On the recommendation of our bartender at the Bistro Molokini at the Grand Wailea, we had sushi at Isana on our first night on Maui. We had told her that we were thinking about going to the Sansei location up the way in Kihei. She told us, "Sansei is very good, but I sort of like the atmosphere at Isana better. And for me, it's difficult to choose between the two as to which has better sushi. They're both very good." So it was off to Isana that evening.
Isana bills itself as the largest Korean restaurant on Maui. Hmmm... A Korean restaurant that serves sushi? I guess I didn't know that sushi was served in Korea. But, then again, I don't make it to Korean restaurants all that much, as in ever. So what did I know? Our bartender did tell us that Isana was a little more funky in its decor. "Sansei is definitely upscale compared to Isana, but it has a great funky vibe to the place."
We found Isana on South Kihei Road (see map) and walked in around 7:30. We went to the small sushi bar and took the last two seats that were open. Cindy ordered up a green tea right off the bat and I got a large bottle of Sapporo. That was a good sign - they had Japanese beer. Our waitress offered us a regular menu, but we declined and looked over the sushi menu. In addition to sushi and traditional Korean food, Isana also has a Korean Barbecue menu.
We immediately ordered a couple of spicy tuna roll to get things started. The bartender at the Grand Wailea was right - Isana had a funky kind of vibe to the place. There were a lot of neon signs throughout the place. There was a second floor to the restaurant and on the landing heading up to the upper floor there was a wall-mounted carving of two humpback whales. I don't believe anyone was dining upstairs that evening as it looked pretty dark up there.
By the time the spicy tuna rolls showed up, we were ready to order up regular sushi. We tried their maguro (tuna), hamachi (yellow tail), shake (salmon), shiromi (red snapper) and both ebi (sushi) and amaebi (sweet shrimp). I asked our sushi chef if they had any smoked salmon and he gruffly said, "Only fresh fish." Oh, OK. That's fine with me.
The area around the sushi bar was rather festive with a lot of laughing and drinking going on. We were having a good time and I was getting a little plowed on the Sapporo. I only had two, but I think the effects of the mai tais and the previous beers I had back at the hotel, along with the lack of any substantive food since breakfast was starting to get the best of me. When our large tray of sushi showed up, I was ready to quit drinking and start eating.
And the sushi was very good, as advertised. I was very impressed with the maguro tuna, so much that I ordered four more pieces along with four more of the shake salmon. The tuna was very fresh and it melted in our mouths. The red snapper was OK, but the yellow tail had great flavor to it and was easy to chew. The sweet shrimp was not as good as the regular shrimp. The waitress kept checking on us for drinks and the sushi chef was pleasant enough when we were eating to see how we were doing.
Isana was a little expensive - total cost of the sushi and drinks were well over $100 bucks. I thought it to be a little higher priced than Sansei, but the quality of the food was on par. I don't know if the tuna at Isana was as good as Sansei, and I was a little disappointed they didn't have smoked salmon, but sushi purists point out that sushi should be fresh fish only. So Isana was more of a purists type of place.
A few days later, we saw the bartender at the Bistro Molokini back at the hotel and thanked her for steering us toward Isana. She said, "It is a funky place, but it has some great sushi, doesn't it?"
It sure does...