story by Deborah Boehm
photos by Monte Costa
Tuna from Palau?
Alaskan sea urchins?
Spiny lobster from New Zealand?
Kampachi from Kona?
Geoducks from Washington?
It’s Saturday night at Mitch’s Sushi—an estimable restaurant masquerading as a funky industrial-district dive—and the gregarious, white-bearded South African proprietor Douglas “Mitch” Mitchell is taking inventory of the evening’s raw materials: seafood so fresh and so fine that some gastronomes swear that this tiny hideaway serves the best sushi in Honolulu.
“We do endeavor to provide the freshest fish,” Mitch says, striking a pose next to a life-size photograph, circa 1936, that shows Ernest Hemingway in macho-fisherman mode, dwarfed by a gigantic black marlin. “I tell all the Japanese girls that’s me,” Mitch laughs.
The doors open, and within seconds the place is packed. Customers peruse the unusual specials chalked on a blackboard: jellyfish, sea cucumber, Japanese anchovy. Two solemn-faced, Tokyo-trained sushi chefs crank out impeccably crafted nigiri (bite-size pieces) and maki-zushi (rolls), reaching into an exquisitely arranged display case for ingredients from all over the world. “It’s a hole in the wall,” Mitch says fondly as he surveys his lively domain. “But what a hole in the wall!”
At the other end of the spectrum is plush, spacious Nobu Hawai‘i. With its prime Waikiki location and patina of privilege, Nobu is unabashedly upscale. The dining room’s gilded tapestries echo the Midas touch of the restaurant’s Tokyo-born co-owner, Nobu Matsuhisa, a superstar chef turned international mogul. Nobu’s neo-Japanese cuisine sparkles with subequatorial verve thanks to his youthful cooking stints in Peru and Argentina, and Honolulu’s two-year-old Nobu Hawai‘i is one of twenty-one ¨uber-trendy, thriving restaurants in
sixteen fashionable locations, including Milan, Mykonos and the Bahamas.
The sushi bar at Nobu is as long as a stretch limo, and the display case is a shimmering work of art. Even the most erudite aficionado might be hard pressed to name all of the edible gems it holds, but executive chef Toshiyuki Sasajima knows his palette by heart.
“Tuna, of course,” he says, his index finger a pointing blur. “Freshwater eel, baby abalone, sea urchin, yellowtail, bitterling, octopus, amberjack, crab, scallop, jackfish, prawn, pike, Atlantic salmon, whiting, sweet shrimp, mackerel, Japanese flounder, monkfish, shad, snapper, silver beltfish, salmon roe, black caviar, Kumamoto oyster … to name a few.” Chef Sasajima can reel off the provenance list with equal ease: Japan, Hawai‘i, California, Washington state, Alaska, Australia, New Zealand and on and on and on.