No tellin' how long it'll be until I return to Vegas . . . so, in the meantime, anyone who is stumbling across this blog may be treated to various musings from some of my other travels. This post is my first attempt at such a diversion.
I just returned from a three week stint in Hawaii and had the good fortune to consume the best sushi in the world. I'd say universe, but that would be pure hyperbole and speculation as I have yet, despite my best intentions, to partake in space travel. It was so good that my prior favorite, Okada in Las Vegas, now looks like a glorified Skippers to me. Seriously, not sure if I'll ever be able to go back.
What and where is this place? Sushi Sasabune in Honolulu (there are Sasabunes in LA and NY and I definitely plan on trying those).
Whenever I'm in Hawaii I like to try out a new sushi joint and I finally had a free night where I could indulge my inner seal. For the past couple of trips I had had my eye on Sasabune and decided to do a little more research to see if this would be the year I gave it a try. Do a quick search on Yelp and you'll read exactly what I read . . . a lot of rave reviews, but within those reviews are stories of how the chef and servers at Sasabune are Sushi Nazis. You must eat the sushi as dictated by the chef and staff . . . OR ELSE. That means no mixing wasabi in your soy sauce, no dipping fish in sushi unless directly ordered, no dipping nigiri rice side down into soy sauce (fish side down please), and you must eat anything that is served to you in one bite. The consequence of failing to adhere to these rules? You get admonished and possibly kicked out. A relative of mine who lives in Oahu told me that he heard there was a customer who got so mad at being told what to do that he ended up punching the chef in the eyeball. That definitely got him kicked out. Oh, and don't expect to see anything but sushi on the menu. No fancy stupid named rolls, no tempura, no udon . . . only sushi. If you sit at the sushi bar don't even expect to see a menu - anyone who sits at the bar is at the mercy of the chef. Same with parties of four - you won't be given a menu.
Yikes, right? Why on earth go so such a place? Because the quality of the food is THAT good. And really, if you go to their website and investigate their motives, you'll see that this isn't some schtick that the chef and waitstaff put on just for jollies, i.e., there is a method to the madness.
The restaurant is located on S. King Street in Honolulu, a couple blocks from Kalakaua (for those familiar with the area). Looking at it from the outside you would think that room temperature fish and hard uncooked rice would be the sushi du jour . . . there is nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, that hints at the magic happening behind the sliding Star Trek door into the place. The interior also fails to impress . . . it could be any sushi joint in Anytown, USA. It's small, I think that there were more seats at the sushi bar than in the restaurant. I had a party of four and had booked a table for us to sit at. It felt like a party of 10 when we sat down at the table - we took up that much space.
As I mentioned above, typically if you are a four top you can forget about ordering off the menu - you'll get what the chef decides to make. This explains the neon sign behind the sushi counter - "Trust Me". What about if you bring kids? The chef isn't that cruel - he'll allow kiddies to order off the menu - which is just a tally sheet for nigiri, sashimi, and a few bare bones rolls.
When the waiter came over I explained that two of my party were chopstick challenged. I closed my eyes expecting to be kicked out on the spot. Instead, the waiter discretely dropped off two forks. He also mentioned that using hands/fingers would be completely OK. Since they were underage, they picked a few choice items off the menu (blue fin tuna, salmon, and a tuna roll - well, not exactly a tuna roll since the meat wasn't just cut up maguro, rather it was meat shaved off close to the spine of the tuna . . . so delicate . . . so fluffy . . . ). My hot date and I went with the chef's choice . . . 13 courses . . . but you could tap out at any time . . .
Let It Begin:
Omakese . . . we would have absolutely no say in what was served. I was a bit nervous, but more giddy with anticipation . . . nothing like stepping out of the box.
First up, blue fin tuna and albacore sashimi, bathing in a ponzu sauce. No dippy in the soy sauce. The coloring of the fish was stunning. Such a deep red on the blue fin, hardly any noticeable lining of fat. The albacore looked like it had been carved from the flesh of a cherub. I chose to go with the tuna first.
Holy Fourth of July Surprise . . . I could have been done right then and there. The temperature was cool . . . it felt like I had just taken a bite of a fish while it was still swimming under water . . . the texture was unreal, melt in your mouth . . . after one chew, the entire piece evaporated in my mouth, and when combined with whatever house sauce it had been sitting in . . . I knew this night was going to be special. I took a quick swig of my Kirin and put the albacore to the test. Same result. Cool temperature, melts in your mouth . . . I would very much like to know where the fish came from . . . maybe they were raised in special tanks of sea water taken from the lost city of Atlantis, hand fed magical sea horse brains, and massaged daily by the rarest of starfish - Captain Carl Starfish.
Next up was baby squid wrapped delicately around a masterfully blended blue crab salad. I'm normally not a fan of the the tentacle creatures of the sea, usually way too rubbery. However, perhaps that's a function of the meat coming from adults. This little baby squid flesh was so easy to eat . . . again, melt in your mouth, but just a hint of crispness and resistance in the bites. Wow. The crab salad added a nice contrast with a bit of crabbiness and mayo goodness.
Flounder & Red Snapper
Who in their right mind would eat raw flounder? Come on, this is on ugly fish. And it's a bottom feeder. Not only does it look like shit, but it eats it. Prior to popping it into my mouth, I was fully prepared to barf. Oh how wrong I was. Unbelievably delicious. Moist, icey, salty and texturally satisfying. The red snapper was equally palatable - undeniably fresh. At this point I had already reached a sushi high.
Unreal. I don't completely recall how good this was because I happened to be still quite fixated on the fact that I had eaten flounder.
Scallop and Salmon
The salmon was served with the thinnest piece of kelp - almost like a tiny sheet for the wee little cut of fish. Great call chef. The scallops, raw, were perfectly seasoned pieces of sea marshmallows - only not so sticky as marshmallows.
And so it continued on into the night - incredible dish after dish after dish. We were served some amazing BBQ'd oysters, mackerel, amberjack, negitoro, lobster and tamago. There was one last dish to go, and I could sense I reached my limit. However, I didn't want to end on whatever it was that the chef was going to make - no - I wanted, nay, needed, to end by trying the uni. I couldn't bestow best sushi in the world honors on this place unless the uni brought me to my knees.
When the waiter brought it over he told me to forget dipping it in soy sauce and to just eat it plain. I figured since I had not been led astray all night I would take the chance.
So I popped the perfectly colored uni into my mouth. Cautiously bit down. Held my breath as the viscous sea liquid coated my tongue and mouth, then slowly breathed in.
The uni was semi-sweet, mineral, salty and savory - all at the same time. Delicate, yet bold. Shy, yet overtly ocean. The contrasting ying and yang of this uni blew my mind.
Sometimes there are things in this world that can't be described by words . . .this uni falls into that category. The only real superlative phrase that comes close: "f_cking unreal."
So there you go, my essay on the best sushi ever. This is a joint that you should run to, not walk, run to and experience.
Be prepared to pay for the experience though - this fish ain't cheap . . . our bill came to about $360 between the four of us . . . and two of our party really only ordered three items between them. So probably around $100 - $125 a person. Well worth it.
The next trip I have coming up will probably be to L.A. . . . gotta go visit Whale Jo and see what kind of trouble we can stir up in that city.