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The Weekly Eater

BY NADINE KAM

Sunday, July 8, 2001



KEN IGE / KIGE@STARBULLETIN.COM
The basics -- including maguro as served by Natasha Tran, left,
and manager Hisako Ueda -- are satisfying at Sasa.



Sasa’s partners
measure success in
bites, not bytes

THE crash in Internet stocks brought many a techie drifting back to the realm of that which could be felt, touched, smelled and tasted. If some of them happened to gravitate toward the food biz at least it meant -- if they cashed in those options -- that they could bypass the busboy stage and skip straight to management. From their perspective, restaurants are "safer" than the Internet.

Ah, still dreamers.

"People have to eat," said Jason Park, Internet refugee, now manager and partner at the newly open Sasa on Beretania Street, just before McCully.

That's just the sort of logic you'd expect from someone who's been out in cyberspace and determined that bites are more substantial than bytes.

I'm afraid that running a restaurant is not quite as simple as throwing open one's doors and waiting for traffic, although the he's one local boy who seems to be clued in as to what the rest of us want. Among them, comfort and value. Exposure to the bust cycle has sensitized them to the plight of the working man.


SASA

Food StarStarStar
Service StarStar1/2
Ambience StarStarStar
Value StarStarStar1/2

Address: 2012 S. Beretania St. before McCully / 955-4753
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily (sushi bar closes at 11 p.m.
Cost: $About $30 to $45 for two for dinner, BYOB


They've made a pretty good start. Sasa's partners own the building the restaurant calls home, so space is generous and quite pretty. Never mind that this Japanese restaurant has a Chinese motif with chairs bearing cushions of red silk brocade. They look good, even if they're too low for the counter. Unless you're 6 feet tall, you won't be able to see the sushi master at work.

There's a relaxed, casual feel to the restaurant that's overrun by families during the early evening. Later, there's pau hana camaraderie as groups of friends cart in six-packs of beer while Sasa waits for its liquor license. The staff even offers to make beer runs for those who failed to plan.

As for value, prices are neighborly. Managers have tried to keep prices down by offering a lot of little appetizers in the $3.95 to $6.95 range. Teishoku lunches with your choice of one or two entrees run $7.95 or $9.95. At dinner time, the teishoku costs $10.95 and $12.95 respectively, still reasonable for choices that include shrimp and vegetable tempura, New York steak, broiled eel, tonkatsu, salmon shioyaki, chicken and beef teriyaki.

Although the restaurant has been promoting these complete meals, those who come in intent on ordering them often find themselves distracted by the rest of the menu. To veer from the set menu means spending more money, but it's really hard to resist a dish like the maguro no tataki ($5.95) thick sashimi-style slices of tuna that are seared, drizzled with a light garlic and ponzu sauces and topped with green onions. The same preparation is used on beef, but all the talk of Mad Cow Disease makes one wary of all beef, especially steak served so rare.

The deep-fried soft-shell crab ($7.50) wasn't served hot enough, but nevertheless was crunchy on the outside, juicy and meaty on the inside, and not all shell and batter as it often turns out to be.

Get your chicken karaage ($3.95) fix elsewhere. With this batch, some pieces seemed overcooked, some under. A lot of people will no doubt like the sugary batter, but I prefer something more savory. Your money would also be better spent avoiding the bacon-wrapped oysters ($3.95). There's little oyster to enjoy when the two pieces are no bigger than a quarter, and as for quality control, our bacon was burnt.

Start with sushi if you prefer. The menu abounds with dressed-up California Rolls encrusted with bits of tempura batter in the California Crunch Roll ($5.95); topped with broiled eel for the Dragon Roll ($7.95); embellished with salmon in the Alaska Roll ($5.50); topped by five other kinds of fish in the Rainbow Roll ($7.95); and updated with scallops and lava red hot sauce to create the Volcano Roll ($6.95).

As exciting as it gets, there's no more perfect meal than a rich, buttery sliver of hamachi on rice with wasabi. Ditto sushi made with firm, sweet-fleshed scallops. At about $3.95 per twosome, this isn't your low conveyor belt price, but it's reasonable for the quality of fish served.

Sasa's owners have other fish plans in the works. By the end of this month they hope to open a fish market next door to give cook-it-yourself consumers access to fish that's fresh and affordable. When their lobster tanks arrive, they'll also be serving lobster sashimi, sushi and soup. Now that's the kind of experience you just can't get on the Internet.



See some past restaurant reviews in the
Do It Electric!

section online. Click the logo to go!




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:

excellent;
very good, exceeds expectations;
average;
below average.

To recommend a restaurant, write: The Weekly Eater, P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802. Or send e-mail to nkam@starbulletin.com



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