Food and Drink

Big Island Sushi: Serving Fresh Food, Straight From the Heart

The bank that stores my karma points surprised me with a random withdrawal recently while I enjoyed a sushi meal alone on the Big Island of Hawaii. A friendly couple sitting nearby on the mini patio in front of the restaurant insisted on treating me to a generous “welcome to the island” gift. We chatted during dinner and when I went to pay my bill, the waitress told me the couple had taken care of it. “Wow,” I thought on my drive back to Kona. “This Hawaii trip might work out.”

So far, my 9 weeks on the island have been defined by a series of serendipitous events starting with the pleasant dining experience I enjoyed at Sushi Rock. I discovered Sushi Rock, a sushi lover’s dream come true, on my third night on the Big Island. An artist at a gallery in the tiny village of Hawi (pronounced Ha-vee), located roughly 50 miles north of Kona on the northernmost tip of the island, directed me to Sushi Rock when I asked about good restaurants in the area. He said he doesn’t eat out often but when he does, he goes there.

Sushi Rock occupies a small street-level space inside a 2-story, green historic building on the edge of town. The restaurant has a humble, unassuming façade, but don’t be fooled. Tourists, locals and restaurant critics alike claim Sushi Rock serves some of the best, most innovative sushi and other delights on the island.

I found the restaurant before it started serving dinner at 5:30 p.m. and enjoyed a Big Wave Golden Ale on the patio while I waited. For dinner, I ordered the green-tea-infused edamame appetizer, a plate of melt-in-your-mouth ahi sashimi, and the Paradise Pleaser roll with brown rice (fresh smoked ono, sliced avocado, local macadamia nuts and sashimi topped with caramelized pineapple).

Guests normally have a happy experience at Sushi Rock even though they may not understand why, Sushi Rock’s owner Peter Pomeranze said during an interview. Pomeranze is a New York native who moved to Hawaii 20 years ago. He said the restaurant, which opened in 2003, is driven by specific ideas and is run in a conscious manner.

“My philosophy is that all food preparers and employees need to truly care about every plate,” Pomeranze said. “I try to instill pride in all Sushi Rock [employees], and we are truly a family. Because they are treated respectfully and lovingly by me, they pass that energy into the food handed out to our customers.”

Sushi Rock’s unofficial slogan is “Come taste the love.” I’m not sure if it was love I tasted in my Paradise Pleaser roll that night, but it was delicious. Sushi Rock’s menu features traditional and new-wave rolls, soups, salads, cooked entrees and homemade desserts. The restaurant serves locally and organically sourced food whenever possible and tries to use unique ingredients and combinations.

“We don't push the sushi envelope merely to be different, but because the combinations work,” Pomeranze explained. For example, Sushi Rock recently debuted a wasabi-infused purple sweet potato as a new ingredient in the Purple Passion roll.

Guests can order pure wasabi made from the ground root of the wasabi plant instead of a paste made of horseradish, mustard and green dye. Plus, there’s a full bar, small gift shop, artwork by local artists and live music every Friday.

It appears I am not the only Sushi Rock fan on the internet. Reviewers on Trip Advisor and Yelp gave Sushi Rock an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars, and it received a 92% approval rating on Urban Spoon. The cost for my dinner and a glass of wine -- a crisp Argentinean Chardonnay -- was about $45. That’s pricey but it was well worth it.

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