Dining: Two You’d Never Find
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It doesn’t really matter. The two sushi chefs don’t let Mitch “anywhere near the fish.” He gets to wash the dishes and collect the cash, he says. “And recently I got promoted to making tea.” In reality, Mitch acts as the soul of the place.
Mitch’s may be the most welcoming restaurant in Honolulu. “I love meeting new people, having the company,” says Mitch. He’s likely to end up introducing all the guests to each other. “It’s like a party in here every night.”
Mitch’s warmth seems to even have caught on with the sushi chefs, Hideo Mitsui and Masakazu Murakami, who, despite the inherent gravity of their profession, seem caught up in the sociable spirit, chatting with Mitch and the guests at the bar.
So how’s the sushi? We kicked off with a sashimi platter, letting the chef choose: ama ebi, slightly salted, so fresh it didn’t have the characteristic mushiness. Delicate white tai snapper. Firm thick slices of New Zealand salmon. Blue fin tuna imported from Spain. Most of the sushi in Hawaii sushi bars is yellow fin. The blue fin is simply amazing, especially the toro, the belly meat, with is almost white with fat (the good Omega-3 kind).
We asked where we should go after that. “Lobster!” said Hideo. “Yes, lobster, you get it two ways,” says Mitch. “First as sushi, then in miso soup.”
OFFICIAL WARNING FROM COLUMNIST TO READER! The following paragraph is intended for mature culinary audiences and should be skipped by the squeamish.
Mitch comes out with a whole New Zealand spiny lobster, alive and wriggling. “How else would you know it’s fresh?” as he says. The chef then, with one of those large gyutou knives, disassembles the lobster, detaching the head and removing the meat from the tail. The friend who come to dinner with me, who started saying, “Oh, god, oh, oh,” the second Mitch walked in with the lobster, was forced to avert her eyes through the process, which included some unfortunate wriggling on the part of the lobster.
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Washed in sake and salt, the diced lobster sashimi comes piled in the lobster tail. It’s sweet in the way that fresh cold-water seafood always seems sweet, and firmer textured, almost crunchier, than any raw crustacean I’ve ever encountered. Squirt on a little lemon, maybe a dab of shoyu, and this is one of the best things I’ve ever consumed. I was glad that I thought to bring along a bottle of California sparkler, since champagne seemed the beverage of choice.
It was hard to know what to eat after that. Mitch suggested as a complete change of pace, his favorite dish, called van van. Hideo the sushi chef insisted van van was a local term, since it was hardly Japanese. Origin aside, this was one of those items that all sushi bars now seem to have: seafood in a mayo sauce, wrapped in tinfoil and popped in the toaster oven. This one was far better than most, the seafood being cut from the same case as the sushi fish—salmon, white snapper, shrimp and a big slice of avocado, all done up in a sauce that was mayo plus tobiko plus secret ingredients. “They won’t tell me,” protested Mitch. But he was right: It was good.
Challenged to come up with one more round, Hideo made two maki rolls, one negi toro and the other a perfect digestif, an ume-shiso roll.
Then we finished with miso soup, each bowl with half a lobster head and claws. I pulled mine apart. My friend declined to do so, so Mitch patiently took all the meat out for her. She, however, had nothing but praise for the soup itself, with its dash of sake. “This is the best miso I’ve ever eaten,” she said, any soup being much improved by being simmered with a rich load of lobster.
Mitch’s is not inexpensive. In fact, “inexpensive sushi bar” is probably a contradiction in terms. But it is reasonable, first, because it doesn’t sell liquor. You can bring your own beverages, glassware and ice buckets cheerfully provided, no corkage charged. This dinner for two was $118, but that included $40 for the lobster. You could skip the lobster, but it would seem a shame.
I talked to Mitch about expanding the place, at least taking out the old poke display refrigerator and putting in a few more seats. He shook his head. “Oh, no,” he said. “This is just a fun thing for us. I am independently secure, we’re not doing this for the money. Besides, if we got any bigger, I couldn’t give everyone the attention they deserve.”
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