forth between the two countries, as well as the United States, working at various restaurants and studying under different chefs. He got his first job as a busboy at 15 and worked his way up to being a chef, a career he’s maintained since 1983. His love of the island’s pace of life and the opportunity to give residents “something a little different” brought him here.
The authenticity and the recipes for many of the dishes offered at Amici are a result of Saffioti’s heritage and experience. He embraces a fusion of Italian and Mediterranean cuisines, striving to bring out authentic flavors while using fresh ingredients and letting them speak for themselves. He also cooks as much from scratch as possible. Amici regularly makes its own pesto, bread and tiramisu, he said.
Saffioti especially enjoys crafting sauces. Instead of sugar, he prefers to sweeten his sauces naturally with carrots. He said none of the red sauces served at the restaurant taste the same; each one honors the ingredients in the dish.
Saffioti said he only makes things he would want to eat. He and his staff prepare fare including chicken marsala with mushrooms; spaghetti with mussels in a garlic, white wine and tomato broth; pork tenderloin scallopini saltimboca topped with prosciutto, sauteed in light tomato, white wine and sage; filet mignon with a port wine reduction, alii mushrooms and Gorgonzola cheese. Entrees cost $11 to $32 while appetizers are $8 to $15.
The bar offers various Italian wines, grappas (after-dinner liqueurs) and European cocktails, such as the Limoncello Drop ($9) or the Amici Bloom, a prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) with wild hibiscus blossom ($13).
Saffioti said there was a lot of due diligence put in to creating the type of atmosphere where dining becomes a true pleasure and feels like “an escape to Italy.”
In the future, the restaurant will have regular prime rib, family and pizza nights. Adding to the romantic, intimate feel, Saffioti wants to eventually have a piano bar and light jazz.
Amici means friends, and Saffioti hopes to make more of them.
Amici is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 5 to 9 p.m. weekends. Catering is available. For more information, call 322-9582.