Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
The Mrs. and I have been on a sushi binge for the past couple of months. About three or four times a year, we head over to Mitch’s Fish Market and Sushi Bar in the airport industrial area for a couple of reasons: their super-fresh seafood and their BYOB policy, which is great for wine and sake lovers like us.
Never heard of Mitch’s Fish Market and Sushi Bar?
Mitch’s is owned by Craig Mitchell, a native of South Africa. After traveling the globe, Craig settled in Hawai‘i, where he found work at a seafood distribution company that he eventually purchased. When his parents retired, they joined him in Hawai‘i. After enjoying retirement for a time, Craig’s father got bored, so Craig opened a small 14-seat sushi bar for his dad to run. In time, the sushi bar expanded into a full-sized restaurant with two sushi counters. That’s Mitch’s Fish Market and Sushi Bar.
After our first visit years ago, Mitch’s has been our go-to restaurant for sushi . . . that is, until we developed sushi-itis and embarked on our sushi tour.
I previously described our outstanding meal last year at Vintage Cave Café, adjacent to Shirokiya Japan Village Walk. We took advantage of their weeklong promotion of half off of most menu items. The Café’s upscale sister-restaurant, Vintage Cave, thought most folks didn’t know that the flagship restaurant that started it all was still open for business. After all, Chef Chris Kajioka, who had opened Vintage Cave, and Chef Jonathan Mizukami, who had succeeded Kajioka had both left the restaurant. Most local diners assumed that Vintage Cave had closed or at least remained just a membership-only venue.
The current management of Vintage Cave decided to offer a half-off promotion for their French-Japanese kaiseki and sushi kaiseki omakase dinners through the month of October. Both dinners were slashed from the usual $300 per person to $150 per person. Since both Sushi Sho and Sushi Maru charge about $300 per person, I thought Vintage Cave’s offer was reasonable, especially since owner Takeshi Sekiguchi’s philosophy is to buy the best with cost being the second priority.
In late September, we booked two of the six seats available every night. We were pleasantly surprised that the meal included both traditional and non-traditional Japanese dishes, including caviar served atop saikyo white miso marinated cream cheese. The balance of the rich cream cheese and salty, sweet miso was so good, I started marinating cream cheese in miso at home to pair with cold smoked salmon.
Next came several traditional Japanese courses, including sweet raw shrimp, uni (sea urchin) and lighter-fleshed sashimi. The next epiphany wasn’t an actual course, but rather pickles used to garnish each dish. Instead of the usual light pink beni shoga accompaniment, we were served smoked daikon that Chef Benkei had gotten from a village in Japan. They had a slight crunch like most Japanese takuan and were drier than the locally produced wet takuan, but with only a slight pickled quality. Chef Benkei explained that the daikon were hung over slowly burning embers for weeks or months.
I tried recreating it in my own kitchen (although I don’t have the traditional Japanese cooking hearth) using Japanese takuan in my own bullet smoker. Nope, not the same, although I’ll continue trying to recreate that smoked daikon.
Halfway through our meal, Chef Benkei revealed that he previously owned and operated Sushi Bistro Shun for about 15 years and only closed it because the building was sold. His “okasan,” who worked with him, didn’t want to restart the business in another location so he jumped at the Vintage Cave opportunity when it was offered to him. He also confided that with just six diners per night, he now has time to talk story with them and get to know them, unlike his Sushi Bistro Shun days when he was busy with 14 customers.
During the second half of our meal, the darker flesh fish made their debut, including the fattest chu-toro (medium fatty tuna) I’ve ever seen. Chef Benkei said it was actually closer to o-toro than chu-toro.
Another epiphany was the rolled sardine sushi. Lightly salted sardine filets were rolled around a scant bit of sushi rice and then rolled in nori — the flavor was out of this world! I almost asked for a second serving.
Several cooked dishes followed, ending with miso soup and matcha tea whisked by Chef Benkei. The only letdown of the meal was the musk melon served at the very end. These are the $100-plus musk melons grown in Japan, although if I hadn’t been told about their origin — and cost — I would have thought they were ripe melons from the local supermarket.
So, would I go back? For half off the price, most definitely! But for the full price of $300 cost, I’d probably try either Sushi Sho or Sushi Maru first.
Early in our November stay-cay, we booked two seats at Sushi Murayama, which is located in the 808 Center, across of the HMSA Building and kitty corner to the Walmart/Sam’s Club parking structure. The restaurant also happens to be next to the Mrs.’ hair stylist at DADA Salon, although you would never know since there’s no sign on the front door.
Two omakase meals are offered — one for $75, the other for $138 (along with ala carte dishes). The higher priced meal includes lobster, o-toro and wagyu musubi — believe me, it is well worth the price.
The meal started with the negi-toro, or scraped bits of fatty tuna from the skin and bones. Instead of a simple rolled sushi, it was the size of a large musubi with crunchy, fried garlic chips, sprouts and other garnishes. Next up was the largest oyster I’ve ever sampled on the half shell. Unlike the large Pacific oysters sold in supermarkets, these were as flavorful as any oysters on the half shell, just five to 10 times bigger. Chef Ryuji explained that he never buys these oysters from the Northwest during the summer because their creaminess overwhelms most diners due to their size. If he has to purchase them, he serves only the outer body to his customers and eats the creamy center as his snack. He said they’ll continue to get better as winter approaches — sounds like another visit is in order.
Next, we were served two of my favorite seafoods — sake (salmon) and geoduck clam. The salmon piece was huge — it looked more like something to grill rather than to place atop sushi rice. And, because it was Ora King salmon, it was as rich and buttery as salmon gets. I’m not sure if it’s due to global warming, but geoduck clam isn’t as readily available as it was five or 10 years ago. Marukai used to sell strips for sashimi, but stopped years ago, and it’s not always on sushi menus. It’s usually offered more as a special than as a regular menu item. They were as good as they get with that nice, crunchy texture and the taste of sweetened seawater with a subtle clam flavor.
Sushi Murayama also makes their own pickled ginger, apparently from very young ginger rhizomes, as the whole pieces are mostly “pinkie”-sized. The Mrs. couldn’t stop devouring them between courses. Chef Ryuji also served a rolled saba sushi, but his rendition was rolled in konbu. I was tempted to ask for a second serving. As the o-toro was served, the Mrs. started reaching her limits (probably due to our Greek lunch earlier in the day), so I valiantly consumed the rest of her o-toro topped with uni and Tristan lobster sashimi, which was lightly broiled.
The last piece de resistance served was the wagyu musubi — lightly torched wagyu (beef)-covered rice on toasted nori. Very rich, but also very tender. The Mrs. had to box her musubi at this point. It was the perfect end to the meal . . . or so I thought.
When Chef Ryuji described the desserts, I was about to pass as I was stuffed, too . . . until he mentioned the vanilla gelato with whisky — a single scoop of vanilla gelato topped with a shot of Yamazaki 12-year-old whisky. The creamy richness of the gelato toned down the alcohol burn and was balanced by the earthiness of the whisky, while the flavors in the whisky cut through the mouth-coating gelato. Perfection in a simple dessert that I’ll replicate at home . . . and all for $138, plus $24 for the whisky gelato.
In the words of the Terminator, “We’ll be back . . .”
808 Sheridan St., #307 (behind the black glass door)
Phone: (808) 784-2100
Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Thursday, 5:30-10:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5:30-11:30 p.m.; Sunday, 5-9:30 p.m.
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”