Food & Drink

Sansei Serves up Hawaiian Fare with Mellow Island Vibes

New downtown sushi bar offers Japanese-inspired Pacific Rim fare with fresh local seafood

By Seattle Mag June 20, 2016

A group of men are preparing sushi at a sushi bar.

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Seattle magazine.

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.

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 wIf 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).  

Follow Us

Seattle Restaurant Week Starts Sunday

Seattle Restaurant Week Starts Sunday

Get some great deals while supporting favorite establishments

For two weeks, you can eat your heart out in Seattle and surrounding neighborhoods during Seattle Restaurant Week. From April 14-27, prepare for exclusive, budget-friendly menus at over 200 restaurants throughout the city.

The Region's Best Mexican Food is in a Snohomish County Parking Lot 

The Region’s Best Mexican Food is in a Snohomish County Parking Lot 

Hidden Gems Weekend Market is again open for business

Among the 20 aisles of some 300 vendors selling everything from Native American beadwork to the classic flea market assortments of knickknacks and hardware, sits the Northwest's biggest and best assortment of regional Mexican cuisine, street foods, and snacks.

Tastes of Oaxaca

Tastes of Oaxaca

Alebrijes Oaxaca Kitchen food truck rolls into White Center 

Colorful strands of papel picado flutter above the new turquoise Alebrijes Oaxacan Kitchen food truck in White Center, as if flagging down bystanders to stop in for memelas, tlayudas, and masa-thickened mushroom soup.

Kitchen Conversations With J. Kenji López-Alt

Kitchen Conversations With J. Kenji López-Alt

The Seattle chef discusses online feedback, appropriation, and his goals as a noted food writer

Currently, he's juggling projects for his YouTube channel, working on a new cookbook aimed at everyday cooking, writing another children's book, and launching a podcast with Deb Perlman of Smitten Kitchen.