The vegan and vegetarian sushi you’ve always dreamed of at Choice Health Bar in Lahaina Maui
Have you ever tried taking a vegan to a sushi dinner? Believe me: this is hell. Most sushi is sublime, beautiful art, and while it often contains veggies, the raw fish, sticky white rice, and bonito sauces aren’t all that vegan.
Now Chef Takashi Asakawa has brought his sushi expertise to Choice Health Bar in Lahaina, a truly organic and vegan restaurant down to the green marrow that runs through its bones without animals.
“We had a moment on how to define that for Choice,” says Emily Kunz, co-owner and co-founder of Choice with Katheryn Dahm. “Most of us are vegans or vegetarians. We discussed the possibility of making fresh peach in the sushi here. So the first night we did it, and we also had some fried things, like tempura. It was delicious but we felt it was a moment of identity for us. Our identity is fresh, not fried. We’re on a truly cutting edge flavor that focuses on veggies. It was such a cool reality test and brought us back to what’s important to us. We don’t want to make money with animals or fish.
Chef Asa, as he’s known, is from Nobu at the Manele Bay Hotel on Lanai. Last November, he approached Kunz and Dahm and offered them a pop-up sushi night.
“He brought a plate with two bites of probably 20 different items,” Kunz explains. “Kathryn was in Italy, so I took it home and ate it with my boyfriend. He’s a huge sushi fan, and he was blown away.
Garden Sushi was born. Choice Stays is now open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. From 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. you can upgrade for Awaken Tea kombucha – they have four flavors on tap – and a take-out meal. Sushi starts at 6 p.m. and the menu includes entrees, nigiri, rolls, soups and salads. And all of this at a very reasonable price.
“Everyone who came was really blown away,” Kunz says. “It’s kind of a cool alternative experience because usually during the day this place gets full of people – there’s a lot of mixer noise. It’s something special to be here and to feel a different vibe.
Chef Asa’s sushi uses nuts, vegetables, and an organic blend of quinoa, brown rice, and forbidden rice. They also use organic and non-GMO soy. It’s Japanese cuisine – in terms of flavor and ingredients – that I’ve always wanted but never been able to find. The art you see in sushi is still around, but it has had a makeover with veggies.
They make cute little nigiri wrapped in grilled vegetable fillets, wrapped in nori and dressed in fresh herbs and nuts. Chef Asa’s roasted beet, green apple and chive nigiri has color and crunch, and the grilled eggplant with a sweet miso frosting is satisfying and not fried. Mushroom soup is a delicate, creamy and rich dish. The dragon scroll is simply stunning.
“We told Asa not to fry or fish,” Kunz explains. “Just use the freshest local ingredients, grown in Maui and organic. It was important to us at the beginning, and it is still important now. It actually burst its flavors in a whole new direction that we’re so passionate about. You will see sushi wrapped in cabbage and raw nuts. He had to take it to the next level.
After eating here you will not miss the fish. In fact, you also don’t run out of fried dough. Throughout Chef Asa’s cooking, grains, seaweed and vegetables and his incredible attention to detail in texture and flavor make his vegan sushi stand out. One note: the choice is BYOB, so stop by for sake, beer, or wine before you arrive.
SUSHI GARDEN OF YOUR CHOICE
6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Monday to Saturday
Choice is now open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.!
1087 Limahana Pl., Lahaina
Photos by Sean hower