My quest for great sushi continued with a recent trip to Sushi ii, an unassuming little restaurant in the Samsung Plaza on Keeaumoku Street. Honolulu Magazine recently listed it as the best modern sushi bar in Hawaii. The restaurant even has a fancy 4.5 star rating on Yelp. Unfortunately, my experience at Sushi ii (pronounced “ee,” meaning “good” in Japanese) did not match the aforementioned glowing reviews. I was a bit, disappointed.
With no reservations, we were sure to arrive just as the restaurant was opening so that we could have our best chance at securing seats. It was 5pm on a Sunday, and we were the first guests there. We asked if there were any available seats at the sushi bar and were told that if we sat at the bar, then we would need to finish by 6:30pm. Not wanting a time limit on our meal, we ended up sitting at one of the tables across from the bar.
So far, so good. Well, wait a minute. As I was starting to ask a question about the sushi and sashimi omakase, a cockroach fell from the ceiling, just to the left of me. The waitress, a young female, jumped and screamed (in that order) and then stomped on the offending roach. “WTF, what just happened”, I thought to myself.
We quickly brushed it off, though with eyes wide open. Despite the red flag, we both proceeded to order the sushi omakase. Here’s the breakdown of our omakase:
1. Kinmedai (Golden eye tai or sea bream)
2. Akamutsu (blue fish)?
3. Aji (Japanese jack mackerel)
4. Mizodako raw octopus from Japan
5. Crab from Japan
6. Snow crab topped with kani miso
8. Ebi topped with uni
9. Fried ebi
11. Uni from Japan
12. Conger eel
16. Salmon roe still in the sac
17. Seared salmon with ikura and bonito
18. Mentaiko (Cod roe), with yamaimo (Japanese yam) and topped with a quail egg
21. Torched otoro with lemon and salt
22. Wagyu beef
Unlike other sushi restaurants that serve each round of sushi in an omakase one-by-one, as it is made, Sushi ii instead serves them in plates of three (sometimes two). The first trio of nigiri included kinmedai, akamutsu, and aji. The akamutsu was delicious, and probably the highlight of the evening for me.
Next came a trio of octopus, crab, and snow crab. My favorite from this set was the snow crab topped with kani miso. Kani miso, by the way, is that interesting stuff that you come upon if you’ve ever eaten a whole crab. It’s usually described as crab brain, but that’s a misnomer. Instead, it’s “whatever is left after all the white meat is taken out of the crab – a nasty looking concoction of internal organs such as livers and pancreas, intestines, their contents and just a little bit of the actual brain.” After a taste of the snow crab with kani miso nigiri, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to wanting a heartier portion of crab guts. Very good.
Shrimp prepared three ways came next. I’m not the biggest fan of raw ebi, instead, I prefer my crustaceans prepared tempura style. That said, the deep fried ebi nigiri was very tasty.
Next came a set of nigiri that featured otoro, uni, and conger eel. This should have been my favorite set. It featured two of my favorite things in life: otoro and uni. But the otoro fell flat and the uni lacked the sweet, creamy flavors of the ocean that I’ve become used to. The uni tasted a bit stale compared to uni that I’ve had in the past. And the otoro was the biggest disappointment for me. Otoro typically is my favorite part of any omakase because of the way that the meat easily melts in my mouth. Not this otoro. Sad face.
And then came the conch, scallop, and abalone nigiri. All I can say is jiminy crickets, that abalone was crunchy. This was my least favorite set.
Midway through the omakase, we decided to order some Golden Shrimp Purses. They were like deep fried shumai.
Things picked up when the salmon roe (still in sack), seared salmon topped with ikura and bonito, and mentaiko (cod roe) with yamaimo (Japanese yam) topped with quail egg came out. The salmon roe was, as expected, intense. It had a very strong, salty flavor. The seared salmon was delicious, but I actually prefer raw salmon nigiri with my omakase. The cod roe with quail egg was fancy fare, and probably my favorite from this trio.
A break from the pattern of threes came when the duo of negitoro and anago arrived at our table. The nigitoro, though tasty, paled in comparison to Izakaya Gaku’s negitoro. Next up was the anago, which again underwhelmed. And let me tell you, I enjoy anago. I was somewhat frustrated at this point.
We ended the omakase with a combination of torched otoro nigiri and wagyu beef nigiri. It might be that I’m a traditionalist, but I prefer raw when splurging on omakase. The otoro was definitely overcooked for my tastes. The wagyu beef nigiri, though? Spectacular. But if I’m eating wagyu beef then please give me an entree-sized portion. As a nigiri, though? Such a tease.
For $300 (cost of omakase, golden purses, plus tax and tip), both of us agreed that we were disappointed with the omakase at Sushi ii. There were a few highlights like the akamutsu, snow crab with kani miso, and wagyu beef nigiri. That said, the dishes that should have impressed us, like the otoro, uni, negitoro, failed to do so. It was, from the start, an unfortunate and forgettable experience.