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Sunday 30 May 2010

Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar, Kihei Maui - simply.. overrated

Rating 6.0/10
Being touted as in the top ten sushi restaurants in the US, we had set our expectations high and were quite excited to try the food while we were on our travels.  Our first warning flag was the restaurant gave 15-25% off specials if you ate before 6pm, the second was a 50% off special for most food items after 10pm when the karaoke started.  Karaoke... seriously? Apparently its a hit with the locales, so we shrugged it off and entered the dimly lit restaurant with a small sushi bar on the right and a large sitting area with the karaoke paraphernalia off in a corner.  Service was hurried but polite.  The food sadly, was incredibly overrated.  Advertised as "fusion", it was not a gentle union of different flavors from across the globe melding and transforming into something new and spectacular on the palate.  By virtue of using higher end ingredients and dousing things liberally with truffle oil doesn't immediately equivocate nor translates into excellent food.  Neither does drowning things in sauces - though some of the dishes are saved by the sauce if nothing else.  But I'm getting ahead of myself...

the FOOD
We ordered most of the items Sansei has won awards for - easily picked out from the menu as it has a little award symbol beside it to advertise the fact, and some others just because the flavor profiles sounded intriguing.

Scallop sashimi
Being on the top of my list of favorite in terms of sashimi, couldn't pass up the opportunity to see how well the sashimi fare was at Sansei.  My scallop sashimi I was so looking forward to was layered with lemon slices.  Aaaaccccck!!! Major food faux pas!! Immediately removed the lemon slices and attempted to rinse off the lemon juice off our scallops in a glass of ice water.  Our friends' attempts at politely masking thier expressions as we rinsed off our scallops - priceless! They understood though - the scallops were fresh but the lingering lemon juice killed any residual sweetness the scallops may have had.

Asian shrimp cake
Shrimp paste enrobed in shredded wonton noodles and fried atop a tasty ginger lime chili butter with cilantro pesto. Perfect for sharing as the whole clump had to be cut up to eat. They should use phyllo instead of wonton noodles for better texture and portion the mass into small easy to eat portions, rather than have diners spray pieces of the dish all over the table as they attempt to hack the solid crunchy mass into manageable portions - or have staff cut up the mass prior to service/at tableside... unless you prefer to hack at it with a butterknife it was served with.

Panko Crusted Ahi Sashimi Sushi RollTempera'ed ahi tuna roll with some bitter salad greens tucked inside. The ahi tuna was barely cooked, though execution was a bit off as too much of the bitter greens (arugula and spinach) quite overwhelmed the entire dish.  It was salvaged by dunking and coating generously into the accompanying soy wasabi butter sauce to mask the bitter astringent chlorophyll taste.  To be honest, if the chefs spent as much time on the mainstays of the dishes as they spend on the sauces, it would elevate this restaurant past plain trumpeting its own horn.

Truffled Crab Ramen
Tender ramen noodles topped with a generous portion of freshly shredded chunks of cold crab meat, some jalapeno slices for some kick, swimming in a thin salty broth drizzled with truffle oil.  The broth was a bit oversalted and not memorable, though there was enough truffle infused oil liberally doused in the bowl to make any mediocre dish fragrant and tasty.  The cold crab meat was sweet and toothsome, though it and the peppers did not mesh well with the ramen itself - there was nothing to connect or unify the flavors of the crab to the ramen other than by virtue it was placed into the same bowl.  I suspect the peppers were placed in more for a punch of color than anything else.

Lobster and Blue Crab Ravioli
Three to four small pieces of ravioli stuffed with small chunks of lobster, blue crab and shrimp is plated with a truffled butter sauce.  Aesthetically, I was appalled... this brown lumpy mess did not look appetizing at all, and the sauce was so thick the individual ravioli wasn't discernible.   The seafood inside the tender - almost smooshy ravioli was sweet, though the sweetness of the seafood is masked and muddled by the thick and almost cloying caramelized truffled butter sauce.  Execution could be vastly improved by plating the ravioli on a bed of sauce, rather than tossing it in, thinning out the sauce significantly and adding in a garnish or a bit of color so you're not faced with a unappetizing splotch of pasty browns.

The sushi and sashimi, while fresh, fell short in the expectations category due to poor execution - after tasting a few of the "award winning" dishes, also becomes clear why the discounts prior to 6pm and after 10pm exists. If this was a small restaurant with passionate chefs trying something new, I'd rank them a bit higher, but being ranked as one of the top sushi restaurants in the US, we were highly disappointed that the fare was mediocre with execution flaws abundantly clear in all of the "award-winning" dishes.  Sadly, Sansei is highly overrated and needs much more effort and creativity in the kitchen before it rightfully lay claim without shame to the "awards" they currently hold.  Make sure you clear out before the karaoke evening starts - the loud boisterous music doesn't fit into the higher end establishment Sansei tries to aspire to and while some of the singers aren't bad, others can put you completely off your dessert when the caterwauling starts.  It was sort of amusing end to the night though as we joined a small herd of customers stampeding off to settle the bill soon after a inebriated singer started his solo rendition.

Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar
Address 1881 South Kihei Road # Kt116, Kihei, HI
Phone (808) 879-0004
Hours open daily for lunch until 11pm or midnight
Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar (Kihei) on Urbanspoon


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