Posts Tagged ‘hawaii sushi restaurants’

Kona Kai Sushi – The Izakaya for Locals

October 1, 2012

Call me Jiro because I always dream of sushi. And in those dreams, I typically envision a small, dark, packed-to-the-brim hole-in-the-wall with a certain “je ne sais quoi” aura. Behind the sushi bar stands a stoic, elder sushi master who earned that title of “master” by working his way up the sushi making ranks for decades. With an air of arrogance, he’ll take his time with your order, giving off the impression that he’s doing you a favor by serving his food.

Local sushi chef James Matsukawa takes that visual and completely flips it on its head. Barely 30, he is the energetic owner of Kona Kai Sushi, a somewhat undiscovered sushi restaurant on Coyne Street, that just celebrated its 1 year anniversary in July. And although Kona Kai does give off that appealing, hole-in-the-wall vibe, Matsukawa is anything but old and stoic.

A look inside Kona Kai Sushi
A look inside Kona Kai Sushi

Matsukawa grew up in Kealakekua on the Big Island where his love for fishing began early when, at the ripe old age of 10, he started hanging out with the old timers, regularly fishing for menpachi, akule and papio.

Years after moving to Oahu, he worked as a line cook at Kabuki Restaurant before moving behind the sushi bar under master chef Yoshio Kazama. He continued his practice at countless other Japanese restaurants like Kohnotori, Jimbo’s, 808 Kapahulu, Shigezo, and Sushi Izakaya Shinn until a stint at Sushi Sasabune changed his life forever.

“It was like sushi boot camp.” describes Matsukawa. “I think it was the hardest place to work, both mentally and physically. Long hours at a frantic pace. I basically lived there, but it has been the most influential experience to this day by far.”

Under master chef Seiji Kumagawa’s careful tutelage, Matsukawa was taught to be extremely disciplined and to respect the fish. It was not about how to do things, but why.

He then moved on to the popular izakaya Tokkuri Tei, which influenced him in an entirely different way.

“Tokkuri Tei showed me a more casual way of doing sushi. The clientele atmosphere had a lively, easy going energy typical of an izakaya (in Japan).”

After Tokkuri Tei, he felt that he was ready to open his own restaurant in the form of Umi no Sachi on 11th Ave in Kaimuki. Unfortunately, due to inexperience and poor business relationships, it closed after only three months. Matsukawa then took an 8 month hiatus, regrouped and was ready to sushi again.

James Matsukawa
James Matsukawa

Enter Kona Kai. Named after his roots (Kona) and his love for the ocean (Kai), Kona Kai brings the best of Matsukawa’s experiences and serves it to his highly targeted clientele.

“We don’t advertise and we really don’t want to. Sasabune taught me that word of mouth (advertising) is the most important.”

On a recent trip with the boys from Lawai`a (the Fishing magazine I write for), we went omakase style and here is what we were served:

Seared Canadian Tombo (albacore tuna) with ponzu
Seared Canadian Tombo (albacore tuna) with ponzu

Baby Calamari stuffed with Blue Crab
Baby Calamari stuffed with Blue Crab

2 types of Washington Oysters: 1 baked & 1 fresh with Alaskan King Salmon Caviar
2 types of Washington Oysters: 1 baked & 1 fresh with Alaskan King Salmon Caviar

Spanish Bluefin Sushi
Spanish Bluefin Sushi

Red Snapper from Southern Japan (Kyushu) with Canadian Rainbow Trout Caviar with reduced shoyu
Red Snapper from Southern Japan (Kyushu) with Canadian Rainbow Trout Caviar with reduced shoyu

Shimaaji from Shikoku (background) & Golden Eye Snapper with Shiokara on top (foreground)
Shimaaji from Shikoku (background) & Golden Eye Snapper with Shiokara on top (foreground)

Hokkaido Tako, simmered with shoyu, massaged by hand with daikon for 45 minutes (background) & Aji (Japanese Akule) with ginger and green onions (foreground)
Hokkaido Tako, simmered with shoyu, massaged by hand with daikon for 45 minutes (background) & Aji (Japanese Akule) with ginger and green onions (foreground)

Russian King Crab with Kani Miso (background) & Prawn from New Caledonia with black Flying Fish Caviar (foreground)
Russian King Crab with Kani Miso (background) & Prawn from New Caledonia with black Flying Fish Caviar (foreground)

South African Rock Lobster tail from the Tristan da Cunha islands
South African Rock Lobster tail from the Tristan da Cunha islands

Matsukawa wants to create an atmosphere where his clients become his friends. His main goal is to continually top his customers’ last visit.

Many of the dishes from our night were brok’ da mout’ amazing. Creative, yet fundamentally sound. If he is planning on topping that the next time around, sign me up!

(Previously published in Lawai`a Magazine)

Kona Kai Sushi
2535 Coyne Street
Honolulu, HI 96822
Tue-Sat: 6pm-12am
Sun: 5pm-10pm
(808) 594-7687

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Where In Hawaii is Edward Sugimoto? – October 28, 2009

October 28, 2009

Bruddah MakiSushi captured his first WIH victory last week when he correctly guessed Yohei Sushi Restaurant. Congrats Maks!

This week, we’ve got a special treat for ya! Since WWE is featured on the front page of today’s Advertiser (print version), we’re gonna try something a lil’ different to welcome in the new meat, er blood, er readers. 😉

Long time poster and WWE `ohana member hemajang submitted an image for consideration for a future WIH. I thought that there was no better way to mix the “old” (no offense hemmaz) with the new than to have hemajang’s photo welcome them on in. Plus, with Halloween coming up in just 3 days, his Pig’s Feet dish fit the bill. 😛

So hurr we gooo! For the oldies (but goodies 😉 ), you know what to do. For the newbies, check out the photo below and try to guess “Where In Hawaii” it is. Post your guess(es) in the comment area below. Good luck chy’all!

Where In Hawaii is Edward Sugimoto? - October 28, 2009
Where In Hawaii is Edward Sugimoto? – October 28, 2009 (Photo Credit: hemajang)

Hints: Only if you’re nice to hemajang! 😉


Da “Where In Hawaii” Winnahz Circle! 

Da Leaderboard!

  1. Coconut Willy – 7.5
  2. snow – 6
  3. Takeshi – 4.5
  4. HNL2LAS – 3
    Paco – 3
  5. M – 2
    jr. – 2
    Syxx – 2
    hemajang – 2
    NaPueo – 2
  6. skycastles – 1.5
  7. GumbysHorse – 1
    ijiwarui – 1
    kako mochi – 1
    BarbieQ! – 1
    teej – 1
    Rodney – 1
    Ynaku – 1
    frankie – 1
    jack – 1
    miLL-viLLe – 1
    NeedaHobby – 1
    Kage – 1
    getITon – 1
    k15 – 1
    Marvo – 1
    kuya.d – 1
    Scott – 1
    YN – 1
    rayboyjr – 1
    mcat – 1
    carokun – 1
    MakiSushi – 1
  8. MoOgooGuypAN – 0.5
    Coconut Willy’s wifey – 0.5

Back to Back Winnahz!
*  snow, Paco, Syxx, NaPueo

P.S. Adding this footnote to all future WIH posts… If any of y’all have pics you’d like to contribute to the “Where In Hawaii” game, feel free to email them to me and I’ll post um up in future blogs! And yes, you aren’t allowed to guess on those days! LOL! 😛
P.P.S. GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO PHILLY! World Series Game 1 today at 1:30PM on KHON Digital channel 0003 or HD channel 1003! 8)

Happy Hump Day Where In Hawaii Wednesday y’all. 🙂 Shooooots!