Every so often, I'll pop my head into Ohana Hale Marketplace (the old Sports Authority on Ward Avenue) to say hi to Tiny Tadani, who has a vegan soft serve spot in there. Then he'll tell me about his latest favorite eats in the place and show me around. His latest pick was @Sushi, located near the main stage.
What a brilliant name! This little six-seat sushi bar is owned by Atsushi Kumagai (Atsushi = @Sushi, get it?), whom I had previously met when he was working at Maru Sushi. The spot's quirkiness has all the elements of hidden gems: iI's an upscale oasis in the midst of casual eateries, Ohana Hale itself has the ambience of an indoor swap meet, and there's constant free, live entertainment that can range from local Hawaiian jams to folk music to a Korean multilevel marketing presentation. The intimate setting enables you to socialize with your fellow diners, so go with a friendly attitude.
Best of all, @Sushi is BYOB and the omakase is less than $100. The price ranges from about $75 to $95, depending on what he's serving and what's in season. This is more than just your average sushi bar. Kumagai has the background and seafood connections to create a truly upscale dining experience in his space. He started working in a sushi restaurant in Sendai, Japan, where he's from, before moving to San Francisco to work at Wako for 10 years. He would vacation in Hawaii and loved it so much that he took the opportunity to work at Maru Sushi when it opened in 2017 — it wasn't just a chance to live in Hawaii, it was a good way to work for a Michelin-star chef.
Here's a look at some of the items I had on my visits there. Again, it depends on what's available and in season, but you get about a dozen servings. I'm just showing you some of the more interesting ones I ate over three visits, not all of which were the same each time.
As you'll see on our segment on Hawaii News Now, beltfish is one of Grace Lee's favorite fish. This one is cooked, so the fresh, tender meat melts away as you eat it.
This fish, mu, is wrapped in konbu prior to serving. Kumagai tops it with shiso and a special ume paste (one of my favorite things at sushi bars). The subtle tartness of the ume with the shiso and the essence of konbu on the fish creates a beautiful sensation on your palate. Frolic creator Diane Seo, who went with me the first time, gobbled this one up before I even lifted my chopsticks, and announced she wanted a couple more.
I normally don't like saba as it's an oily fish, but this treatment is amazing. Kumagai adds konbu and a special blend of crushed scallions, and the flavor is reminiscent of sour cream and onions. It's a brilliant creation.
Trigger fish — also known as humuhumunukunukuapua'a — is served with a slice of its liver on top. Who knew it could be so delicious? The liver makes this bite creamy and rich. Now, before you get crazy, this is NOT local trigger fish. It's from Japan, caught in waters in Oita.
People get squeamish about eating shirako, which is codfish sperm. My only recommendation is that you get over it and EAT IT! Sushi bars serve it cooked and seasoned, and it's delicious! It's got a luxuriously creamy texture and although the flavor is mostly neutral, it's enhanced with a smidge of wasabi. Here, Kumagai broils the shirako with butter, then makes a shirako "risotto" and tops it with more shirako. The richness combined with that hint of spicy wasabi is a classic combination.
See also: Now at the Ritz-Carlton: Sushi Sho
Everyone loves fatty toro, right? Kumagai gets his from Croatia and lightly torches it to impart a smoky flavor atop that fatty richness. This is another very melt-in-your-mouth bite.
When you get to the uni and ikura course at any sushi bar, that signals that you're nearing the end of the omakase, so this dish always evokes great joy and a little sadness for me. The uni is always changing, and on this night the firm, rich bites of sea urchin came from Hokkaido. Don't worry, you get a spoon, so you don't miss any of this goodness.
See also: Senyu Sushi has a new home in Moiliili
Ah, yes. Possibly the most indulgent course of all, the Miyazaki A5 wagyu beef. This needs no introduction — just put it in your mouth and let it melt away on your palate.
I just want to thank Tiny Tadani for showing me @Sushi, since none of my sushi-loving friends had told me about it before. They apparently were keeping it a secret because they didn't want me to post about it and make it hard for them to get a reservation. Sorry for outing your secret, guys. #SorryNotSorry
@Sushi is open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, then only one seating at dinner (reservations taken from about 5:30 p.m.). The marketplace closes by 8 p.m., so plan to be out by then. Reservations are essential; at this writing, you may not get a seat for dinner until April. Lunch, however, always has available seats.
@Sushi in Ohana Hale Marketplace
333 Ward Ave.