A Seaside Sushi Rendezvous

Toro Tei Sushi Bar is tucked in along the lavish outdoor courtyard of Kaua’i Marriott Resort in Lihu’e. With views of Kalapaki Bay and a menu of affordable sushi, it’s a lovely way to enjoy an evening with friends and family.

The menu ranges from classic sushi favorites to unusual flavor combinations, and everything is made with choice ingredients.

“Our ahi’s local, all fresh; no frozen blocks gassed with CO2,” says executive chef Guy Higa. “It’s a No. 1 grade ahi filet.”

He and I are sitting on padded, high-backed stools that run along the granite bar. Sushi chef Isaiah Ulanday quickly rolls out enough sushi for a party of four. Behind the bar, an elegant red backdrop supports white ceramic flowers, adding an element of understated sophistication. The ocean breeze carries laughter from nearby diners.

“We don’t skimp on the fish,” he states. The smile leaves his playful brown eyes for a moment and suddenly he’s serious about seafood. “We get hamachi from Japan, farm-raised salmon from New Zealand, real king crab and real blue crab. Soon, we’ll have Kaua’i shrimp on the menu.

“We have all the sushi basics,” adds Higa. “The classic nigiri sushi, the unagi, hamachi, tobiko (flying fish roe) and ling crab. And then we have some funky rolls, too.”

Imagine dipping your sushi in melted butter. It sounds weird, but it’s brilliant. The Baked Crab Nigiri ($10) features two plump strips of king crab on sushi rice. A broiled dollop of blue crab mixed with wasabi mayonnaise sits on the king crab. Dipping the decadent bite into lemon butter adds a sublime richness and flavor that makes me really happy.

“Anytime you see nigiri on a menu, it means two.

Like this,” Higa says and points to the Kaua’i Quail Egg and Tobiko Nigiri ($7). Two bundles of sushi rice are wrapped in nori and topped with a thick layer of tobiko. Dainty Kapahi-grown quail eggs peek out at you. It’s an interesting power shot of texture that’s slimy and crunchy, in a good way.

“Anytime you see temaki, that means cone,” he says, nodding toward two emerald green cylinders. The Lobster Temaki ($10) is loaded with a mixture of cold-water lobster and wasabi mayonnaise; tobiko and avocado add a velvety pop. The King Crab Temaki ($8) features king crab leg, avocado, cucumber and spicy kaiware (daikon sprouts). I happily nibble on my adult “ice cream” cone, dangling my legs like a child, while Higa continues.

“This is a real traditional dish,” he says of the Chirashi Bowl ($19). “It’s a chirashi, which means scattered sushi, but we Americanized it.”

Instead of fish piled into a bowl, Higa has created a symmetrical arrangement of crab, shrimp, salmon, tako (octopus), hamachi and ahi on a row of sushi rice.

“Maki sushi means a roll,” he explains, concluding my lesson in sushi. Rolled into Da Spida ($11) are deep-fried blue crab legs that gracefully emerge and evoke the ultimate bite; crunchy crab, soft rice, crisp cucumber and savory shoyu aioli.

The Bento Roll ($10) is Higa’s idea of a bento box in a roll.

“It’s got barbecued beef, some daikon, tamago, shrimp tempura and then the furikake rice,” he says. “It’s everything that you would find in a bento.”

Higa has taught his sushi team how to make tamago, an omelet that’s about an inch thick with flaky layers like puff pastry.

“It’s an art to make,” he says. “A lot of people buy it frozen, but it’s all spongy. It’s horrible. We make ours, and it’s nice and light and moist.”

Eating Toro Tei Sushi by the seaside is delightful. Trade winds keep things fresh, Kalapaki Bay winks in the distance and the food is delicious. Plus, the portion sizes are good and so are the prices especially for a resort.

“The only obstacle we have is the parking,” says Higa. “You gotta take the hike over.”

It’s well worth the hike!

Toro Tei Sushi Kaua’i Marriott Resort 3610 Rice St., Lihu’e 245-5050 Open daily, 5:30-9 p.m.

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