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“Enjoyable atmosphere and dinner”
Review of Yanagi Sushi

Yanagi Sushi
Ranked #219 of 2,430 Restaurants in Honolulu
Certificate of Excellence
Price range: $0 - $25
Cuisines: Sushi, Asian, Japanese
More restaurant details
Restaurant details
Dining options: Late Night, Reservations
Neighborhood: Ala Moana - Kakaako
Reviewed March 2, 2014

I have only rarely eaten sushi and am not a fan of the genre of food, but I decided to treat my wife (who loves sushi) to a dinner at a well-reviewed restaurant that was recommended by a colleague.

First of all, I was pleased to see they had complimentary valet parking, since I knew there was only a small parking lot out front.

I wasn't expecting the crowd of people inside (should have made a reservation), so we ended up at the sushi bar, which turned out to be a better option anyway. The sushi chefs were very polite and eager to speak to us when we asked questions. My wife settled on the Chef's sashimi special mix ($45) and a got a dinner that included soup, salad, rice, a dessert, and I chose 3 entrees. The first was sashimi (I figured I should try some), the second was chicken teriyaki, and the third the fried shrimp. I found all three of my choices very agreeable. I was easily able to tolerate the sashimi (tuna, salmon, a white fish that I should have asked what it was, and octopus). I don't know if I am just new and really didn't know what to expect, but I found all of the sashimi to be without much flavor - of course it is raw fish, but I expected something a little more flavorful. I did dip part of each piece in their low sodium soy sauce, but in the bites that got soy, I really tasted soy.

My wife was very pleased with her order. She had about 15 pieces of sashimi, including albacore, which was still moving in the shell. It was the first time she had eaten something that was still alive. I am not sure how she felt about it, other than being intrigued. Of the 8 or 9 different types of sashimi on her plate, she only found the squid disagreeable, but she supposed that was just a personal preference.

While my wife walked away happy (which made me happy), the restaurant did not convert me to sushi (granted, I only had sashimi). I believe we will go back and maybe I will try some of the rice rolls and might have a completely different view.

Overall, I enjoyed the atmosphere and found it to be an nice evening out.

    • Value
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Thank FA53
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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65 - 69 of 132 reviews

Reviewed February 9, 2014

We went there on advice of a local and everything was very good.the service ,welcoming and special ALL the different plates.Next week we are going back for sure.

Thank bernardverheecke
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed January 21, 2014

With so many exquisite sushi restaurants in Honolulu, why would anyone in their right mind subject themselves to these people...and more importantly , why would they choose to be in the hospitality industry if they despise their customers, in particular, the non asian ones. No, you can do better than this, believe me ! I am from here, keep reading your reviews and whatever you choose will save the experience of this place....

    • Value
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    • Food
2  Thank Ann M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed November 24, 2013

I have been going to Yanagi Sushi for over twenty years now. In the late 80's when there was hardly any Internet and no TripAdvisor to counsel us, we found Yanagi in the Yellow Pages. That year, my sister's family and I were hunting for a sushi restaurant in Honolulu. We found two in the Yellow Pages that looked decent. But which one to pick? So we drove to the two places and looked inside. Yanagi came out on top. (I have forgotten the other place.) It was an instant hit. The fish was fresh, tasty, the sushi was well executed, the rice was cooked and and seasoned just right with vinegar. There were many exotic fish that could be found nowhere else in those days. But my favorite was the quasi-fresh saba. Every time I returned to the place after a long absence, my first order was alway saba, even on this last visit a few days ago. And so for over twenty years, I would eat at Yanagi every time I visited Honolulu. When my parents were still alive and living there, my visits were frequent. Once they passed away, I came less often but I kept up the "pilgrimage" to Yanagi. It is a cliche but not an exaggeration to call this place a Honolulu institution. Locals and visitors alike troop through it. My cousin's wife who worked for a major airline based in Hawaii told me once that their yearly Xmas party took place at Yanagi. The two Korean ladies who run the place are always there, one in command behind the cash register, the other roaming around the two packed dining areas. I think they are sisters. They speak to each other in Korean but they are really bilingual as their Japanese seems more than fluent. Two sushi bars with 5 or 6 chefs working every night. Several private dining rooms. Physically, the place hasn't changed much in over twenty years. Same furniture, same pictures of celebrities - mainly Asian - lining the walls, same valet parking in front, which is really not needed as there is plenty of street parking on Kapi'olani after 6:30 pm.

In the last few years, I have noticed that prices did not really go up. I was pleased at first. But on this last visit, I had to face the facts and admit that prices have not gone up because quality has gone down, and significantly so. The place is just too popular and crowded. With the manpower on hand, there is no way they can serve so many people and still maintain a high level of quality, which as far as sushi is concerned means lots of labor. The night I was there, my chef was producing about a dozen sashimi trays. These went for 40-50 dollars a piece. Most of the fish were actually pre-cut! He just quickly arranged the pieces on the plates, add a few decorations and off they went. The most objectionable thing was how he handled the raw ama-ebi. The shrimp had already been shelled. And horror of horrors, the shrimp head had also been pre-grilled. So it took no time to put all this on the plate and that was that. This treatment makes a mockery of the very idea of ama-ebi. The shrimp must be shelled at the last moment to preserve its taste and texture. The head is served after the guest has consumed the shrimp, fresh from the grill (or in a miso soup if so desired). I ordered another favorite, katsuo tataki. I first had it here. But this time was a disappointment. At one time, it was two thick pieces of perfectly charred bonito, freshly cut, served on a small plate with a bit of grated ginger and a some ponzu sauce. This time it was a bunch of thinly sliced and yes, pre-cut fish smothered in a salad of onion and daikon shoots drowned in an excess of ponzu sauce. Unavoidably, the delicate taste of the grilled bonito was hopelessly lost in all that intense vinegary onslaught.

Yanagi Sushi has adopted a sort of large scale production where efficiency trumps taste, an exact opposite of what sushi should be. As I was sitting at the counter marveling at the mounds of pre-cut maguro and hamachi, I had to accept that the Yanagi we knew and loved is no longer. There is no way to pull out of this downward spiral. For to do that would require raising prices. But once customers are used to a certain price level, there is no way to raise it without loosing most of them. It is time to let go and look for another sushi place in Honolulu, this time with the Internet and TA in assistance.

1  Thank sd122
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed October 22, 2013

We celebrated my mothers 82 birthday here with the family. The food is always excellent and the service is great.

Thank Gene W
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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