The Weekly Eater

Nadine Kam

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Mitch’s strives for ultimate
seafood experience

THOSE who pay hundreds of dollars for a seafood extravaganza may believe they have discovered nirvana. Better pray for reincarnation. Anyone's who's gone fishin' knows there is something even better.

Say you're on a boat with your buddies. You're relaxed, you're hungry and you're passing around the sashimi of fresh catch. At that moment it feels like the ultimate luxury, and one of the rare instances in which F.O.B. is a good thing.

Everywhere, restaurateurs have tried to capitalize on that fresh-off-the-boat status, whether it's by pouring bucketfuls of crabs onto paper tables down south, or sending people out on row boats provisioned with crab nets and fish heads in hope of procuring lunch or dinner at Nehalem, Ore., where steamers on shore await their successful return, butter at the ready.

WHEN SEAFOOD'S that fresh, you can get away with minimal accompaniment, a little soy sauce, butter, Old Bay seasoning or squirt of lemon. The farther away from the ocean you get, the more you'll see an abundance of tomato, cream and vinegary sauces to mask a not-so-fresh essence.

Save for Chinese restaurants, there are not too many places locally where seafood arrives fresh from tank to table, but there's a new venue in town for those who prefer their seafood uncooked. Near the airport, Craig Mitchell has been importing fish from around the world for the wholesale market for about 10 years, making poke as a sideline. His mom and dad helped, but when his mom died, the shop closed. Since then, Craig's dad Douglas "Mitch" Mitchell has been able to start up the next logical enterprise, Mitch's Sushi, on the grounds of the seafood operation.

Hence the unseemly address near the airport, past Lagoon Drive, then past Alamo Rent-a-Car on Ohohia Street. Toward the end of the block driving down from Nimitz, look for the small shop with the neon glow in the window on your right. There, you'll also see a sign bearing Mitch's (no one calls him Doug) white-bearded visage, a cross between Santa Claus and Ernest Hemingway, so much so that you'll do a double take when you see the photograph of Papa Hemingway inside the restaurant.

Douglas "Mitch" Mitchell presents a sushi platter at Mitch's Sushi.

MITCH's HAS BEEN open only three months, quietly catering to the sushi cognoscenti, including those whose first language is Japanese. They're going to hate me for sure now that the word is out, because this place is small. I imagine some will now have to wait weeks for a table.

When I called Mitch, he was adamant about making reservations. I thought he mentioned having only 12 tables, but he was actually talking chairs for 12, max 13. There are two tables for four and another four can sit at the sushi bar. Newbies should take the bar seats, where they can watch the sushi chef at work.

Mitch, a friendly gent'lman from Sout' Efrika, whose lifelong career was in real estate, is nevertheless in his element as a host who finds nothing better than enjoying a cup of sake with company. And ladies, it's best to leave your Taryn Rose shoes at home as Mitch will want to lure you out back for a peek at tanks full of spiny lobsters and abalone.

He'll patiently explain the entire menu if necessary, but because those who grew up here will find it self-explanatory, he'll probably guide you to specials that range from toro (ahi belly) from Spain to abalone from Tasmania.

Abalone sashimi, served in its shell, is pulled straight from a tank at Mitch's.

For sashimi of either, you'll pay $35. Wanting to try both, we requested a half order of each and for that $35 found ourselves staring at four slivers of abalone and three pieces of toro. It's been a while since I've had it, but I remember Kona abalone as being sweeter than what was offered here. And as impressive as the toro was, I was just as impressed by the fresh ground wasabi, mild so as not to interfere with enjoyment of the fish.

Maybe it's sticker shock that dulled our appreciation, but you would do just as well sticking with the basic nigiri sushi. You'll think you're in heaven with a bite of the translucent amaebi ($8) that is incredibly sweet, and more like lobster than any shrimp you've tried.

Also basic: You'll pay $6 for two pieces of maguro nigiri, and $5 for freshwater eel. Sashimi platters start at $16 for ahi, and go up to $25 for the deluxe assortment as selected daily by the chef. A deluxe sushi platter also runs $25.

Hamachi ($6) has always been my favorite sushi, and I've always preferred this fish raw rather than cooked, but the hamachi kama (broiled yellowtail collar) gave me a change of heart.

Most people tend to cook fish until it's bouncy. Here, it seemed to retain every bit of moisture, while picking up an outer crispness, enhanced only by a touch of salt.

Those who like their fish cooked might try the Van Van ($9.50), a combination of white fish, shrimp and sliced avocado baked with a mayo sauce.

Before dinner is over, Mitch will offer up a lovely miso soup made with lobster stock and accented by a prawn head. Try to save some room for it.

Mitch's Sushi

524 Ohohia St. / 837-7774; reservations a must

Food Star Star Star Star

Service Star Star Half-star

Ambience Star Star Star Half-star

Value Star Star Star Half-star

Hours: Open from 5:30 p.m. daily

Cost: About $65 for two without drinks

See some past restaurant reviews in the Columnists section.

Nadine Kam's restaurant 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.

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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