Still on a roll

Veteran Sushi Chef Kojima entices with Japanese fare

Master sushi chef Sadao Kojima and his daughter Amy Kojima take a break on the lanai of their Kojima’s Sushi and Japanese Cuisine restaurant in the Pukalani Square. The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

Celebrating his birthday earlier in June, veteran Maui Sushi Chef Sadao Kojima appeared to still be on a roll, even at the age of 71 years young.

Upcountry sushi lovers still flock to Kojima’s Sushi Bar & Japanese Cuisine at Pukalani Square for hot and satisfying tempura, Haleakala rolls wrapped with salmon and dynamite sauce, and juicy prime rib on Friday and Saturday nights with au jus and horseradish.

On a recent visit, I discovered Kojima has a new sauce line out, will appear in the Fourth of July Makawao Parade on Saturday waving to fans and passing out samples and such, and he’s thinking about writing a memoir on his illustrious lifelong career.

“Kojima’s dishes up food for the soul and the palate,” says a regular customer about the restaurant.

“You walk into a welcoming atmosphere and are greeted with authenticity and generosity. Everything that you taste has its own unique flavor. What’s the special ingredient you ask? It’s aloha in every bite.”

Spider yellowtail roll delights; The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

The family-owned operation features Kojima behind the raw bar, and his daughter Amy Kojima as the full-time baker and cook. They are assisted by top Maui sushi man Hari Okumura and other cooks who put out consistent hot entrees of tempura udon, salmon teriyaki, broiled chicken and baked oysters.

Kojima grew up in Tokyo, where his father ran a restaurant. As a young adult, he went on to be a classically trained French chef at the Tokyo Hotel before he moved to New York City.

“At 26 years old, I was working right on Broadway,” he enthuses. “I would see the sun come up.”

“That’s where he met my mommy,” says Amy. “After working at the Ritz Carlton, he launched his first restaurant in Chicago in 1979. He did beautiful ice sculptures of ships and the Eiffel Tower and was featured on the TV and in the Chicago Tribune. After 25 years, he came to Maui to retire. But instead, he did sushi in restaurants from Sansei to Cafe O’Lei.”

Kojima also then ran the sushi bar at his current location until he took it over in 2012. It has a nice lanai and stellar views of Haleakala. You may book the eatery for private parties during the day or part of it at night. Kojima’s offers seating for up to 75 people.

Ice creams are all housemaid; The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo

“He tried to maintain traditional rolls and sauces. But the culture has changed so we do what people want,” says Amy. “There’s a need Upcountry for family dining and we offer it. My dad’s favorite fish is hirame, and the opakapaka and the onaga we utilize as the nigiri or sashimi special is popular.”

His sauce line features a secret recipe ginger dressing and other varieties that are available at Kojima’s and in Rodeo General Store in Makawao.

Other changes since my previous visit are that Kojima’s opens at 4 p.m., an hour earlier than before. It is also open on Monday, when many Upcountry eateries are not.

As icing on the cake, new desserts have been implemented. Amy makes her own super creamy and fabulous green-tea, red-bean, black-sesame and ginger ice creams; and Kona-coffee mud pies and pineapple upside-down cake. “All of my desserts seem to be taking off,” says Amy. “I also do mango cheesecake and chocolate mud pie.”

And look for Kojima in the Makawao Parade. “Oh, no! I’m shy!” he says about the prospect. “You just sit in the car and wave!” Amy tells him.

• What: Kojima’s Sushi & Japanese Cuisine restaurant.

• Where: Located at 81 Makawao Ave. in the Pukalani Square complex in Pukalani.

• New hours: Serving dinner only from 4 to 9:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

• The menu: Appetizers, salads, entrees, maki and nigiri sushi, sashimi and housemade desserts.

• What else: You may BYO beer, wine and sake. Catering and take-out are available.

• For more details: Call 573-2859 or visit