Like the company that I keep, I prefer my food spicy, varied and high quality. So it’s no surprise that Korean cuisine—generally flavored with sesame oil, soybean paste and garlic—is a perfect match for my taste buds . In fact, Korea consumes more garlic than Italy.
Korean food is served family style. It’s nice to order several different dishes and share them with people that you care about. I also enjoy banchan, the side dishes that come with every meal like cabbage, kimchee, potato and broccoli.
Although I like Korean food, it would be unfair to say that there is no such thing as a bad dish. I can’t tell you how many times I have almost choked to death on a piece of rubbery kalbi or been sorely disappointed with mushy, flavorless kimchee.
I have never had this problem at Isana Restaurant in Kihei—arguably the largest and finest Korean restaurant on the island. In fact, every time I’ve eaten there–whether I had traditional dishes like the bibhim bhap (rice, beef, veggies and egg served in a hot stone pot), yakiniku (food cooked on the table) or sushi—it has always been served extremely fresh and as close to perfection as one can expect this side of the pearly gates.
According to owners Andy and Cindy Chun, quality is something that Isana has prided itself on for the past 24 years.
“See, only the best color, the best quality,” Andy told me recently while showing off some fish. “Expensive, but customers that know fish, know when they eat that it’s the best quality.”
I’m no expert on fish, but I’m betting that at roughly $800 for two nights worth of ahi, Isana really does serve the good stuff.
One of my favorite Korean dishes is kalbi beef. Isana’s beef is marinated to perfection, barbequed and served off the bone in delectable chunks of sweet and meaty goodness. I’ve been known to whack a family-sized portion by myself.
Isana also does an unbelievable dynamite sauce served over mussels or scallops. It’s hard to describe the flavor because it’s very complex: rich, spicy and salty while retaining a fresh light flavor that brings you diving in for a second, third and fourth mouthful.
The sushi bar at Isana is extensive–serving traditional rolls along with the more westernized California and Rainbow rolls. I was impressed with their Rainbow roll and I’ve seen it served at some of Hawai‘i’s most famous establishments. Isana’s version is artsy–adorned in generous quantities of orange, green and red roe.
Major confession: I had never tried roe until my recent visit to Isana. So I was surprised when I tasted it—not just that I liked it, but that each of the colors held a different flavor. The orange was sweet and citrusy, the green had wasabi tones and the red was hot, like habenero.
Isana has hundreds of dining options. They also run a special Wednesday through Saturday offering sushi at half-off prices from 10 p.m. until close. I’m definitely going back in the hopes of broadening my culinary horizons.
And you don’t have to worry that the 50 percent off sushi will be anything less than the sushi served at full price. “We serve the good fish no matter what,” Andy Chun said. “Always quality.” MTW