Bryan's a planner, one of those "J" types in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test. I'm more of a "P", the spontaneous, creative type. As a planner, Bryan gets really antsy if all aspects of a trip are not pre-organized, pre-reserved, and pretty much completely laid out in detail. Me, I like to leave bits of time for spontaneous activity.
After so many years of marriage and so many trips together, I've actually become pretty proficient at trip planning.
For this trip, Bryan kept nudging me to plan in advance as much as possible, including booking all of our dive courses, dive excursions, tours, and every single dinner reservation.
By planning everything out, we squeezed in all of our SCUBA classes and pool sessions in Boston in just under four weeks before heading out to Hawaii.
In Maui, we did our four open water dives over the course of two days at Kapalua Bay, a great shore diving spot. There were tons of beautiful sealife plus just great overall visibility.
After two days, we were certified!
Sometimes Things Just Don't Go According to Plan
On the first evening after our certification dives, we had originally planned to show up early and dine at the bar at Merriman's, a well-known seafood restaurant that supposedly has gorgeous views of the ocean. Unfortunately, it was just our luck that Merriman's was closed for the evening due to a private event.
Stuck at the last minute with no reservations in sight, we did a quick Opentable search and found availability at Sansei, a local sushi chain that was only about 10-15 minutes away by car.
We arrived at a packed restaurant right around 5:30PM and we soon learned why: Sansei has various "Early Bird Specials" throughout the week. On Sundays and Mondays, they offer 50% off the entire food menu (a few exclusions apply) for anything ordered before 6PM. The rest of the week, it's still a generous 25% off (again, before 6PM). Once again, if you come late light (10pm - 1am) on Fridays or Saturdays, the appetizers and sushi are again 50% off.
We started with an Ahi Poke Salad (have you noticed that I pretty much order this wherever I go?). Although the tuna was delicious, I didn't love the rest of the salad. To me, there were too many raw onions. Additionally, I found the soy based dressing to be a bit on the salty side. Nevertheless, it was a big, healthy portion, and it provided green, leafy vegetables and sprouts.
We sat at the sushi counter so we were able to converse directly with the sushi chefs.
"What's tasting good these days?"
"I would recommend our local Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna, which is always good. The Hamachi (yellowtail) and the Kampachi (amberjack) are really good right now too."
We ended up getting everything he recommended. Additionally, Bryan ordered the Uni + Quail Egg since he always likes that particular combination. The nigiri sushi was decent and comparable in quality to the price. Slices were generous and the fish was fresh. However, the precision and overall quality of the pieces did not come close to the best I've had in the U.S. and Japan.
According to Bryan, the Uni and Quail Egg was fine and enjoyable (I did not personally try it).
They seem to specialize in really creative rolls, with some having won contests. The Takah Sushi Special Roll is named in honor of Takah Sama, sushi chef of a well-known sushi restaurant in Aspen, Colorado who was also a mentor to Sansei's owner D.K. Kodama. This tasty roll was filled with shrimp, ahi, crab, avocado and cucumber, rolled inside out, and covered with masago (fish roe) on the outside.
I enjoyed the combination of ingredients and overall liked this roll a lot.
The Sansei Special Roll consisted of spicy crab, cilantro and fresh vegetables rolled inside-out, dusted with furikake (Japanese seasoning), and served with a sweet Thai chili sauce. Bryan thought the chili sauce was a bit too sweet for his tastes, but I thought it was fine.
Everyone raves about their signature dish, the Panko Crusted Ahi Sashimi Sushi Roll, and for good reason. This panko crusted flash-fried roll is generously stuffed with fresh sashimi grade Hawaiian ahi tuna rolled in fresh arugula and spinach. The entire roll is served with Sansei’s mild soy wasabi butter sauce.
It's definitely not authentic Japanese, but it is so Hawaiian, and I really enjoyed it. The ahi tuna was fresh and flavorful, and I liked the crunchy panko along with the soy wasabi butter sauce.
We don't see Anago, or saltwater eel, that often on menus in the U.S., so we were excited to see it here. This anago tasted pretty good and most certainly reminded us of Japan.
One of my favorite items on the menu actually turned out to be dessert. The Tempura Fried Ice Cream ($9) was just plain awesome. Just imagine: vanilla ice cream wrapped with buttery pound cake, rolled in roasted macadamia nuts, and then flash-fried and served with a chocolate caramel sauce and whipped cream.
It's like a deep fried nut-encrusted doughnut covered ice cream.
It came out freshly fried and it was really good. I did not expect to eat as much as I did. I really enjoyed the mixture of so many different textures: the crunchy exterior, the soft pound cake, and then the rich ice cream. I've always loved fried ice cream, but this really takes it to another level!
I wish we would have had more stomach space to order more food. Our friends who visited this restaurant a few years ago raved about another signature dish, the Dungeness Crab Ramen, which comes with an Asian truffle broth, cilantro, Thai basil and jalapeños. I trust these friends, and I'm sure it was amazing. Next time!
After growing immune to the high prices of everything in Hawaii, getting the bill at Sansei was a welcomed relief. I think we had forgotten about the 25% happy hour discount, so we were very pleasantly surprised (almost a bit shocked). Our total bill including tax and gratuity (and several beers) was well under $100. Trust me - that's pretty reasonable compared to what we were paying everywhere else!
It's easy to see why this place is really popular with locals. The menu is creative, the food is enjoyable, and the prices can be really good depending on when you come (imagine 50% off on Sundays and Mondays!). Although the quality isn't quite up to par with top sushi restaurants, the prices more than make up for it. If you're picky about a good nigiri (which I am), I would advise sticking with their creative rolls and other Japanese/Hawaiian fusion dishes. It's a good place for gatherings with people of all different kinds of budgets. It's a great value, and the food is still very enjoyable.
Despite the fact that we hadn't originally planned to come here, we still had a great time. Sometimes spontaneous discoveries aren't so bad at all. Plus, I'm sure our wallets were a bit relieved . . . at least for one night!
This post is part of a larger series on our two week trip to Hawaii. Other posts in this series!
Exploring Volcano National Park
Da Poke Shack and Umeke's on the Big Island
A Mantay Ray Dive, Sea Turtles, and Kona Coffee
Haleakaka and the Hali'imaile General Store
Mama's Fish House and the Road to Hana
Sansei Restaurant & Sushi Bar (+ Diving in Maui!)
Lahaina Grill, Maui
Kokohead Cafe, Honolulu
La Mer Honolulu
Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar (Kihei)
1881 S Kihei Rd
Kihei, HI 96753
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