Norio's Sushi Bar & Restaurant Reels In More Than Fresh Island Fish

Norio's Sushi Bar & Restaurant Reels In More Than Fresh Island Fish

It's been almost a year now that we've been looking for an excuse to write about Norio's Sushi Bar & Restaurant at the Fairmont Orchid, on Hawaii's Big Island. And now--he's given it to us. A new custom-made bar was installed, giving more counter space for those to sit near the omnipotent god of all things sushi--and watch his masterful ways.

In all seriousness, Norio Yamamoto is the real deal. Hailing from Japan, where he almost returned after various stints at some of the islands top Japanese eateries, Norio was reeled in by Fairmont.

"All these things like California rolls, and other Westernized versions of my culture's food--it was this close to sending me back home," said Norio. However, a loyal and devoted following of sushi "realists" (and the incredible quality of fish available in Hawaii, according to the chef) gave Norio faith, and he has been churning out fresh slabs of sea creatures ever since. Perched under the main lobby at the Orchid, with sweeping Kohala coastline views, Norio creates no frills Japanese fare the way it ought to be served.

However, even Norio is not impervious to modern wares: He makes good use of the NELHA facility located a few miles down the lava-laden road. From here he orders Japanese flounder and other coldwater fish that normally could not breed in Hawaiian waters.

There are too many standouts from Norio's menu aside from sushi and sashimi, which have made him a celebrity of sorts to the growing population of Big Island locals who pony up to the bar after long hotel shifts. Here are a few to tickle your palate: sake steamed Manilla clams with Ali'i mushrooms; sauteed abalone with sake soy butter; three-way lobster; whole wok-fried moi--the fish of Hawaiian royalty--with yoshinozu ankake (Japanese crab) sauce on wasabi mashed potatoes.

Norio's is open six nights per week (closed Tuesdays) from 6 to 9:30 p.m. There is an 18-seat private dining room for parties, situated over a koi pond. Oh yes, and the reason for this story: The new bar holds up to 15 people.

Call (808) 887-7368 for reservations, or visit www.fairmont.com/orchidĀ for more information.