Last evening, our final night in Hawaii for this trip, we took a suggestion from Cori, the hotel’s guest services manager who learned that we love sushi, and trekked to Sushi Sasabene (which, roughly translated, means “trust me”). Paralleling the famous “Soup Nazi” in the old Seinfeld series, the owner and chef here is known sotto voce as the “Sushi Nazi.”
The cab deposited us on South King Street, which would have to undergo serious urban renewal to be called pedestrian. An unimposing storefront housed Sasabene, which seated perhaps 50 people between the large, u-shaped sushi bar and the surrounding tables. Although only half the sushi bar was occupied when we arrived, we were informed that we should wait until the chef was ready for us.
A few minutes later, with no perceptible sign or utterance, we were told that the chef was now ready. We were seated on the side, thank goodness not looking directly at the exalted one, but clearly within his peripheral vision. He is a very handsome man, with what seems like a steel patina directly under his skin. I realized that I couldn’t think of the last time I had used the adjective “dour,” but it immediately came to mind. Everyone was dressed in black.
The assistant chef, a rather cheerful fellow, served the food, never the chef himself, who prepared it. There are no choices at all except for your brand of saki or beer. The chef decides what you will eat and in what order. The assistant does his best to save your life. For example, serving us tai (snapper) and sake (salmon) simultaneously, he would strongly warn, “No soy, please, on snapper, only on salmon!” and, just to make certain he had done everything in his power to protect us, would hold his hands over the soy bowl to further indicate it was not to touch the snapper under any conditions.
One does not return food here. You eat what is in front of you. At one point a staff member loomed over my wife’s shoulder as she struggled with her chopsticks to remind her that sushi etiquette required she eat the sushi in one bite, not two. Nervously, I peered over my saki cup to see if the chef were looking. I would have hated to see her ejected.
The courses came in waves, with always enough time to thoroughly savor and digest each. The people on our right, who came in after us, gave up and departed, filled to the gills. However, I had noticed a couple to our left who clearly had an uni (sea urchin) course, which we had not.
Eying the chef warily, I said to the assistant nonchalantly, “Is there an uni course?”
“Ah, yes, I can get you one. And for you, miss?” My wife hates uni. “She’ll have one, also,” I jumped in when she had hesitated for a nanosecond. A few minutes later, the assistant arrived with two orders of uni, winked at me, and placed both of them on my dish.
All this time the chef is preparing fish with the rapidity of a machine gun and the attention of a diamond cutter, while also constantly looking around the entire restaurant. Above his head hangs a sign, “We reserve the right to deny service to ANYONE.”
I’ve eaten sushi for over 30 years, all over the world, and many times in Japan. On one memorable trip to Rio, I had to speak Spanish to the Portuguese-speaking assistant, who then spoke French to the Japanese chef. It took 20 minutes to order hamachi (yellow tail).
We consumed last night six different kinds of tuna alone, as well as lobster, oyster, crab, snapper, squid, salmon, mackerel, and I don’t know what else.
It was the finest sushi I’ve ever had in my life, bar none.
If you’re ever in Honolulu and you love sushi, make a reservation at Sasabene. Just don’t make any demands. Or requests. Or sudden moves.
© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.
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