Have you ever tried taking a vegan to a sushi dinner? Trust me: it’s hell. Most sushi is sublime, beautiful art, and though it does often contain vegetables, the raw fish, sticky white rice and bonito sauces are not so vegan-friendly.
Now Chef Takashi Asakawa has brought his sushi expertise to Choice Health Bar in Lahaina, a truly organic, vegan-friendly restaurant down to the green marrow that courses through its animal-free bones.
“We had a moment about how to define this for Choice,” says Emily Kunz, co-owner and co-founder of Choice with Katheryn Dahm. “Most of us are vegan or vegetarian. We debated about doing fresh catch in the sushi here. So the first night we did, and we also had some deep fried things, like tempura. It was delicious but we felt it was an identity moment for us. Our identity is fresh, not fried. We’re about really cutting-edge flavor that focuses on the vegetables. It was such a cool reality check and brought us back to what’s important to us. We don’t want to make money off of animals or fish.”
Chef Asa, as he’s known, hails from Nobu at the Manele Bay Hotel on Lanai. Last November, he approached Kunz and Dahm and proposed a pop-up sushi night.
“He brought in a plate with two bites of probably 20 different items,” says Kunz. “Kathryn was in Italy, so I took it home and ate it with my boyfriend. He’s a huge sushi fan, and he was blown away.”
Garden Sushi was born. Choice stays now stays open from 8am to 9pm every day. From 4-6pm, you can drop by for Awaken Tea kombucha–they have four flavors on tap–and an grab-and-go eats. Sushi starts at 6pm, and the menu has starters, nigiri, rolls, soups and salads. And it’s all very reasonably priced.
“Everyone who’s come has been really blown away by it,” says Kunz. “It’s kind of a cool alternative experience because usually during the day, this place is jamming with people–there’s a lot of blender noise. It’s a special thing to be here and feel a different vibe.”
Chef Asa’s sushi uses nuts, vegetables and an organic blend of quinoa, brown rice and forbidden rice. They also use organic and non-GMO soy. It’s the Japanese cuisine–in terms of flavor and ingredients–I’ve always wanted but was never been able to find. The artistry that you see in sushi is still present, but it’s undergone a makeover with vegetables.
They do pretty little nigiri wrapped in filets of grilled veggies, belted with nori and dressed up with fresh herbs and nuts. Chef Asa’s roasted beet and green apple and chive nigiri has color and crunch, and the grilled eggplant with sweet miso glaze is satisfying and not fried. The mushroom soup is a delicacy–creamy and rich. The dragon roll is just plain gorgeous.
“We told Asa no frying and no fish,” says Kunz. “Just use the freshest local ingredients, grown on Maui and organic. That was important to us in the beginning, and it’s still important now. It’s actually made his flavors pop off in a whole new direction that we are so excited about. You will see collard-wrapped sushi and raw nuts. He’s had to take it to the next level.”
After eating here, you won’t miss the fish. In fact, you don’t miss deep fried batter, either. In all of Chef Asa’s cuisine, grain, seaweed and vegetables and his amazing attention to the details of texture and flavor make his vegan sushi stand on its own. One note: Choice is BYOB, so stop off for sake, beer or wine before you arrive.
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GARDEN SUSHI AT CHOICE
6-9pm, Monday through Saturday
Choice is now open from 8am straight through 9pm!
1087 Limahana Pl., Lahaina
Photos by Sean Hower