Maui Food and Dining

Sushi At Kai More Than Satiates

May 20, 2011, 10:00 AM HST
* Updated May 23, 2:07 PM
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By Kristin Hashimoto

Wailea Roll from Kai

Wailea Roll, photo by Kristin Hashimoto

Pass the glittering baubles at Tiffany and Co.; ignore the Gucci and Coach stores, and stride determinedly to the billowing noren (Japanese door curtain), overhanging the entrance to Kai. This Japanese tapas and sushi restaurant is a much-needed addition to the distinctly Western food options sprinkled throughout the Shops at Wailea.

Live music spills from the wooded interior of Kai, as the clink of glasses and purposeful movement of servers inside, beckon for closer inspection. The restaurant is a high-end hybrid of a traditional Japanese izakaya (type of bar), where sake, shochu and other spirits spill over glasses, and tapas style menu offerings are whisked to and from the table. While some people are familiar with sake, (Japanese rice wine), many are still in the dark about shochu. Shochu is a distilled spirit that is likened to vodka and even scotch. There’s a drink for everyone, with over twenty different sake choices, a few shochu options, and a good wine and spirits list.

The menu is posted outside and the descriptions of the dishes are deliciously detailed. Around dinnertime, expect to wait if walking in with no reservations. It’s worth the ticking minutes. Inevitably, there will also be free entertainment, as would-be “adventurous” tourists haggle over the pros and cons of eating the unfamiliar – versus going to that burger place down the way.

Ice Cream Tempura

Ice Cream Tempura, photo by Kristin Hashimoto

Conversations are overheard, as seating along the wall near the back of the restaurant is one elongated padded bench. While you won’t be near enough to rub elbows with your neighbor, goose-necking and spying on the dishes they order, will be difficult to avoid. So give in. Give in to the temptation, make some friends and ask what they’re having. This is Hawaii right? Show a little aloha.


If beautifully crafted sushi is your particular brand of foodie kink, then give Kai a try. The Wailea Roll is Kai’s house special and looks as gorgeous as it tastes. For $20.88, a California roll becomes an experience, as a trifecta of flavored tobiko (caviar), glints and sparkles like little orbed jewels of yellow, orangey-red and green. The yellowtail, salmon, tuna, unagi (freshwater eel), scallops and shrimp, drape over the California roll with ginger sauce.


For dessert, the ice cream tempura with strawberry and chocolate sauce is simply so good. The tempura batter is light, airy, and sweetened with a cinnamon-sugar. The Matcha (green tea) ice cream sandwich heralds a bittersweet end to lunch or dinner.

Matcha Ice Cream Sandwich

Matcha Ice Cream Sandwich, photo by Kristin Hashimoto

Lunch hours are from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. for dinner. Last call for food is at 9:30 p.m. Parking isn’t a problem. Asphalt real estate at the Shops at Wailea is sprawling. Kai is also participating in restaurant week in Wailea from May 22 through May 28. Enjoy a three-course fixed menu for $49. Reservations are recommended. Call 875-1955. Visit


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