A guy who works for one of my dealers in the Chicago area spent some time in Hawaii a few years ago and he gave me some good suggestions of where to go and where to eat. One of the places he told us to visit while in/on Hawaii was Sansei Seafood and Sushi Restaurant. There are four Sansei's in Hawaii - one on Oahu, two on Maui and one on the Big Island. It turned out the one on the Big Island was in the Queen's Marketplace shops near our hotel in the Wiakoloa Beach Resort area. We had hoped to be able to get to Sansei the night we arrived in Hawaii, but a delay at the rental car agency (thanks to a very stupid person in line ahead of us) and a long detour to our hotel pretty much ruled out getting there before they closed. So our first full night on Hawaii we went to Sansei.
Sansei is part of the D.K. Restaurants group that also features d.k Steak House, Hiroshi and Vino - all highly acclaimed restaurants throughout the Hawaiian Islands. "D.K." are the initials of Dave "D.K." Kodama, the founder and owner of the D.K. restaurants. Kodama is a native Hawaiian who left the University of Hawaii in 1979 and ended up as a bartender in Seattle. Kodama fell in love with the restaurant business and thought it would be a more fun profession than being an engineer.
After 3 years in Seattle, Kodama ended up in Aspen, CO, working at a number of restaurants, learning the business and getting valuable culinary training on the job. He ended up moving back to Hawaii in 1996 and opened his first Sansei in the Kapalua Resort north of Lahaina on Maui. Sansei specializes in fresh seafood and serving locally grown foods. It's sort of a contemporary Pan-asian seafood restaurant that also has sushi.
It was about a three minute drive from the Hilton Waikoloa Village hotel to the Queen's Marketplace shopping center (see map). Sansei is located on the far east end of the open air shops. We had a short wait while the hostess took a phone call, but we were in no hurry. We asked if we could just sit at the sushi bar and she happily took us over to the bar, seated us and gave us menus.
The restaurant, itself, was a nice mix of contemporary Hawaiian and Asian themes. It wasn't a huge place, but there was a dining area off to the side of the main room. The main dining room featured the sushi bar. The atmosphere was relaxed, upscale casual and sort of romantic. It wasn't overly busy at the restaurant, which was sort of nice.
We figured we'd just do sushi for our visit, so I asked for a sushi menu. Our sushi chef was a native mainlander who had been in Hawaii for about 15 years. During our trip to Hawaii, we talked to a lot of restaurant workers, waiters, hotel valets, salespeople, etc. who were obviously not native Hawaiians just to see what their story was and how they ended up in Hawaii. We heard all different types of stories from guys who followed girls out to Hawaii, guys who came out for a couple months and just stayed for the past 19 years, and from people who needed to start their lives over. As one waiter told us one evening, "Hawaii is really full of misfits, people who may not have fit in back home on the mainland, or who are getting away from whatever problems they faced in their past. This is the ultimate "misfit island."
The sushi chef at Sansei was no exception. He had worked at the original Sansei on Maui after coming out from the mainland "to drink and stay tan". He moved to this location three years ago when it first opened. He said, "My life is pretty simple here. If I'm not at work, I'm usually in a bar somewhere. And if I'm not at work or at a bar, I'm sleeping. That's my life." While some people may think that was sort of sad, I secretly envied the guy. No concerns, no worries, no responsibilities.
We immediately ordered up a spicy tuna roll and something that Cindy wanted to try something called the "69 Roll". It's a California roll (crab, avocado, cucumber) rolled inside out and topped with unagi (fresh water eel) and salmon roe. It was interesting, to say the least. The spicy tuna rolls were much better.
We had regular salmon and smoked salmon sushi, along with tuna and sweet shrimp sushi. The prices weren't bad - averaging around $3.50 to $4.00 for two pieces of sushi. The tuna was a little more expensive - I believe it was $8.00 for two pieces of sushi. But that was still cheaper than many mainland sushi restaurants.
And the fish was so fresh that... Well, I have to say that I'd never had tuna - any type of tuna sushi - that tasted that good. It was like they had caught the fish, filet'ed it out on the boat and served it - all within 15 minutes. It literally melted in our mouths. And the smoked salmon was - by far - the best smoked salmon I'd ever had. We ended up ordering two more pieces of the tuna and smoked salmon, along with another spicy tuna roll for good measure.
We figured we'd eat at Sansei a couple more times when we were on both Hawaii and on Maui, but for multiple reasons - such as too many good choices of restaurants - we never did. But the place certainly served our sushi craving needs. It was some of the best sushi I've ever had. No, I'll go even further and say it was the best sushi I ever had. And it wasn't all that expensive. With a generous tip for the sushi chef and our waitress that served us our drinks, it still came to under $100 bucks. It was just excellent.