There was a time when I ate at Sansei Kapalua once a week, sometimes twice, without fail. They made it easy by offering great kama`aina deals and some of the best Japanese food on the island. The soothing nature of their sashimi, sushi and sake rested my soul and satisfied my belly. As such, I was a little worried for Sansei when I heard that they were bulldozing the Kapalua Bay Hotel, where their restaurant had sat for 10 years. What would sushi aficionados do without Sansei Kapalua? There is their Kihei restaurant, but it just wouldn’t be the same.
I should have known that Chef and Owner DK Kodama would have planned for that. They simply built a new Sansei up the road. Still, I was apprehensive; a new restaurant is quite an undertaking. Would it be as good? Would they change too many things? Would it go Corporate? But I decided to trust Kodama—after all, he had invented the Kapalua Butterfry Roll, seared Foie Gras Nigiri, the Yaki Maki, and the Panko Crusted Ahi Sashimi Roll. How could he go wrong?
My inaugural visit took place on a recent Friday night and I was very hungry. The restaurant sits next to and greatly resembles the Honolua General Store. Another adjoining building houses the new Kapalua real estate, a logo wear shop and a jewelry store. There is more nature to observe here than the old Kapalua Shops location, with lots of the signature Cook Island Pines visible from the entrance. There’s also a large lanai area, which will hopefully house outdoor seating in the future.
The inside of the restaurant is beautiful. Much the same ambience is retained here, though with a new floor layout and a complete lack of booths. As I was sat down I noted that the wood tables and chairs were the same as the earlier Sansei, but worked well in their new cozy dining areas.
Food-wise, Chef Kodama and Executive Chef Ivan Pahk did not disappoint. They kicked off their new digs with a few amazing items appropriately done with specials like Hamachi, served “south of the border”-style with kombu-soy vinaigrette by Sushi Chef Masa. The salmon and avocado carpaccio with sansho peppercorn-yuzu aioli was also delicious.
Chef Pahk’s creations were so remarkable I will be disappointed if they don’t get added permanently to the menu. Pahk’s kim chee shrimp with blue cheese slaw was the perfect blend of Asian fusion cuisine, and served as a fine appetizer. But Pahk’s main dish special—the red salt roasted filet with asparagus and lobster dashi risotto—was fantastic. The flavor in the tender filet popped with the coarse salt crystals. The accompanying lobster asparagus risotto disappeared quickly.
Happily the restaurant has retained its small family feel. I felt like `ohana inside, greeted by the servers I’ve known for years. Even Chef Kodama’s mother was on hand to assist customers. She made a special trip to my table with a bowl of soft tofu for my toddler, showing me tips on how to feed baby and how to store troublesome poi. That kind of service is priceless. The Sansei experience was easy to slip into and left me yearning for more. MTW