It’s been my experience that sushi always tastes better than it sounds. A recent outing to Sushi Paradise in Kihei confirmed that for me.
I was told that the salmon skin sushi was a specialty of the house. Okay, I thought, I’m game for a culinary adventure—skin and all—and prepared myself for slippery, chewy and fishy. What I got was crunchy, delicately flavored and beautifully presented, a tiny Impressionist masterpiece. In fact, my meal was as much about presentation as taste.
That’s the beauty of sushi—like the hokkigai, or surf clam, sushi that I swear looked like a miniature wave, white with red at the crest.
Or the moi, a fish reserved for royalty in the old days. The taste is hard to describe, aside from yummy. Unfortunately, it isn’t always available, and is served mostly on weekends.
I also sampled the eel and cucumber roll (unagi for you beginners). If you’re a sushi bar crawler, you’ll know that sushi chefs make many of the same things. It’s how they’re made that sets them apart. Akira Watanabe, Sushi Paradise’s owner and chef, just happens to serve his unagi warm—which really brings out the flavor of the eel.
What also sets him apart are his serving sizes. When you watch him work you’ll notice that the rice block is quite small and the fish is usually big enough to drape over it. His Spanish mackerel sushi, or aji, for example: the fish is shiny pink and silver and looks like it’s hugging the rice rather than just sitting on top of it.
And then there’s his speed. I worried for his digits. I’ve been eating sushi for a long time and have never seen anybody work that fast. But I’m not complaining—anything that serves the food faster is okay with me.
For sampling purposes, I ordered individually, but positively drooled when I saw the sashimi and sushi dinners. Remember the Impressionist masterpiece theme? Chef Watanabe was somehow able to make the individual sushi look like a whole fish again, complete with cucumber fins.
My culinary adventure continued when Alissa, our waitress and tour guide, suggested the Chawanmushi, or egg custard soup. Who knew egg custard, chicken and spinach would work together so well? Although I couldn’t decide whether it was a first course or dessert.
As committed as I was to the cause, at this point I was starting to flag. So I really didn’t do justice to the sushi guratin (dynamite). I thought it was an unlikely (but delicious) dish for a sushi restaurant. There were vegetables (asparagus, zucchini, broccoli and mushrooms), scallops and shrimp topped with baked cheese. And, at this point it was a little heavy for me.
I did revive myself enough for ice cream, especially when I heard it was homemade green tea and adzuki bean sauce. Now I’m a haole girl but I’m nuts for adzuki beans… and sushi, too, come to think of it.
Chef Watanabe and his tiny staff have been providing Kihei with sushi for 14 years. This year they won the ‘Aipono award for Best Sushi from Maui No Ka Oi magazine. But it’s all very low-key; they don’t advertise but do have a website that draws folks from the mainland.
And they have a devoted local clientele that often frequent the “bar” once or twice a week. They obviously know something I just discovered. The best places are often the ones you never hear about. MTW