If you appreciate truly good sushi you will hate Sensei. The only decent sushi I've found in south Maui at least is at Koiso Sushi Bar in Kehei. It happens to be excellent, especially the fresh toro. It's a very small restaurant and the owner and his wife run the place, both are very friendly and fun to talk to.
Hi, the reasons Sansei gets mixed reviews is it is not a Japanese restaurant and does not have Japanese chefs for the sushi end of it. It is really a sea food restaurant that happens to have raw fish. The reason sushiofiles find this offensive is a true sushi chef has t train in Japan for years doing rice and rolls before he is allowed to move up to be a full sushi chef. If all you want is raw fish then it is fine. But whiel there a few locals who worked at the Grand Wailea and the Hyatt where we stayed said they don't go unless it is 50% off. They suggested we go to Hakone in the Maui Prince or Sushi Paradise in Kihei. Maui Revealed also suggests Hiroachi as the only true traditional Japanese on Maui in their 4th edition and in their third they suggested Hakone in the Maui Prince. Sansei we were told is okay but for sushi novices.
Maui revealed as in the same guide book that suggests ignoring no tresspassing signs and hopping fences on the road to Hana? I won't dissagree with what you said but here's some free advice if you ever find yourself in Hawaii, Maui etc and needing help. Hide that blue book because the locals hate it with good reason. I found the restaurant and hotel info terribly dated and in-accurate.
Never was willing to tolerate the crowds at Sansei, but must say that Hakone (in the Prince Hotel) is a little westernized. Not that there's anything wrong with anglo chefs who make lots of rolls, but know what you're getting into.
I prefer Sushi Paradise (in Azeka Mauka Plaza, Kihei). It's more traditional, and the fish is consistently outstanding.
just got back last night.....And I have no clue why or how there could be negative reviews pertaining to San Sei.......we found this place (Kapalua) to be a true highlight of our trip.
We ended up going back on our last night to tackle more of the menu.
Sushi was so nice.....but we also had to try the miso butter fish along with a few of the small plates..... incredible.
Just back from a week in Maui. We’ve been there many times We ate three times at Sensei in Kapalua. We did so because we couldn’t think of another place we would rather have eaten.
I have enjoyed sushi 40 years or so, in perhaps a dozen countries. My preferred sushi restaurant is a sedate, small place with the head chef being an older Japanese man who doesn’t speak much English. I can find a handful of such places near my home in Berkeley without even having to cross the bridge to San Francisco.
Sensei-Kapalua isn’t such a place, but we still loved it when compared with other choices available, which we tended to find outrageously overpriced,often insipid, and mostly with a formula menu of Pan Pacific, fusion, and Hawaiian tourist overtones.
We found Sensei a great tourist restaurant with creative, tasty food and enthusiastic energetic service. We sat at the sushi bar Valentine’s night. Come to think of it, I only ordered one serving of sushi in my three visits. I don’t think we ordered any entrees. We ordered from the small plates, appetizers, and the sushi bar menu.
The gringo chef in front of us was friendly and chatty, saying he had worked there 12 years. I took a chance with him and ordered ikutama. It had been my adult daughter’s favorite when she was five. Few sushi restuarants have it on the menu or even recognize the name. It is nigiri sushi, a column of rice rolled with nori seaweed with a couple of large spoonfulls of salmon roe and the raw yolk of a quail’s egg on top. It is not to everyone’s taste, difficult to eat, and must be absolutely fresh.
The chef admitted he had never heard of it, but did a good job of making it for me. As I finished it, the guy next to me said, “I’ll have what he’s having,” and proclaimed on finishing it, “Wow, best I ever had.”
For her main plate that night, my wife ordered off the sushi bar menu a plate of three kinds of sashimi. I happened to notice on the daily specials they had a plate of six kinds of tuna sashimi. Eventually the sushi chef leaned over and offered me a large rectangualr plate with the comment he had put both our orders on one plate. I had a lot of trouble with my wife’s elbow as I tried to get my share off the one plate. It was sensational, but she hadn’t heard it contained both our orders.
It is not hard to order well off the regular menu, as the specials and house favorites are clearly marked. I suspect most diners have little, if any, sushi.
I should mention a couple of problems I had with the restaurant. The first one is getting in the door. I never even tried to get a reservation. I had heard in advance our best way in was to wait in line before the restaurant opened at 5:30 p.m. They readily admitted they keep half the seats for walkins, but this gives the first half hour or so a cattle call feel.
The first night, the people in front of us were the last to be seated. We were given a pager and a fuzzy promise of a table in the next hour or so. The bar area really didn’t have any accomodations for people standing. I overheard the bartender lady tell a customer, “Don’t even talk to me for the first half hour. After 6:01, if you wish, I’ll discuss the menu with you all night.”
It took us 20 minutes to get a drink, but contrary to some online comments, we did manage to order some food from the bar. We were seated after about 45 minutes.
My other concern is about tipping. The first night, the bar bill and table bill were as expected, with a space to add a tip. The night seated at the sushi bar, however, the waitress only brought our drinks and perhaps one plate. The rest we ordered directly and received directly from the sushi chef, yet when the bill came, a 17% gratuity had been added to the bill for the two of us. I assume that was for the waitress. What about the sushi chef? They had the customary tip cup on top of the sushi bar, but how much to give him after the waitress had already taken 17% of everything we ordered?
The third night, we sat at a standard dining table with a couple we had met in line. They ordered salads and entrees. We ordered mostly from the sushi bar. Again, both bills came with the 17% gratuity added. I suspect their justification was that the dining table was in the room with the sushi bar.
For me, an added charge for service is a service charge and should be identified on the menu as such. France has a long history of doing this. A gratuity is a voluntary payment in appreciation of the quality of service. They need to fix this, at least assuring the clientele the tips are pooled between the wait staff and sushi chefs.
As for discounts, they posted on the door a few available. Food ordered before 6 p.m. has a 25% discount for guests of the accomodations in Kapalua. I believe there was also a big discount offered on Thursday and Friday nights for food after 10 p.m., when the keraoke starts.
I'm sitting watching whales in Honokowai right now, and have been coming to Maui every year for the past 10 years. Sensei is spectacular. People who say it's not either have expectations that are unrealistic,or really don't know sushi and pan pacific cuisine. I have been a sushi freak for most of my adult life and I don't know of anywhere else that you can get fish that is literally hours old, not frozen. Make sure you call for reservations - always a huge line to get in.
We've had sushi at Kobe in Lahaina. Good, but not great. We eat there when in Lahaina, but if I had my choice, Sensei is where I go. People may not like it because it isn't "tradional" japanese style sushi, but it is really, really good!