As the country recovered from World War II, Fujio Iwasaki was hard at work getting his eatery off the ground. Fearing a distinctly Japanese-style restaurant would not be well-received in uncertain times, Fujio added some Chinese items to the menu, and in the basement of the Colonial Hotel in 1946, Pagoda was born.
Today, the restaurant still delivers the classic Asian cuisine and sushi originally fashioned by Fujio, under the fresh guidance of head chef Jared Ekstrom and sushi chef Steve Nichol, who spent time in Japan as a tour guide and translator. The chefs lay out a smorgasbord of entrees such as miso sea bass and sushi such as the Baja Sunset, a Chef Steve original with spicy shrimp, cucumbers, and avocado crowned with fresh salmon and jalapeños.
Since moving to its current location, the eatery’s architecture has left as lasting an impression as the cuisine. A vertical sign stretches skyward, emblazoned with the word “Pagoda,” drawing the eye to a triangular rooftop that emulates the restaurant’s namesake structure.
Lacquered tables lit by sunlight from expansive windows gleam in Rice's modern dining room. Spicy aromas waft in from the kitchen, foretelling the arrival of entrees that blend the culinary traditions of Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and the United States. Some of these flavors meld within the dishes themselves: combining grilled steak, asparagus, and eel sauce, the Cowboy sushi roll melts away boundaries between East and West, much like a blast furnace full of old compasses. But chefs also cook traditional Asian recipes, such as a Thai curry with coconut milk or Japanese udon noodles with tempura shrimp. And they're accommodating of other diets, too. Several vegetarian dishes incorporate soy chicken substitute, whose tender texture pleased the writer of a 2009 In This Week review.
Although Kobe Cho Sushi earned a feature on Man v. Food with its incendiary Hell Fire roll filled with tuna and jalapeño, the chefs can also dial down the heat and showcase the delicate flavors of fresh fish and produce. The menu stems from the mind of owner and head chef Mike Fukumitsu, whose 13 years of sushi-making wisdom has been honed during numerous training stints in Japan. As an example of his dedication to high-quality ingredients, he seeks out Wagyu kobe beef for some of his premium sashimi and sushi creations.
A few tables line the pastel-orange walls, but a large number of seats also surround the sushi bar, allowing guests to watch as the chefs slice, layer, and roll orders with the confidence of an encyclopedia salesman at a trivia competition.
Jars of Korean kimchi and delicate spheres of salmon roe dot Dahn Sushi’s kitchen, adding artful flourishes to a menu of classic Japanese cuisine. Sushi, the restaurant’s specialty, ranges from dainty duos of eel nigiri to hand rolls packed with tuna, octopus, or red snapper. Diners can belly up to the sushi bar and take notes as they watch the chefs chop, slice, and roll their creations into vibrant spreads, some of which look like friendly caterpillars. In addition to serving small groups within the scarlet dining room, Dahn's staff delivers giant platters of sushi to parties, meetings, and mermaids’ swim meets.