If you’re a foodie who travels to Hawaii, you’ve likely dined at one of D.K. Kodama’s Sansei seafood restaurants on Maui, Oahu or the Big Island. The chef-restaurateur is a native of Oahu, but actually started his career in the early 1980s at Arnies in Mukilteo. After four years, he relocated to Aspen, Colorado, where he spent 10 years at Takah Sushi, a restaurant known to host Dustin Hoffman and the late Robin Williams. From there, Kodama headed back to the islands to launch his brand of Japanese-inspired Pacific Rim fare.
Six restaurants later (four Sanseis, a steak house and an Italian wine bar, all in Hawaii), he was ready to expand to the mainland. Seattle was among his first choices because of its “incredible seafood, produce and people,” Kodama told me. He spent the better part of last year overseeing development of the highly anticipated fifth Sansei, a 3,500-square-foot restaurant that opened in February at the base of Premiere on Pine, the 40-story apartment tower at Pine Street and Eighth Avenue. Inside, the dining room is long and narrow, with a snug sushi bar that seats eight, bar, floor-to-ceiling windows and drum-shaped lamps.
Kodama brought staff members from Hawaii, including executive chef Scott Lutey of the Waikoloa Sansei, to open the new space, and you can feel their warm aloha vibes. Even on busy nights—Sansei’s proximity to the Paramount Theatre causes it to be packed before and after shows—our server kept his mellow attitude and scholarly grasp of the menu.
Per his recommendations, we eschewed entrées in favor of shareable small plates. Among our favorites: the Takah Sushi special roll ($12.95)—fresh shrimp, tuna, crab, avocado and cucumber rolled inside out and crusted with masago. We also loved the crab ramen with Asian truffle broth ($17.25), a luxe take on saimin, one of Hawaii’s many polycultural comfort dishes (think Chinese wheat-and-egg noodles with Japanese dashi broth). This one comes piping hot and topped with crab, cilantro, Thai basil and mild jalapeños. It’s salty, rich and delicious.
You’ll see local, sustainable seafood, but otherwise, the Seattle menu looks the same as Kodama’s Hawaiian outposts, and maybe that says something. With Marination expanding into fine dining with Super Six and the wildly popular Sam Choy’s Poke to the Max opening its first brick-and-mortar in Hillman City, perhaps Hawaiian food is actually more Seattle than we think.
Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar, downtown, 815 Pine St.; 206.402.4414; sanseiseattle.com. Must order: Panko-crusted fresh tuna sashimi (50 percent off during Sunday and Monday happy hour).