Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Dinner @ Sushi Sasabune in Honolulu, HI

I happened to be in Honolulu for a wedding and decided I had to check out atleast one nice restaurant in the area.  My girlfriend and I eventually decided we wanted to get some nice sushi in the area and eventually settled on Sushi Sasabune after seeing their great reviews online, their 28/30 rating on Zagat, and (AFAICT before going there) their apparent lack of a menu (i.e. they only serve an omakase meal).

The restaurant is a bit off from the touristy Waikiki but an easy enough drive/taxi over there.  My recollection was in a pretty nondescript strip mall, next to a yarn/fabric store and about a block away from a storage facility .  When the restaurant called to confirm the reservation, they wanted to make sure I understood that this restaurant was  a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant and no tempura or California rolls were available.  I guess they get a number of tourists that wander in not knowing what they're getting into.

The restaurant offers two different omakase menus, one that is "eastern" and one that is "western".  Apparently the latter concentrates only (or mostly) on fish while the former contains more shellfish in the tasting.  The example the waiter gave us was that uni would be in the "eastern" menu.  We ended up going for the "eastern" tasting.

Before going through the photos, its perhaps important to note that at any point you can just tell the server you're done eating.  Unlike most omakase/tasting menus I've had, it's more the sushi chef serving you whatever off of the a la carte sushi menu.  So if you're full, you can just say you're full and they'll stop bringing you food and the bill at the end will be a bit cheaper.  I don't know if this is the way "authentic" Japanese omakase tastings are, but this is what they do here.

Overall, the meal was quite large, 1 sashimi course, 1 cooked appetizer, 1 cooked seafood dish, 1 soup, 1 oyster, 1 hand roll, and 17/18 nigiri, and some ice cream at the end.

1) abalone - steamed, sashimi w/ salt & lemon, liver

The first course was a tasting of abalone.  This course was my favorite of the night, as I've never had abalone sashimi style and never had abalone liver.  The liver was particularly delicious.

2) norwegian mackerel w/ miso

The second course was fish in a miso sauce.  The dish was served cold.  This was an ok dish.

We noticed another table get a calamari dish instead of this.  Unsure if it was because they ordered the "western" menu instead.

3) fatty toro

The first nigiri course was two pieces of fatty toro, one with a sweet sauce and one that was smoked.  Both were delicious.  I completely forgot to take a photo of the first nigiri course.  Because it's not a preset tasting like many other places I've gone to, I concentrated on taking notes and just simply forgot to take the picture.  This picture on Yelp is a good example of the first nigiri course.

4) snapper w/ plum sauce, halibut

Next up was some red snapper and halibut.  The red snapper had (what my notes said) was a plum sauce on top and the halibut had a sauce I cannot recall.  I think this is a good example of the type of sushi you get a Sushi Sasabune.  There's a lot of sauces and interesting things on top of the nigiri.

I'm not gonna comment on every nigiri as we move on.  I think the pictures are sufficient.

5) skip jack, amber jack

6) scallop w/ yuzu jelly, salmon w/ trout caviar & cream

The yuzu gelatin on top of the scallop was a little strong in my opinion, hiding flavor of the scallop.  I found the cream a surprising addition to the salmon, but it tasted really good.

7) shrimp w/ shrimp paste, geoduck, oyster w/ oyster sorbet

The oyster w/ oyster sorbet was quite interesting.  Before downing the oyster I tasted the sorbet by itself, and sure enough, it is oyster flavored sorbet.  It added exactly what you'd expect, extra oyster flavor to the oyster.  The geoduck was particularly tasty.  The shrimp wasn't sweet shrimp, which surprised me because that's the only raw shrimp I've ever had prior to this.

8) saba, aji

9) crab w/ ???, squid w/ uni sauce

I found the addition of uni sauce on top of the squid quite interesting.

10) uni, ikura

11) baked Alaskan king crab

A table close to us that also got the "eastern" menu got lobster instead of king crab.  Unsure why, perhaps it was a request of theirs.

12) tamago, anago

The anago was quite interesting, not the normal barbecue drenched unagi eel you usually get.

13) negitoro roll

Negitoro is apparently one of this restaurant's signature dishes.  We probably should have asked them to only serve us 1 negitoro roll which we would split, but we didn't.  The roll was fine, but my judgement may be flawed because I was getting stuffed by this point.

14) miso soup w/ shrimp head

The miso soup contained a shrimp head, which I assume came from the shrimp nigiri earlier in the meal.  The flavor of the shrimp was clearly in the broth.  I really enjoyed this, as it was different from the normal miso soup you get at most Japanese restaurants.

15) green tea ice cream

Finally you get your choice of several flavors of ice cream at the end of the meal.  We chose to share one scoop of ice cream at the end as two scoops would have overdone it.

Online, I saw a review that called this restaurant "sushi fusion", which is maybe an accurate description.  I've never seen yuzu gelatin, oyster sorbet, uni sauce, cream, etc. on sushi before.

Unlike most other tasting menus I've had, the pacing of the food was quite quick.  The food came out one right after another, so there wasn't a lot of time to let previous courses digest a bit.  The first 10 courses were done within an hour and a half easily, maybe it was closer to 11-12 courses.  Only by eating slowly on the last few courses did we stretch this out closer to 2 hours (but still under 2 hours total).  I've been told that sushi in Japan can be very rapid pace.  I don't know if this is like what you'd get in Japan.

Overall a great experience.  The only other high end sushi place I have to compare to is Kusakabe in San Francisco, which was 1 Michelin Star at the time of my dining.  I think the individual nigiri was better at Kusakabe and I might lean to Kusakabe for the overall better balanced meal with different dish types and a slower pace.

Dinner @ The Pineapple Room in Honolulu, HI

While my girlfriend and I were in Honolulu we wanted to go on a fine dining trip somewhere.  We had originally thought of going to Alan Wong's, a generally highly regarded restaurant in Honolulu.  The reviews of Alan Wong's were mixed amongst friends that had been there.  Some said it was great, others said it was meh.   I'm sure some amount of it was based on personal tastes of Hawaiian flavors.  We ended up going with Sushi Sasabune after deciding we wanted a sushi fix instead. 

My girlfriend and I were looking to grab dinner near our hotel in Waikiki one evening but everything was packed and had long lines.  So I went to my good friend Opentable and the first restaurant listed was The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong, a more casual offshoot of the flagship Alan Wong restaurant.  So we figured ... why not.  Getting there in 15 minutes is better than waiting an hour for a table in Waikiki.

This restaurant is very casual and the most casual restaurant that I've reviewed on my blog.   The restaurant is inside the Macy's at the Ala Moana mall.  Yes, inside the Macy's.

I'm only writing about it because it happened to have a small four course tasting on the menu and there were enough ingredients I had to look up, I figured it'd be interesting to write up.

1) Ho farms tomato and watermelon salad w/ Hawaii island dairy goat cheese, ume dressing

First off, a light salad with a ume sauce.  I didn't know what ume was, but it's a plum.  The dressing was a bit sour, which is simply the flavor of ume (which once you're in Hawaii long enough, you'll see on a lot of menus and as snacks and flavoring for shaved ice).  Interesting, but not my particularly taste.

2) Sizzling "hapa" poke - w/ garlic aoili, bubu arare, chirashi musubi

So the name of this dish confused me.  I know "hapa" is a slang word used to describe a person of mixed ethnicity.  I guess the "hapa" here is the fact that the poke (tuna) is half cooked on this sizzling plate.

The chirashi musubi also confused me.  Definitions online say that "musubi" is a ball of rice with meat on top (which is what I was most familiar with, such as with "spam musubi") and "chirashi" is typically raw fish on rice.  I'm not sure what this means, because there's clearly no meat on top of the rice.  Perhaps it's mixed into the rice  ... I have no idea.

Anyways, I thought this was a good dish, everything was quite tasty.  My favorite of the four courses.

3) Hoisin sriracha glazed short ribs w/ Prawn, choi sum, tobanjan sauce, big island goat cheese

These ribs were really soft and there was a kick to the dish.  However, I felt that the all of the flavors together didn't really mix well though.  Hoisin, sriracha, and tobanjan ... not the mix I typically think of with ribs.  This also came with a bowl of rice (your choice of white or brown), which I didn't take a picture of.

4) Waiaula old fashioned chocolate pudding w/ David murdock's private estate 70% chocolate

The dessert of chocolate pudding was good, but I couldn't finish it.  It was quite rich.

Keeping in mind that this is the far more casual restaurant compared to Alan Wong's flagship, I'm sort of glad I chose Sushi Sasabune instead of going to Alan Wong's.  It's not necessarily a knock on the restaurant itself, but there were Hawaiian flavors that weren't flavors I was familiar with.  If it's an indication of what would be at Alan Wong's, I might have left Alan Wong's not too happy.  Those more familiar with Hawaiian flavors or tastes may not be caught off guard as much as I was.

I will say, the tasting menu is a pretty good deal for $49 before tax & tip.  A lot of the entrees were in the $30-$40 range already, so that's an extra three courses for not much more.

UPDATE: The Pineapple Room closed in July 2017.