Ok this one is some what of a Throwback Thursday post, recalling back to my notes on my first Omakase experience when I was visiting Honolulu for the 2nd time in 2016.
Contrary to popular belief, there are a lot of great eats in Honolulu, traditional and modern alike.
Due to the high concentration of Japanese people visiting and living here, the Japanese cuisine is also very up to standards, which brought me to finally bit the bullet and splurged on my first ever Omakase meal back in February 2016 in Honolulu, at Sushi Sasabune.
Omakase is a type of Japanese dining where you simply trust the chef. In fact, that is literally what it means in Japanese. So in an Omakase meal, there is often no menu where you simply allow the chef to freestyle serve you your (often) sushi dinner.
Sushi Sasabune is one of the oldest sushi restaurants in Honolulu. Chef Seiji Kumagawa has been making sushi for over 20 years at the same spot. That is really remarkable and a true testament to his passion, persistence and success.
Sushi Sasabune is in fact a well known omakase chain in Los Angeles, however I believe the one in Honolulu had broken away from the franchise and is in fact, an independent restaurant now.
The decor, like many restaurants in Hawaii reeks a little bit of 90s, however still maintains its charm and you can actually feel that it is a higher-end place.
Servers right from the entrance were extremely polite and courteous. The assistant chef (whose name I had forgotten to note down) served us for the evening, whilst chef Seiji Kumagawa crafted some pieces silently in the back.
Our serving chef spoke english perfectly, and very politely. The service here was truly stellar.
The final bill came to a total of $195.5 for 2 persons, although I had a few more pieces than my wife. Speaking of which, you can in fact stop the Omakase dinner when you have had enough, which sets it apart from a prix fixe menu. You will only be charged whatever pieces you’ve had.
The sushi at Sasabune Honolulu were some of the best tasting sushi that I have ever eaten, even to date of this feature in 2017.
Big island Kona abalone, raw and steamed.
Disclaimer: This was my first time eating raw abalone. There was a little bit of fear factor right off the start, while it didn’t tasted foul, I couldn’t say that it was delicious either. I already knew that the raw abalone would be crunchy whilst the cooked one would be chewy. The raw version had a sharp metallic taste of the ocean, which really put me off, whereas the cooked version tasted more savoury and mellow.
It’s great to note that this was locally sourced from Big Island though!
Thankfully, the next one came as a palate soother of sorts.
A combination of Big-Eye and Yellow-Fin tuna marinated in soy sauce. These are likely the leaner off cuts that didn’t make the cut (hah!) for nigiri assembly. Surprisingly, they were very, very tender and not overly salted as I thought they’d be. The tuna flesh simply broke apart in the mouth with a prod of the tongue, as the light soy flavours lingered on.
Squid wrapped Crab
Crab meat wrapped inside a squid.
This was a cooked dish, but the squid was tender and not overcooked to rubberdom. The toasted sesame seeds had a very strong nutty flavour that surprisingly didn’t overwhelmed the mild tasting squid, but instead complemented both the textures of the squid and the flavours of the flaky crab meat within. Very well done.
Yellow-tail Hamachi Collar
Number 4 was also a cooked dish, a simmered dish to be exact.
The portion size of this was surprisingly large with more than a few big chunks of fish meat in the bowl. A ladle of soy-dashi mixture had been ladled over the gently cooked fish. The chunky flesh had bite, but wasn’t chewy.
Maguro, Yellow-fin Tuna
Not a bad way to start our first sushi piece.
The rice was warm, which was a first for me. The sushi itself looked incredibly beautiful with the fresh brightness of the fish, sealed with a lacquer of the finishing glaze against the just slightly vinegary rice. These two pieces of tuna instantly set the bar for what good sushi should look and taste like. Marvellous.
Red Snapper with Yuzu
We were served a different variation of the red snapper each. This was my wife’s piece with a dab of yuzu. She said that it was good.
Red Snapper with Guts
This was mine; I had guts.
As scary as it sounded, it didn’t taste like so, and had a mellow rounded sort of fishy flavour that was actually pleasant. Any other fishy flavours were cut off with a piece of shiso leaf hidden within.
Paired for both of us was the Hirame aka flounder.
This seemed to have been aged a little bit from the look and texture, which had a little bit of a lingering bite that is quite difficult to describe with words. It’s soft, tender even, but has a resistance, if that makes any sense. The move to showcase texture made sense, because Hirame is a very mild tasting white fish.
I could see us moving up gradually towards the more flavourful fishes.
The amberjack was simply done, with a piece of shiso leaf instead of wasabi. Nice, but not memorable.
What surprised me more was the accompanying bonito sushi.
This is the same bonito that is dried and turned into flakes, that top your Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki and what-nots.
I’ll be blunt, the bonito tasted like a lean tuna. It didn’t had a sharp flavour as I had expected, perhaps due to the toasted garlic and scallion relish on top.
Next up was this incredibly fresh raw scallop with a light yuzu jelly on top.
Very rich, satisfying mouthfeel with gentle umami flavours.
The most unconventional piece of the evening.
Cured salmon with a touch of cheese and smoked ikura. It was superb, and had that tinge of modern sophistication from the cheese, without ruining the piece like kewpie mayonnaise would.
The norwegian mackerel had a stronger taste, as many mackerel do, being an oily fish.
That was probably why there was a bit of a relish beneath it. That said, I didn’t enjoy this piece as much as the others, or the next.
That Hawaiian mackerel had been lightly torched, and tasted much better than the one before.
A lovely sauce whose components escaped me helped meld the smokey char flavour of grilled fish and the scallion relish together as a wholesome flavour.
Alaskan Snow Crab
Bare with me as we approached the climatic finale of the meal.
This was a fresh Alaskan snow crab leg with crab guts on top. Prior to this, I’ve only had frozen snow crab, and fresh snow crab at Sasabune was truly an eye opener. Soft yet bouncy crab meat with sweet delicate flavours accented by the sharp umami of the crab guts. This was nothing short of incredible.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, comes this Californian Uni with crisp freshly toasted nori.
The uni was sweet and buttery. It didn’t have a sharp taste that many sea urchins I’ve had, had. This was simply down-right delicious and is a true testament of what top grade fresh Uni should taste like.
Ending the meal was the Alaskan salmon roe.
They were so fresh that they almost had a light pink hue. The taste was similarly, unlike most of the Ikuras that I have had before. Almost no detection of fishiness at all, with a lightly brininess and indescribable umami popping one after another in the mouth. Amazing.
It was a fantastic first Omakase experience for me, a great one to lay the foundations and expectations for the ones to come in future.
That concludes the omakase meal. For some reason, I missed taking photos of a few courses, namely the Argentinian shrimp of which I noted was creamy and ‘prawny’, a geoduck from Seattle which I found mediocre and a oyster with oyster sorbet also from Oyster which was very refreshing.
It was a fantastic first Omakase experience for me, a great one to lay the foundations and expectations for the ones to come in future. At nearly 100 USD per person, it was half of what we would pay for decent Omakase in Shanghai, many of which, start at close to 200 USD per person here in Shanghai.
Therefore, Sushi Sasabune in Honolulu gets my top pick for best sushi and omakase restaurant in Honolulu!
Next time I’m back in town, perhaps I will try some other places that also came highly recommended.