Local Tastes Made Healthy, On the GoFeatures Inside Feature
December 7, 2014
Story By: Phoebe Neel | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
Ahi and Vegetable, the Japanese bento and sushi restaurant on Fort Street, has been a longtime favorite for students and downtown’s business crowd who seek nourishing food on a quick lunch break. Offering a wide selection of poke, sushi, donburi and more, the eatery features local fast food that’s fresh, healthy and well-priced. Owner Sam Seo has opened a sister location on Dillingham Boulevard in order to further his commitment to sourcing the best local tuna available, and he will be closer to Pier 38 fish market.
“Why would you live in Hawaii and eat tuna from a foreign country?” Seo asks in disbelief. Yet he finds imported, pre-cut tuna — often treated with carbon dioxide to preserve freshness — ubiquitous, even where fresh, local alternatives are available. As Hawaiian tuna is caught using longlines instead of environmentally harmful nets used elsewhere, buying local also helps support sustainable fishing. Seo is adamant about only serving Hawaiian tuna at Ahi and Vegetable restaurants, even when it might strain his budget. “Some seasons I have a very hard time,” he says. The holiday season, for example, is a time when high demand inflates fish prices so much that a $17 fish might balloon in price to $25 or $30. “But I’ve made promises to my customers about quality and price,” he says proudly, “and I stick to those.” Even while prices may fluctuate, he maintains an affordable standard in his restaurants.
To make fresh and local fish available and inexpensive at Ahi and Vegetable, Seo goes the extra mile of purchasing his fish from the fish auction daily and preparing it at his new, specially built facilities. The Dillingham location has a chilled room specifically used for cutting and preparing fish for both restaurants. “By purchasing and preparing fish myself, I can control the prices, the quality, as well as sell it at a higher volume and with better prices,” he says.
With years of experience bidding on wholesale fish, Seo sources fish not only for his restaurants, but also for mainland buyers. “I’m proud to bring Hawaiian tuna to the mainland, where they often don’t have access to such good fish.”
Seo originally was trained in Japanese restaurants, so the eatery’s menu leans on Japanese favorites mixed with local-style dishes. A variety of bentos, including Spicy Ahi, Spicy Salmon and Poke combination ($11), are specially designed to be ready in a flash for those on the go. A wide variety of lunch options, such as salads and hot dishes, also are offered on the menu, as is the option to create your own combination plate.
Ahi and Vegetable has catering options available as well, including Sashimi Platter ($40, $50 with hamachi), which is popular for holiday parties. Sure to please everyone at your gathering is Sushi Combo Platter ($35), which includes spicy ahi, California, shrimp tempura, unagi and vegetarian rolls. “We’re so lucky here in Hawaii,” he says, “and it’s so important to me that people enjoy our high-quality fish.”
Ahi and Vegetable’s commitment to the local environment, fishing economy and access to healthy food are all great reasons to indulge in these delicious local favorites, but the taste might trump them all.
Ahi & Vegetable
1210 Dillingham Blvd.
Open daily, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
1126 Fort Street Mall
Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.