For our one "big" dinner, we decided to stick close to Kapalua, and have dinner at Sansei. I'd always wanted to check out Sansei, I just never thought that it would be at the Kapalua location. Sansei had recently moved up the road, and now was right next to the Honolua Store. In fact, there was still a minimum of signage to identify the restaurant.
For those that don't know, the word "Sansei", is Japanese, and literally means "Third Generation". And is the creation of D.K. Kodama, a Third Generation(hence the Sansei) AJA Chef and Restauranteur. The cuisine is a called Japanese-inspired Pacific Rim Cuisine, aka "fusion". Pacific Rim fusion when done well, is eye(and palate) opening, and innovative. But when done poorly, as with most restaurants jumping on the Pacific Rim band wagon, the food is gimmicky, the flavors confusing (what I call, con-fusion cuisine), and is just plain terrible.
As we walked toward the restaurant, I was really glad that I had made reservations; there was a pretty long line out the door. It was 630 pm on Thursday, and all three dining areas, the sushi bar, and the lounge was packed. The Hostess was informing people walking in hoping to score a table, or a seat at the sushi bar that there was a 45 minute wait. We had a short wait and was shown to a nice little table. Over on the next table were a tourist couple. The matching His and Her Big Flower Aloha attire, and the very, very, bad (think lobsterville) sunburn was a real giveaway. During the evening, this young couple provided us with some amusement. We could hear them asking the Server, "what is this shish-shimi", and "ewww, that's goose liver!" he-he-he.
Our Server was named Todd, actually it was Todd #1, I'll explain later. We decided to go the "small plates" route and placed our order. I need to apologize, we had so much stuff, that I didn't really keep track of the prices, but I'll let you know the total later. Also, the photos aren't the best, and because everybody was taking photos in this really dark restaurant, we really didn't feel bad.
The Panko Crusted Ahi Sashimi Sushi Roll, the menu said that this was a "must try" item.
This "roll" is Ahi, wrapped with Arugula, and Nori, crusted with panko and deep fried. Apparently this roll had been lying around for a bit, it arrived in less than 5 minutes, the panko crust was cold, the fish over cooked, though I loved the flavor that the arugula brought to the dish. It was served with a very tasty Soy Wasabi Butter Sauce that I could have eaten with a whole bowl of rice.
The Seared Foie Gras Nigiri Sushi($17), when this arrived, I started salivating.....
And this did not disappoint; it was by far my favorite dish of the night. 2 Nigiri style rice balls, with seared Foie Gras(remember "Ewww goose liver"). The Foie Gras had that nice slightly crusted, buttery texture; with a bit of the caramelized onions to add sweetness, and a bit of the reduced Nitsume Tare(Eel Sauce), this was delici-yoso!! I was really tempted to order more.....
Sansei's Ahi Poke and Sweet Maui Onion($11), I was really looking forward to this. Just the thought of sushi grade fish combined with Maui onions!
The unfortunate truth was.....train wreck. First off, there was way too much Togarashi, so the dish was so very lip burning spicy, that you really had a problem tasting anything. The Wakame was too tough, like eating rubber, and all the cucumber pseudo-Kimchi added was to make it sour.
Matsuhisa Style Miso Butterfish:
This is a "baseline " dish for the Missus, since I've been making Misoyaki for years using my Mom's modified recipe. So whenever we visit a restaurant, the Missus will go for the Miso Black Cod. I once sat in amusement, while the Missus told the Uber-Yuppified Server at Matsuhisa, "my Husband's Miso Black Cod tastes better than this"!
When this arrived at the table, I was a bit apprehensive. It looked under marinated. But one taste erased all doubts. The fish was super fresh and moist, the flavor, a combination of sweet-salty-umami, was in perfect harmony. The Missus cleaned it up, skin and all, and it was all I could do to stop Her from licking the Mirin based sauce off the plate. Her favorite dish of the night.
Dungeness Crab Ramen with Asian Truffle Broth($14):
Too much going on, the heat from the red chilies and the strong basil flavor nullified any possible Truffle flavor. The broth was nothing special, and the noodles were mushy. The Dungeness Crab had no taste.
The Kenny G, slices of Onaga(Ruby Snapper), in Ponzu Sauce, over a bed of grated Daikon(oroshi), topped with Masago(Smelt Roe), and a fine julienne of Thai Basil.
Like hearing a constant loop of a Elevator-Muzak version of Songbird, this was a very uninspired dish. The snapper was dry and tough, the oroshi just made the dish bitter, too little ponzu sauce didn't help matters, and the combination of "all of the above" with the Thai Basil, gave the dish a medicinal taste.
At this time, we decided to order a few more items, but had no clue. Todd #1 to the rescue. Todd made two recommendations, and I found something interesting to order. Todd recommended the Chinese Style Snapper Sashimi:
Hot oil is drizzled on thin slices of Opakapaka(Hawaiian Pink Snapper) with soy sauce and a touch of sesame oil. This is a good example of how good fusion can be when it works. The only gripe would be that I'd like my fish to be more rare.
Todd's second recommendation was the Lobster & Blue Crab Ravioli, served in a Truffled Shiitake Mushroom and Madiera Cream Sauce...whew, what a mouthful!
The Ravioli were good, the crab meat sweet, and the lobster meat adding a great texture to the ravioli. The sauce was a bit over the top and rich, but pretty good overall.
I couldn't help myself and ordered the Tako Shiokara($5). As the dish arrived Todd told me; "You're lucky, this is the last order we have........the rest is being used as bait tomorrow!" Ba-Dum-Dum.
As Shiokara is concerned, this was very tame, lacking the heavy fermented-fishy flavor of Shiokara. As an appetizer, this was pretty good. I was surprised at how the Kimchee sauce worked so well with the raw Octopus.
All told our meal + 1 small Sawanotsuru Zuicho Daiginjo(smooth....) the bill came to $120 without tip. We didn't think the prices were too bad considering all the stuff we ate.
A quick word on Todd#1, he did a great job. We could tell that he was absolutely slammed, but he always had time for us, had a great sense of humor, did a great job explaining the dishes, and was very efficient while being unobtrusive. What's in the name? Apparently at one time there were up to 6 "Todd's" working at Sansei, so they gave each one a number..... So on this visit we got the one and only original Todd.
So would we return? I'm pretty sure we would. The food when it was good was very good, and the service was excellent. As we left there was a long line of people still waiting for tables, or maybe a seat at the Sushi Bar..........
Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar
600 Office Road
Lahaina, Hawaii 96761