A visit to ‘Shimbashi Tsuruhachi bunten'
From a certain point of age, I started to feel more attached to the city of Shimbashi.
The city is filled with shops that serve you great meals, and the air is permeated with a blend of appetizing aroma produced from individual shops.
The aroma attracts foodies from all corners of the metropolis, much like ants gathering around sugar blocks.
Right in the middle of the area stands the New Shimbashi Building, which is where my favorite sushi restaurant, ‘Shimbashi Tsuhachi bunten’, has its humble shop.
Just like an excited elementary school kid on a school excursion, I went skipping up the stairs to the second floor, where I found the masseuse from the shop adjacent to the sushi shop, kindly teaching directions to the customers.
When she found me, she beckoned me with a huge smile on her face.
Of course, she is already of aware of how I was not at the building to be massaged.
She smiles at me anyway, and her devotion for business amazes me every time.
I smile back at her with a celebrity toothbrush-commercial smile, gently declining her offer.
Just then, Hirokazu Igarashi, the owner of the sushi shop popped out from the doorway and recognized my presence.
He quickly dashed back behind the counter with his large physique, ready to serve me with the brightest smile ever.
His gentle smile always touches my heart and softens the mood.
In his high school senior year, Igarashi, who originally aimed to become a chef, was encouraged to become a sushi chef by his parents, who were greatly impressed by what they read in this particular book.
The book was ‘Kanda Tsuruhachi Sushi-banashi, written by the great Yukio Moro-oka, the founder of ‘Tsuruhachi’.
Igarashi immediately called ‘Tsuruhachi’, yet since it was just when Moro-oka was about to retire from his career, Igarashi was denied of becoming his apprentice.
Instead he was introduced to ‘Shimbashi Tsuruhachi’, a shop owned by Hisataka Ishimaru, who was an apprentice of Moro-oka.
Igarashi worked on his skill at ‘Shimbashi Tsuruhachi’, along with chefs like Kunihiro Shimizu of ‘Shimbashi Shimizu’.
After 18 years of apprenticeship at Ishimaru’s shop, Igarashi opened his own place in 2014.
The length of his apprenticeship is by far the longest record in the history of ‘Tsuruhachi’.
On the other hand, Igarashi utilizes social networking tools like Instagram to promote his shop, displaying a forward-thinking style unlike many of his fellow ‘Tsuruhachi’ apprentices.
As I took a seat at the counter, I looked up to the menu boards behind the kitchen.
The menu, like Hirame (Flounder), Buri (Yellowtail) and Saba (Mackerel), tells you how the autumn season was already here.
As usual, I order my sushi in ‘Okonomi’ style (where you order sushi on your choosing, unlike ‘Omakase’ where you lend over to the chef of choosing which sushi to eat)
‘Shimbashi Tsuruhachi’ only does ‘Okonomi’ style, but Igarashi also does ’Omakase’ according to however the customer prefers.
However, if you wish to experience the best of this shop, I strongly recommend ordering in ‘Okonomi’ style.
Igarashi would reply to all your orders very politely, courteously executing his job.
For starters, I chose Hirame (Flounder).
Since it was still the start of its best season, the taste is still light, yet it accentuates the flavor of the umami-filled Shari (Vinegar seasoned rice).
The shari is just perfect in every aspect; firmness, temperature, salt, and umami.
The fish is sliced in thick portions, yet its balance with the shari is just right.
You can feel the satisfaction of eating actual sushi with this dish.
Secondly, I had Buri (yellowtail).
Its fat was very sweet, and I slowly savored its smooth texture and the coming of seasons.
Saba (mackerel) also had a perfectly balanced flavor, where its leaves you with a slight but rich taste of salt and vinegar.
And of course, the killer menu; Kohada (Gizzard shad).
Its thick and fat flesh brings you a slight sense of sweetness towards the end.
Kuruma-ebi (Kuruma-shrimp) is also very good, even though its presence is not so obvious compared to the other sushi that displays traditional craftsmanship.
The shrimp is lightly boiled so that it is still soft when put together with the shari, and it tastes delicious.
The size is not too big so you can have the entire shrimp in just one bite.
While eating the sushi I looked around the interiors of the shop.
On that particular day, the shop was filled with regular customers.
Igarashi’s service is quite unique; for example, when one of the customers order Tako (Octopus) for Otsumami (appetizers), Igarashi would also serve the other customers with the same menu.
You can tell how he has all the customer’s preferences in his head.
To the happy surprise, customers would jokingly complain how they hadn’t ordered such menu, and Igarashi would smile back.
Meanwhile, Igarashi never forgets to take care of the new comers, courteously asking what they want for their next sushi.
It's excellent customer service that avoids causing unnecessary pressure.
Towards the end, I ordered Shako (Mantis shrimp), Hamaguri (Orient clam) and Anago (Sea eel), all of which are either marinated, dipped or simmered, the type of sushi that truly shows the best of ‘Tsuruhachi’-style sushi.
The thick and deep-flavored sauce is just jaw-dropping.
Finally I end my course meal with Kanpyo-maki (Kanpyo-rolls).
Kanpyo is not a very glamorous menu, but it tells a lot about the chef’s skill.
I personally believe that Igarashi’s Kanpyo-maki (Kanpyo-rolls) is the greatest in the world of its kind.
Igarashi’s sushi has many faces.
Its bold taste, gentleness that grasps ones heart, and the pride of a prestigious brand…
Every menu is a standard line-up, but every dish is delicious at all times.
It may seem like nothing special, yet this is where I see Igarashi’s excellence as a sushi chef.
The accuracy of his skill, backed with the longest record of apprenticeship, is accomplished at a very high level.
Most importantly, his attractive character and personality is his greatest quality.
When you call for reservation, he would recognize who you are with your voice.
He would politely and sincerely take every order from every customer.
Customers can have their sushi in a completely relaxed environment, where the shop is filled a soft and gentle atmosphere.
Igarashi would glance at you at time to time, giving a warm smile.
Even during the busiest hour, he would go outside and greet the customer as they exit the shop, expressing his gratitude to each and every customer.
His sincere attitude impressed me to an extent where it welled up my eyes.
When I was about to exit the shop as I finished my meal, Igarashi kindly offered to stay and have a cup of green tea.
Igarashi is not completely business minded and I always feel that this shop is quite different from others.
It fills me up with a warm and happy feeling that you may never experience at any other place, the reason why I am truly in love with this particular shop.
This day, I sat at the inmost seat of the counter.
As I looked down, I noticed the glistening caramel-colored counter.
Even though the counter itself was slimmer than that of ‘Shimbashi Tsuruhachi’, it showed how the history of the ‘Tsuruhachi’ professionalism was definitely being passed onto this shop.
The ‘noren (goodwill)’ of ‘Tsuruhachi’ passed on from Yukio Muro-oka and Hisataka Ishimaru can only be inherited by Igarashi.
The true spirit of Edomae sushi resides with this man.
The weight of the historical and prestigious brand must be quite heavy, yet when you see Igarashi’s strong arms and gentle smile, you can say that this man would actually be able to carry the burden.
Blogger. Sushi geek.
By coincidence, he became fascinated by the world of Edomae-style Sushi.
Where exactly is the best sushi restaurant in Japan?"
In 2016, to answer that question, he decided to embark on a quest to discover the "No.1 Sushi Restaurant".
He traveled everywhere, dining at one famous sushi restaurant after another, and his restaurant reviews - combining personal observations with his actual experiences - caused a sensation among Japanese foodies.
He fell in love with some particular restaurants along the way, and still visits to enjoy their lip-smacking sushi.
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