It opened in a tough location, vacated by some of Maui’s top restaurateurs, such as Peter Merriman, Michael and Dana Pastula and most recently, the Smith family owners of the Waterfront.

Plus, Italian restaurants keep infiltrating our shores, and the island is inundated with pasta, pizza and red wine. Not a bad thing for diners, yet it’s competition at its finest for a new restaurant.

But Saltimbocca has made its mark, and it’s drawing in repeat customers and newbies alike to check out its authentic Italian fare at Maalaea Harbor Shops.

“We love the food and culture of Italy,” says owner Jim Bateman, a Canadian who opened the restaurant with his wife, Masha Bateman, originally from Moscow. “Both food and culture are honest and simple, and go hand in hand.”

“In Italy, mealtimes are always a big event, where everyone is invited, the more the merrier. It’s what we at Saltimbocca strive to create for our guests: authentic food that transcends plate and palate to foster a warm and friendly experience for all.”

Of course, people love the three-course lunch special for $18. Begin with soup of the day or the signature cannellini bean soup, hearty and satisfying.

Then crunch Caesar with Romaine leaves, parmesan croutons and white anchovies in housemade dressing; or insalata mista with spinach, arugula, julienne carrots, toasted pine nuts and a Tuscan dressing made with Hawaiian honey. For the luncheon special’s entrees, choose from spaghetti and turkey meatballs, penne pasta ai tre formaggi with parmesan and fontina cheeses along with gorgonzola dolce latte and arugula; or penne all arrabiata with garlic, spicy tomato sauce, Italian flat leaf parsley and oregano.

“People love the three-course special, for sure,” says Jim. “And, our happy hour is just really starting to pick up. People jump off the boats in the harbor and wander down the street. The bar is definitely happening in the afternoons here.”

Sip The Hot Blonde made with Hornito’s reposado tequila, Velvet Falernum and fresh lime. Or go Italian all the way with Maui’s Best Bellini made in the traditional way with peach puree and prosecco; or the Limoncello Punch, packed with vodka, raspberries, fresh lemon and more.

“We make our breads, pastas, sauces, desserts and focaccias all in house,” says Jim.

“I’d say that 70 to 75 percent of our produce is organic,” Jim explains. “Our intention is to be 100 percent one day soon.”

The restaurant’s signature dish is, of course, veal Saltimbocca. The tender veal is pounded, cooked with prosciutto and sage marinated in white wine with eggplant, and served with roasted potatoes and a beautiful ratatouille presentation – almost too pretty to eat.

Chef Mirko Inglese is from Puglia, Italy, and he is passionate about healthy eating and has taken the time to craft vegan and gluten-free menus for his dining guests.

Party of two on Valentine’s Day? Try the pasta platter for $18 per person, with pasta carbonara, spaghetti and meatballs and truffle tagliatelle. Or opt for the carne platter for two ($29 each) piled with pork chops, veal piccata and Osso Buco served with risotto, Brussels sprouts, roasted potatoes and vegetables. The from-scratch dessert menu takes it over the top with semifreddo, panna cotta, sorbeto and tiramisu. Try it – it’s all molto buona!