IN '96 I wrote about Mocambo restaurant at the corner of Kapiolani and Kalakaua. It was a time when buildings in the area were being renovated in anticipation of the swirl of activity that would begin as soon as the Hawai'i Convention Center opened.
Its a sedate scene
at Sakura Sushi
Mocambo was a charming restaurant and the food was very good. I was rooting for Mocambo to make it, but I already knew it wouldn't outlast the construction process. Cut to 1999. The convention center opened last year. Foot traffic in the area hasn't exactly increased, so any new tenant has about as much of a chance to make it as Mocambo.
The pressure's on for Sakura Kaiten Sushi, where white walls, sleek glass, and surprise, a sushi conveyor belt, have erased all traces of Mocambo's modern-primitive decor. The conveyor belt is the last thing I expected to find here, judging from the building's upscale exterior. The windows have a frosted design, so you can't see it from outside. On one visit, I saw at least six people peer through the doors, then walk away. Maybe they were expecting teishoku or kaiseki.
SAKURA'S offerings here are comparable to those of Catch of the Day Sushi, that is, a little better than most fast-food sushi, but Catch of the Day's boats are a lot more fun. Here, it's a lot more sedate, and the middle-of-the-road tunes piped in -- like "Time in a Bottle," "House at Pooh Corner" and "Never Gonna Fall in Love Again" -- are depressing.
There are five price categories here. Yellow plates go for $1.20 and feature such items as miso soup, creamy corn and mahimahi nigiri. Sky blue plates bearing seaweed salad, reverse California rolls and masago (smelt roe) go for $1.75. Red plates ($2.25) offer yakitori, salmon, ika, tai, maguro and bowls of soybeans. Olive-colored plates ($2.75) bear amaebi, jellyfish, hamachi and toro (marbled tuna). Finally, the dark blue plates ($3.75) have such deluxe offerings as scallops, ikura, uni, and one of the best offerings here, the salmon-skin roll.
One of the difficulties in choosing is Sakura uses the same sushi picture guides as standard sushi restaurants. Many times you have to guess the identities of the fish or various seafood salads because those menus are not complete enough. Catch of the Day at least came up with its own pictures so you could match them to the real items. Sakura's wait staff was mostly lost trying to identify shrimp vs. scallop salads and the various fish, since tai looks like mahimahi looks like hamachi. I ended up tasting them and drawing up my own chart.
Sakura does have one advantage over Mocambo. Since Local Motion moved from the building, there's plenty of parking.
Sakura Kaiten Sushi: 1718 Kapiolani Blvd.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. daily
Prices: About $30 for two
Those on the Leeward side have one more sushi option. Sushi Land has opened in the Aiea Commercial Center makai of Aiea Shopping Center. Fast-food style ahi, ebi, ika or tako nigiri cost $1.80 for three pieces.
Eight pieces of California maki runs $2.95 and you can pick up a nine-piece dinner bento for $5.15. Your typical Spam musubi is presented in a roll that costs 99 cents. Two could fill up for $12.
Sushi Land, 99-025 Moanalua Road, No. 301, is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Call 485-2255.
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Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews run on Thursdays. Reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. Star ratings are based on comparisons of similar restaurants:
-- very good, exceeds expectations;
-- below average.
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