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Apr'23 Sushi Reviews Part 2 (Sushi Tokiwa, Ao, Ichiu, Takehara)


Just_Ingest about 1 month ago

More reviews before they fade from memory!


4. Sushi Tokiwa (Shibata, Niigata)
鮨 登喜和
• Tsumami: 8.5/10, Nigiri: 7/10, CP: 8/10
• Price: ¥16,500 on Pocket Concierge (basically 15k +10% tax and no fees) + ¥500 for tea for the weekend lunch course (~6 tsumami and ~11 nigiri)
• Reservation: Very easy; plenty of slots are available on Pocket Concierge. You can also message them on Instagram (tokiwa_3daime) as they speak good English.

When deciding to visit either Kyoudaizushi or Sushi Tokiwa, I finally chose the latter because the pictures looked more interesting (lol). To get there, you’ll need to head to Niigata Station (~2 hour shinkansen ride from Tokyo), switch trains and head to Shibata Station (~30-60 minute ride depending on the train), and walk around 15 minutes to the store. It’s a family-run business so head chef Kobayashi-san and his family members (I think) work together at the counter, giving the restaurant a very “homey” vibe. Kobayashi-san is a very jolly and outgoing fellow who speaks a bit of English, and one staff member who he labeled his “English teacher” speaks very good English so they were able to translate all the dishes and fishes to me. The staff personally addressed each patron by name and tried to engage all of us in conversation, which I definitely appreciated :)

Here, the spotlight is on seafood from Niigata; almost all of the ingredients used were from the prefecture, with plenty coming from the waters near Sado Island in particular. (Apparently Kobayashi-san doesn’t even serve maguro if it doesn’t come form Niigata!) However, the cuisine is much more innovative than simply “applying Edomae techniques to local fish.” The otsumami (which was interspersed throughout the course) included dishes like an oyster chawanmushi with local seaweed, a torafugu shirako risotto with karasumi shavings, and “totomame” which I believe is the local term for boiled salmon roe. I thought they were more labor-intensive to prepare than what you’d find at the average sushiya, and all of them were truly excellent.

The nigiri here was even more innovative, using plenty of uncommon fish, ingredient/condiment combinations, and preparation methods. To give an idea, some of the pieces served were: a) nanban ebi which is the local term for Niigata ama-ebi, salted and dried overnight [one of the best pieces of the day]; b) me-dai topped with fermented cabbage which gave the nigiri sour flavor notes and a crunchy texture, c) sakura masu liberally marinated in soy sauce, d) baigai with plum and seaweed which took an excruciating 15 or so minutes to prepare, e) hata shabu-shabu which was cooked one-piece-at-a-time by one of the ladies and finished with a generous squeeze of orange. While conceptually similar, the execution unfortunately fell short of the stuff Amano-san does at Tenzushi, and some of the pairings did not work so well for me. Nonetheless, most of the flavor profiles were distinctive. The team wasn’t joking when they said on Instagram that they’d explain their “cooking methods” in some detail!

The shari was somewhat salty and sour but rapidly diminished in strength, perhaps because some of the toppings were powerful indeed. This was despite Kobayashi-san requesting a small new batch of rice before preparing every single nigiri. The rice (apparently a Koshihikari grown in Shibata) also had tinier grains which was not to my preference, and some of the nigiri had a rotund shape with very little shari, so I sadly thought I was eating tiny Singapore-style sushi sometimes. Nonetheless, it was interesting to watch Kobayashi-san use all three of the main motions (kotegaeshi, tategaeshi, and hontegaeshi) to form nigiri.

On the whole, I’m happy to have tried Sushi Tokiwa, and it was my first time in Niigata so I was able to taste and learn more about the local seafood that the chef was so proud of. However, the extensive travel time, the unusual pacing (there were some long gaps between courses), and the fact that the tsumami outperformed the nigiri by quite some margin means that I probably won’t be back for a while. I would still recommend it if you’re in the area, especially for those looking for bolder and more adventurous sushi preparations, and I thought the value was good for the amount of food served. The sushi is so different from what you can find in Tokyo, so if nothing else, the chef has succeeded in creating a one-of-a-kind experience.


5. Sushi AO (Omotesando)
鮨 あお / ▲⬤
• Nigiri: 9.75/10, CP: 7/10
• Price: ¥33,000 for the nigiri lunch course (~15 pieces + tekkamaki + tamago) + 2 add ons + kanpyo maki + plenty of tea
• Reservation: Hard; I booked ~60 days in advance on Omakase. You need fast fingers and flexible travel dates, but unlike places like Amamoto, bookings are still possible. Sushi Ao is Omakase-only and won’t accept hotel reservations.

[I was able to connect with KK1337 through TTT and visit Sushi Ao together. Thank you to both KK and Saito-san’s website :) ]

I don’t know what happened during this meal, but this must be what it feels like when Instagrammers combine the words “sooooooooooo” and “good” and leave it at that. Sometimes words are hard to find because there’s really nothing else to say.

This was as close to a perfect sushi meal as I have ever had. Usually, I make notes indicating which pieces are not good, average, good, excellent, or even legendary. As I looked through my notes again, there was nothing here that I found even remotely close to average. Everything was at least good, most of the sushi was excellent, and some of it put me into a sushi coma.

Okazaki-san practices Jiro-style preparations but his shari was much less sour than other Jiro restaurants, and rather, very well-balanced in acidity and salinity while retaining good presence in the background. The individual grains were large and the texture was a bit moist in a very good way. When combined with the very fragrant wasabi, the result was a consistently mind-boggling flavor profile where I think I finally get what Thanos says when he means “perfectly balanced.” Shari was consistently maintained at a good temperature throughout the meal, which sounds simple but is more than what many sushiya are actually able to do. (Nowadays room temperature shari bothers me a little and anything colder gives me shudders)

As a result of this incredible “base” of shari+wasabi, all of the neta, even those that I typically am not crazy about (katsuo, kobashira) were elevated to incredible levels. Shima aji, chutoro, akagai, kuruma ebi, and hamaguri sent me to sushi heaven; anago and tamago were excellent although fell short of Harutaka’s (which are legendary in my books). Nothing was really an umami bomb but I thought everything was just too good in its own way, at least for my personal palate ~_~ “Melt in your mouth” is an overrated statement but in this case, the soy sauce that was used for some of the pieces caused them to glisten and acquire a slightly sticky quality, and when combined with the slightly wet texture of the rice, the nigiri unraveled in my mouth like magic. The “worst” piece was uni which is ridiculous because a) it was still pretty good and b) it’s theoretically a very easy fix as the taisho can just buy a better box. As if all of this wasn’t enough, I was left reeling after eating the kanpyo maki because it was the best kanpyo I have ever had.

Perhaps because I am not one to make strong reactions even when I eat good stuff, I don’t think my dining partner KK realized it, but I was really in sushi heaven here.

Some people complain about the price and I get that; I’m usually cynical about what Jiro-style places charge but in this case, I thought the price was on par with the level. The service was flawless and attentive; my teacup was consistently refilled and never left even close to lukewarm. Okazaki-san is a soft and mild-mannered taisho who doesn’t invade your personal space but still diffuses the tension in the air and creates an elegant ambiance. His movements are graceful and he has an aura of wisdom about him, similar to the way Zhuge Liang is typically portrayed in movies. Like Jiro-san, he personally sees all the guests off after the meal. If I were a betting man I would put money on him becoming a legend within 2 decades.

Taste is a funny thing and it’s impossible to conclusively declare things after just one visit to a sushi restaurant, but I’ll be back and I want to discover why exactly I thought this place was so good; even now, I don’t fully understand it. Surely, personal taste buds play a huge part in determining taste, so maybe this is one of those sushiya where the shari and neta magically worked so well for me that it was pretty much nirvana (whereas plenty of other people seem to think Sushi Ao is overrated). One thing that I did realize after my trip – and as a cheerleader of the Shimizu school I never thought I’d say it – is this: although komezu-based shari is unforgiving and REALLY hard to pull off properly, when it is done well, I think the potential is limitless and exceeds that of aka-shari ~_~


6. Ichiu (Kagurazaka)
• “Tsumami”: 8/10, Nigiri: 7.25/10 [but very difficult to rate properly], CP: 7.5/10
• Price: ¥21,450 for the full course (base course + water + tea + service charge)
• Reservation: Still very easy; all availabilities are shown on Pocket Concierge, which I used to book ~1 month in advance.. Same-week seats are still available though. You can also book through Tableall but I don’t know why you’d do that.

This is a super interesting restaurant that I can’t call a sushiya but rather “sushi kappo.” The taisho, Hamano-san, hails from renowned institutions such as Kikunoi, Ginza Koju, and Sushi Senpachi in Kumamoto. He fuses his experience in kaiseki and sushi to create an original meal that is currently having an identity crisis, but I think that the restaurant can only get better from here, especially once the concept is more firmed up.

Hamano-san is a very friendly chef who speaks far-above-average English which he supposedly learns from YouTube every night. (He is able to explain all the courses and ingredients in English and provide good responses to questions that other people asked, such as “Why is the tea poured [a certain way]” or “Why is the hinoki counter so valuable”) He mentioned that a lot of tourists have been visiting recently, so Ichiu is getting on people’s radars. He also has an eccentric sense of taste, from naming his restaurant “One Universe” to designing it somewhat like an escape room.

Based on what I saw online, the course used to be structured into something like 8 tsumami + 12 nigiri, but that completely changed during my visit. Currently the composition is ~10 tsumami, 6 nigiri, a saba bozushi, gohan (i.e. kaiseki rice dish) and dessert. (Well, to be fair, the course actually started with a welcome drink; on my visit, it had plum and kumquat in it.) As many of you probably know, the “tsumami” here cannot be described as mere appetizers; rather, they are more complex kaiseki-esque dishes! My experience with kaiseki is very limited so I can’t compare it to other restaurants, but on absolute terms I thought that most of the dishes were delightful. Examples of such dishes were the takenoko dumpling/hamaguri/seaweed soup and a simple but heartwarming mejimaguro with onion sauce.

If I were to nitpick, though, some of the sauces/seasonings obscured the flavor of the ingredients, as was the case with a dish of tai doused with ankimo paste and a dish of akagai/hotaru ika with sesame sauce. I believe this is partly done to keep the cost of the course reasonable; at ~¥20,000 and serving just one round of 8 diners per night, you can’t go for extraordinary ingredients so you might have to flavor them with other methods. I also thought some dishes had a little too much going on (e.g. a dish of uni, anago, beancurd skin, Japanese watercress, some broth…), so this was certainly no Ogata where you might eat a single piece of daikon and marvel at its absolute perfection and simplicity. Kyo-kaiseki otakus might be offended by some of the dishes here!

Anyway, Hamano-san ended up serving 10 of these kaiseki-style dishes (which he unfortunately went into the kitchen to prepare so you couldn’t see him work), and it took 90 minutes before a single piece of sushi was served. By that point I was pretty much already full xD. As I mentioned, only 6 pieces of nigiri came out so I’ll just list them: ishigakidai, kanpachi marinated in onion soy sauce, shiro ebi, kuruma ebi, kohada finished with sudachi, and kasugo. All the neta was pre-sliced and taken from plates covered with plastic wraps; with all the kaiseki prep going on, Hamano-san wouldn’t have enough time to slice neta on the spot. The shari was at room temperature (argh) and was a mix of 2 akazu + kurozu (black vinegar); the acidity was moderate and anyone would be able to enjoy it. Thank god he didn’t use his master’s shari or vinegaring techniques because then I would have headed for the exit :D

I actually thought that the sushi was very respectable - clearly the chef had plenty of skill to draw out flavor from the less-than-premium toppings - but 6 pieces including 2 ebi was simply not enough variety and made it clear that the focus was not the sushi ;_; The nigiri was followed by an excellent sabazushi, then a sakura masu gohan which you could ask for refills. I almost expected Hamano-san to fully intersperse kaiseki and sushi in his grand finale by using vinegared rice for the gohan, but obviously I am dumb because that didn’t happen at all (maybe he didn’t want to offend the Kaiseki gods). There was no anago or tamago served, and instead dessert was an excellent coconut pudding and mikan orange.

Well, if this all sounds intriguing, that’s because it is! To be honest, I couldn’t help but feel that the meal was “neither here nor there”, and I’m not even sure if a half-kaiseki / half-sushi meal can ever work well at all. At the same time, I felt that Ichiu has tremendous potential, and I assume Hamano-san’s pedigree/skill would make him an ideal candidate for a Michelin star sometime in the future. It is still early days - clearly the service, shari, and course progression are still being tweaked. While the meal was definitely far from the best, I actually left with a sense of curiosity. People often say trite things like “it’s interesting to see how this restaurant will evolve” but I think that genuinely applies to Ichiu. I shall be back someday.


7. Sushidokoro Takehara (Ebisu)
• Nigiri: 5.5/10, CP: 6.75/10
• Price: ¥10,000 for lunch nigiri course + tea (note: I believe the course price has been increased to ¥12,000 now)
• Reservation: Very easy; you can get same-week or same-day seats. You can book through Instagram DM, which is what I did (they’re able to communicate in English)

This is a restaurant that is associated with a famous Instagrammer who hired a ~25 year old chef. In theory, it is one of those places that looks pretty damn good. From the pictures and reviews, the nigiri shape/formations look good, the shari looks solid, and for me, there is a certain appeal of sushiya where the chef places nigiri directly on the wooden counter. Unfortunately, my experience was pretty underwhelming :-(

The nigiri-only lunch, which was priced at ¥10,000, consisted of 12 sushi + tamago. 5 out of 6 seats were occupied when I went on a Monday and I believe one of the patrons may have been Karashima-san of “Sushi Karashima.” The first piece was hirame kobujime and I was immediately excited when I saw a large and chunky piece of nigiri in front of me, but when I tasted it, the flavor was almost completely flat. The shari was very low in acidity with rather soft grains, and while the first nigiri unraveled nicely in the mouth as you would expect from a place that serves Hashimoto/Tomidokoro-sized sushi, most of what came after was disappointing. Kasugo had no flavor and was completely overwhelmed by both sudachi AND yuzu flakes. By the third piece (sumi ika), the shari had virtually lost all flavor.

Tuna and kohada were objectively pretty good, but the shari was starting to peel away from the neta and the pieces became harder and harder to pick up. The chef slapped the torigai to ensure freshness immediately before consumption, but it broke away from the shari. I get why chefs need to slap the clam but could you at least press the topping onto the shari again after you’ve done that, or try to make sure it doesn’t perform a cartwheel and fly off the rice (P.S. there are plenty of videos of Sugita-san doing this properly)? Darn, I was a bit annoyed!

As the course progressed I found the balance became more and more off and it was like eating large pieces of sashimi rather than sushi, and what shari I managed to chew on tasted like plain rice. Aji was a bit fishy and both kuruma ebi/anago were very good, but once again, it’s hard to call this “sushi” rather than “sashimi.” Tamago was like a cheesecake pudding and distinctive enough. Reasonably high-quality ingredients were used so I thought the value wasn’t the worst, although I have to emphasize that ¥10k is much better spent elsewhere (Ishiyama, Tomidokoro, Kanesho, etc. etc - pick your poison)

Well, I guess the chef was nice, the sushi was picturesque, and there was some English spoken, but this is one of those sushiya that is all “Instagram hype” and lacking substance, so I ain’t coming back!

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Shi 25 days ago

Apr'23 Sushi Reviews Part 1 (Tokiwazushi, Yamada, Kanesho)


Just_Ingest about 2 months ago

Here are some reviews of places I visited for the first time recently. Hope some of you find this useful!


1. Tokiwazushi (Yokohama)
• Nigiri: 7.5/10, CP: 7/10
• Price: ¥20,000 exactly for ~20 pieces of nigiri. There are two standard menus: ¥11,000 for the nigiri lunch course and ¥22,000 for the full course, but prices have gone up by 20% and 10% respectively since April 1.
• Reservation: Very easy; I got mine ~3 weeks in advance from a hotel concierge. If you have an account with a Japanese number, you can book yourself through Omakase (there are plenty of open slots)
• Note: Be sure to read the TTT writeup on this restaurant as well!

Tokiwazushi is a ~5-minute walk from Kannai Station (Yokohama); getting there might take over an hour depending on where you’re staying in Tokyo. The taisho, Yuki Hayashinouchi, trained for several years at the legendary Mizutani and - as many gourmets describe - “inherits Hachiro Mizutani’s DNA,” although my friend told me the student and master aren’t exactly on the best of terms lol. Sushi Mizutani was one of my first high-end experiences; a sense of nostalgia, plus rave reviews from reputable sushi foodies, made me want to visit this restaurant. I went for lunch on a weekday and all 7 seats were occupied (I was the only foreigner there). The counter was a little cramped but no-frills and functional.

I had asked my hotel concierge to pre-order around 20 pieces of nigiri and Hayashinouchi-san was able to accommodate my request. After he sliced some neta at a furious pace, we were off to the races. The first 5 pieces came out in around 5 minutes, and the only thing I could think of was that the “Jiro factory of churning out sushi at light speed” was alive and well. The pace got a bit slower after that, but considering that I ate 20 pieces of nigiri in around 58 minutes with some lengthy odd gaps in the middle, I thought the tempo was irregular and unbalanced.

The shiro-shari here is seasoned with komezu, salt, and sugar. Note that sugar is added not so much to add an element of sweetness, but rather, to adjust the overall sourness as komezu can be a bit too tart by itself. The shari was indeed on the sour side, so fans of the Jiro school will no doubt enjoy it, but I thought it was packed too tightly and lacked air. I would say the shari is less strong than Jiro Honten but more so than Mizukami and Harutaka. Unfortunately, I found the sourness a bit one-dimensional (unlike the honten’s shari) and it became a little tiresome towards the end. Neta-wise, most of them were good; pieces that were processed with classical Edomae techniques, like sayori kobujime; kohada; and shime saba were excellent. The tuna, while not of top quality, balanced impressively with the acidity of the shari, and the fair number of clams served (akagai, hamaguri, and grilled hokkigai) were very good.

Nonetheless, there were also a fair number of forgettable pieces. The lighter-tasting shiromi were overwhelmed by the shari; the anago and tamago (which I consider trademarks of Jiro-style restaurants) were disappointing; and as I mentioned, the “flatness” of the shari left me wanting something else at the end of the meal. Notably, the tamago, which was my favorite piece at Mizutani, leaned more towards the “egg omelette” style rather than Mizutani-san’s “ultra-sweet-castella dessert” style. Finally, ice cream came out at the end which reminded me of sushiya in Singapore (lol). The pieces were on the larger side, although I don’t think the standard 11-piece nigiri course would make you full.

Overall, I’d say the sushi is not really superior to what you can find at Mizukami, but it does come at ~2/3 of the price (¥1,000/piece can be considered fair these days!). I thought the neta and preparations were better than Mizukami’s but the shari was not. Hayashinouchi-san was able to speak some extremely basic English but was otherwise particularly quiet and aloof, offering no greetings at all and refusing to make any sort of eye contact until the end, so the meal had a strange tension in the air. Taking into account both the style of service and the fact that only those with Japanese numbers can reserve via Omakase, I can only conclude that the chef prefers a local clientele.

As far as the Jiro style goes, I thought it was an average restaurant so I probably won’t be back. I wouldn’t recommend Tokiwazushi for non-Japanese speakers / sushi beginners (the tempo is a bit too fast, there is minimal English spoken, and not all the fish names are announced) but it’s worth a try if you’re really curious about it, and/or like traditional sushi with few surprises. Just take note it’s a bit far from Tokyo and prices are going up from April 2023 onwards!


2. Sushidokoro Yamada (Ginza)
• Nigiri: 8.6/10, CP: 8/10
• Price: ¥18,150 for the base 15-piece course (¥15,000 plus tax plus a 10% JPNEAZY fee) and ¥8,800 for 8 add-ons (add-ons are ¥1,000 per piece plus 10% tax)
• Reservation: Easy; I booked ~3 weeks in advance through JPNEAZY. I’m not sure if they accept reservations from other third parties.

Sushidokoro Yamada has been on my radar for a while, but it was impractical to visit as Yamada-san did not accept reservations from foreigners for a number of years. Thankfully, he’s changed his policy recently and anyone can now go :) The restaurant is on the right side of a narrow corridor in a multi-tenant building in Ginza. The interior is adorned with a lot of contraptions - think cranes and decorative figurines - that hang from the ceiling and across the tsukeba so it feels like more of a craftsman’s workshop than a sushi restaurant. The setup was a little strange but casual despite the Ginza location.

Yamada-san looks very scary but he is actually a quirky fellow who is low-key hilarious and a bit of a troll. He wears some sort of headphones (I think they’re called “bone conducting headphones”) from which he can answer customer calls wirelessly while making sushi. He has an iPad next to him and a piece of paper on which he’s continuously scribbling some stuff. Anyway, he does 2 seatings per night (6/6:30PM and 8:30PM++); I came for the latter and there were only 3 people - myself and 2 other foreigners - at the counter. I was a bit worried of communication issues but Yamada-san’s English was surprisingly good and he knew the English names of some of the fish! (Example of his hilarity: he perfectly stated “flounder, squid, tuna” for the first few pieces and then when he served torigai, he said “I don’t know shellfish”)

Only nigiri is served; there is not even gari here. As much as this Yamada has earned a reputation for being a “jukusei sushiya” I think that’s somewhat incomplete if not misleading, and rather, the sushi here is about creating unconventional flavors and a bunch of signature dishes. Specifically, I believe Yamada-san is trying to a) transform unusual, inexpensive ingredients into something special and b) to age some [but not all] of the fish with the goal of amplifying flavor and/or transforming texture. Point a) is particularly appealing to me as I have immense respect for chefs who work with less-than-stellar ingredients, as they have to use skill and finesse to draw out flavors rather than spamming you with tuna and uni. All this is useless without good shari, though, so let me start off by saying that the shari was very solid. I believe Yamada-san mixes several types of akazu and komezu to season his shari; the grains were large, firm, and distinctive, and the acidity was at a comfortable level.

The first piece Yamada-san served was hirame, and it was outstanding from the get-go. I mean, if a place can make you excited about hirame, it’s bound to be pretty good, I think! I won’t go through each and every piece but there were a lot of uncommon neta served, including ebodai (butterfish), masunosuke (king salmon), grilled shiitake mushroom (one of his specialties), bincho maguro (I almost laughed when he said bincho maguro with a completely straight face), and ama-ebi (which was ground into almost a paste as he thinks it tastes better that way). Everything had depth of flavor and was surprisingly very good. I don’t know what he did to the more common neta (aji, sawara etc.) but they were soft and full of clean umami, perhaps from the aging; if you have eaten many of these neta before you will definitely notice that they taste very different here.

Yamada-san also served several clams which were not aged and had mostly traditional flavors (akagai, torigai, hamaguri), all very good. A large scallop with some sort of sake flavor in it was amazing, and a classic kurumaebi was so flavorful and juicy that it would put many other Edomae shops to shame. The tamago was another one of his signature dishes. Nowadays every chef is trying to innovate on tamago but much of it unfortunately comes across as an afterthought to me, yet I thought Yamada-san’s tamago was exceedingly unique. Soft, spongy, and a little sweet, it’s tricky to describe and I have never tasted tamago like that before. When I asked what was in it, Yamada-san said that he mixed scallops and shellfish (rather than the usual shrimp) together.

Even though the shari was not large, I thought the neta/shari ratio was excellent and the flavor profiles were very compelling, so I ordered 8 additional pieces (one of the quirks about this place is that you can’t choose which neta you want; add-ons are still omakase). The add-ons included an incredible hokkigai with pepper, overwhelmingly good aged chutoro, and some of the best uni I’ve tasted. They were all priced at 1,000 yen each so I thought it was good value. I did have several complaints overall: first, because there were only 3 of us at the counter, the tempo was super fast and that was especially the case for the add-ons (8 pieces came out in less than 8 minutes, I think). Second, the temperature control here was not the best, with the rice losing flavor and temperature towards the end - I think only one batch of shari was prepared throughout the course. However, beyond these factors, this was definitely one of the most unique sushi experiences I’ve had, overflowing with creativity, skills, and personality while - importantly - remaining delicious. No kohada, anago, or coffee-flavored kajiki were served, but there was no need for them.

Conclusion: I thought this was a brilliant restaurant where I marked at least half of the pieces as “very good” or “excellent”. Yamada-san is a massive foodie (check out his Instagram) and seems to derive inspiration from other meals so this place pretty much has no limits when it comes to progress. If the smaller touches and pacing were improved, this would easily be a 9/10 or higher meal for me. It isn’t necessarily for beginners, and there are some idiosyncrasies, but I wholeheartedly recommend it to nigiri lovers who have eaten at a fair number of other sushi places. I have no doubt you’ll know exactly why this place is so damn different, and for all the right reasons.


3. Sushi Kanesho (Asakusa)
鮓 かね庄
• Nigiri: 7/10, CP: 9.5/10
• Price: ¥10,800 for 14 nigiri including tamago + rolls + kanpyo roll add-on
• Reservation: Very easy; plenty of slots are available on Ikyu. You can also message them on Instagram (sushi_kaneshou) as they speak English. I booked through Ikyu ~3 weeks in advance. For those looking to use Ikyu, just translate the web page into English and it should be pretty straightforward.

Sushi Kanesho is highly acclaimed by both Saito-san and the sushi writer Hikari Hayakawa. It is one of the restaurants featured in Hayakawa-san’s relatively new book “新時代の江戸前鮨がわかる本 訪れるべき本当の名店”. There is no excuse for sushi lovers not to read this informative book as you can now use Google Translate to point your camera to the text and “read” it in English. Sushi Kanesho’s taisho, Watanabe-san, comes from the long-standing “Sushidokoro Kanpachi” which closed its doors a few years ago. Since starting his own place, a few adjustments have been made: sugar is no longer used in the shari and the maguro has been upgraded, but some of the classics like Kanpachi’s kyuri maki remain to this very day.

Watanabe-san is one of those chefs who looks intimidating in YouTube videos but he is in fact the complete opposite. Boisterous and very friendly, he addresses each guest by name, is keen to joke around, and speaks enough English to get by. Beyond his hearty disposition is a steady persona that I would describe as “authentic.” He aims to keep prices reasonable in today’s sushi bubble, and he does only one seating a night with staggered starts as he wants to ensure that everyone can relax and enjoy sushi to their content. A few guests tried to walk in when I visited, and while he was clearly able to accommodate them if he rushed some of us to finish quickly, he told his disciple to say the counter was full and effectively “closed” for the rest of the evening.

There is an abridged nigiri course that starts at ¥5,800 during lunch, but I went for dinner and ordered the ¥10,000 nigiri course. (There is also a full course with tsumami that goes for ¥18,000+.) After a very refreshing wakame salad, the nigiri course kicked off with a very well-balanced kohada. I thought it was interesting that Watanabe-san didn’t start with white fish and instead something that showcased his skill, which was certainly at a high level. Most of the pieces that came next were good or very good, with the highlights being toro, vinegared kasugo, and aoyagi (I usually hate aoyagi as a bad one can smell like farts but Watanabe-san’s was very good). The nama kinmedai was also as glorious as it could get (some chefs overcomplicate kinmedai by grilling it or pairing it or mustard etc. yet the actual raw product tastes very good so I appreciated Kanesho-san leaving it “as is”). The nigiri was on the larger side and felt like proper Edomae; flavors were clean and on the traditional side. Himo-kyu maki was served at the end and while I am not crazy about cucumbers, I thought the rendition here was excellent and the bright/refreshing flavor profile made me genuinely satisfied.

To be sure, there were some weaker pieces - the uni was not the best (but I can’t ask for anything more at this price point), the kuruma ebi was a little dry, and the sayori had no flavor even with a piece of seaweed stuffed underneath it - but on the whole, I thought the neta was extremely solid when taking into account the price. The shari was very lightly seasoned and was consistently served at room temperature so it left much to be desired, but it was not devoid of flavor and both beginners and sushi maniacs would be able to appreciate it. In fact, the overall approach here - absolutely simple and straightforward, old-school neta topped on a somewhat neutral shari - reminded me of Hashiguchi, but at less than 1/3 of the price (lol). The course ended with classic kurakake tamago and I added on a pretty decent Kanpyo maki; the taisho also joked with everyone at the end, asking us if we wanted tekka don or ramen in case we weren’t full.

There is nothing fancy about Sushi Kanesho but the ease of reservations, extreme value in today’s day and age, very comfortable atmosphere, and classic old-school sushi are all right up my alley. The lack of annoying camera-bearing influencers and fad chasers is also appealing. You may call me crazy but I still think this is better than several places that I consider “the whatevers of the sushi world” like Tsubomi and Kiyota. The quality was about right for the price and while Sushi Kanesho is not on the top of my list to return, I wouldn’t mind coming back at all. In fact, if I lived in Tokyo I could see myself returning several times to satisfy my sushi cravings without blowing a dent in my wallet!

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guest about 1 month ago


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Wanderlusting 2 months ago

Kawdowaki has all the accolades, 3 michelin star, Tabelog Bronze, 4 of us in a private room, had the crab course. While the crab was nice, we thought it was overpriced at 20k+ yen extra pp. The tempura was average, the shabu hamaguri was good and the truffle rice definitely lives up to the hype. The dessert finale was amazing and I dont usually like dessert. I think overall the meal was delicious but a little overpriced, there was inconsistencies with the different course and I think Tabelog bronze or even silver is an accurate. Not sure about the 3 stars. I would definitely go again and maybe try the Uni caviar somen and sit on the counter. The ease of booking is a major plus.

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thetokyogourmet 2 months ago

Review of Kiyota (Nov2022 Visit)


Just_Ingest 7 months ago

Kiyota (not Hanare)
Sashimi: 8/10, Nigiri: 6.5/10, CP: 4/10

Alongside Jiro and Sawada, Kiyota is one of Ginza’s legendary sushi temples. Its decorated ~60 year history began with the first-generation chef Shigezo Fujimoto, who was said to be one of the most skilled chefs of his time. (He was also the master of the chef Kikuo Shimizu who authored the informative book “Edomae Sushi”, available in English.) The second generation chef, Niizu Takeaki, was also reportedly very skilled and particular about tuna; the third generation chef, Masashi Kimura, has been described on TTT by Saito-san as one of the leading sushi chefs in Japan, and he helms the notoriously expensive Kiyota Hanare. The fourth generation chef is Norihiko Yoshizawa, and it is he who stands behind the counter at the main shop today.

The space inside the restaurant is evidently luxurious. Like Namba Hibiya, the floors are carpeted and evoke a posh feel. The perfectly smooth hinoki counter is suave and maybe a bit too bright, thanks to a row of seven penetrating lightbulbs that dangle right above. A shelf towards the left of the counter holds numerous cups and glasses, some of which have the characters “きよ田” ingrained onto them, so I imagine they are custom-made. Behind the counter, a long and well-lit shoji screen, plus sinks with golden faucets, also add to the sense of opulence. The entire space is completely isolated from the outside world; I felt like I was in a secret underground bunker.

Kiyota used to be one of the most expensive sushi restaurants in Japan, but today this is no longer the case. I went for dinner and ordered a “nigiri-centered course” that was quoted at ¥~38,500. Granted, there is a ~¥55k menu, but then again top sushi-ya like Hatsune, Tenzushi, and maybe even Sugita are charging close to or more than that amount. While Kiyota used to be introduction-only and a favorite gathering spot of socialites, individuals with boundless corporate expense accounts, and perhaps sketchy characters (these categories are not mutually exclusive btw), today it seems to have fallen out of favor, with people gravitating towards trendier and more modern restaurants. As such, it’s very easy to get seats at here; there are plenty of empty slots on Omakase.

My meal actually started off on a high note, with several courses of sashimi. Tai and hirame kobujime were very good, with strong depth of flavor for white fish. Ikura was lightly marinated in soy sauce (every other place I went to served it raw as it’s in season) and was soft, custardy, and well-balanced. Awabi sashimi was soft and oceanic. A sashimi “trio” of shimofuri, akami, and kohada was then presented all at once. To go on a bit of a tangent here: “Harakami” is the belly part of the tuna near the head; it is further divided into categories like “harakami-ichiban” which is closest to the head, followed by harakami-niban and harakami-sanban which are further away from the head. Apparently the cut closest to the head (harakami-ichiban) is the most prized, and fetches ridiculous prices to the tune of ¥50,000-100,000+ per kg. Well, I’m sure you know Kiyota is known for sourcing some of the highest-quality tuna in the nation, and makes extensive use of “harakami-ichiban." The price of the meal reflects this.

The tuna here lived up to my expectations: the toro was the smoothest and most buttery that I have ever tasted, melting in the mouth and leaving plenty of fatty notes on the tongue. The akami was less compelling (I prefer versions that have more blood and iron flavor) but was still pretty good. Kohada sashimi was pure and well balanced. The final appetizer dish was a grilled slab of ootoro, charred to near perfection and dissolving in the mouth like butter once again. Overall, I thought the sashimi was a simple yet formidable degustation of the ingredient quality, and I was very pleased.

Unfortunately, nigiri is where the course started going downhill for me. There were three main reasons as to why. First, the shari was very purist, lacking salinity and virtually any acidity. While the neutrality of the shari made it synergize with all sorts of toppings, I can’t say I enjoyed the seasoning; it reminded me of the shari at Kanesaka / Saito-style sushiyas like Tsubomi that I considered a bit too plain.

Second, I found some of the pieces to be unbalanced in completion. Yoshizawa-san uses hontegaeshi to form nigiri, which is a cool technique that I see less and less in the modern day. I’m not sure if it’s because of that, but the resulting sushi takes on a long, submarine/torpedo-like shape where the fish wraps all around the rice, and the rice is more rectangular than circular. (This is similar to the shape of sushi at Sawada. The polar opposite of this would be the shape of sushi at, say, Tomidokoro, where the rice is more oval and bulbous.) Anyway, I don’t like the way this “long” nigiri breaks apart in the mouth, and also there were some pieces where the shari disappeared within like 0.5 seconds of chewing. If I were to guess, I don’t think Yoshizawa-san has had enough experience forming nigiri, as the proportioning was very inconsistent. It didn’t help that the size of the sushi here was probably the smallest that I’ve had at any sushi restaurant in Japan (petite-size sushi is not to my personal taste) :(

Third, besides the tuna, I thought the neta here was mostly pedestrian. Four ingredients from the sashimi course were repeated in the nigiri sequence as well, and I must say they worked better as sashimi (not a good sign, lol). Throughout the course, we were also served several small maki including uni maki, kobashira maki, and akami/toro maki; none of these stood out. The silver fish was very basic, and the other neta used were very conservatively prepped, again reminding me of Saito-style sushiya where the fish is minimally aged. I was incredibly excited to try the anago with kinome leaf, which is the piece of sushi that reportedly made Yuji Matsuo of “Sushidokoro Tsukuta” want to become a sushi chef (and he actually ended up training at Kiyota!!). Yet it was a letdown, with a fascinating crispy texture but flat flavor reminiscent of grilled codfish. Maybe the best items served during my dinner were tuna, kappa maki, and kanpyo maki, which was disappointing to say the least.

Don’t get me wrong, I perfectly enjoy ultra-simple and purist sushi e.g. at Hashiguchi and Chikamatsu, but I felt that while Kiyota tried to emulate a similar philosophy, the execution was just not great.

The service was polite and efficient, although there were some mix-ups during the meal. The main sous chef, who sliced some of the sashimi, erroneously seasoned some of the akami sashimi with soy sauce, which Yoshizawa-san pointed out (but strangely, he also did not replace those pieces). The sous chef also cut the kohada in some incorrect manner, which Yoshizawa-san also noticed; the result was a few pieces of kohada were wastefully thrown into the trash bin. And a few times Yoshizawa-san asked for some stuff from the kitchen but was met with no response, so he had to yell a few times or go in there himself to sort things out. The overall coordination between the team was not the best (if you want a real and proper show, go to Sakai in Fukuoka or a Sho-style restaurant). Thankfully, everyone was nice and there was some English spoken. I had expected the ambiance to be uptight, but it was actually quite pleasant.

Overall, I’m sorry if I’m offending millionaires, actors and actresses, tuna savants, corporate executives, the Japanese underworld, and lord knows who else; but I can’t seriously recommend Kiyota to any real sushi foodie. I found the sushi here to be more cosmetic and glitzy than anything, and I do not believe it would satisfy a diehard foodie, especially if you enjoy more traditional preparations and value items like kohada, kanpyo, hamaguri, anago, and tamago. I feel like while it might have been a very popular place in the 80's or 90's, Kiyota has had its day in the sun. For the same price, and for those looking for top-class tuna / premium ingredients, I’d recommend Inomata over Kiyota in a heartbeat.

Endnote: During my sushi trip I went to a number of konbini, purchasing and devouring a few pieces of salted tori karaage each time. I have to say all the chicken was really good. As I left Kiyota and walked into the Ginza night, I thought to myself, surely tori karaage is more filling and satisfying than what I just ate. . . ~_~


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thetokyogourmet 5 months ago

Review of Iwasawa (Nov2022 Visit)


Just_Ingest 7 months ago

Fudomae Sushi Iwasawa
不動前 すし 岩澤
Nigiri: 6.25/10 Tsumami: 7.5/10 CP: 6/10

Correct me if I’m wrong, but recently I’ve been getting the impression that Sho-style restaurants (except maybe the honten) have fallen out of favor. A few years ago there were new openings left and right - see the TTT article on “The Sushi Sho Mafia Sweeping Over Tokyo” - but nowadays it’s up-and-coming disciples from famous places that are absorbing all the attention. Also, when it comes to Sho-style restaurants, it seems increasingly difficult to evaluate what makes one different from another. They are all practicing the main elements of Keiji Nakazawa’s style (random flow of tsumami/nigiri; different types of rice for different types of neta etc.), but it may be hard to pinpoint what makes them stand out from each other, resulting in a lack of originality. This is mostly what I felt at Iwasawa.

The sushi-ya is a ~10 minute walk from Gotanda Station. It is located on the street level of a building near the road and is very easy to find. On the day of my meal, the 9-seat counter was occupied by at least 5 foreigners (including us) and a few Japanese men who were able to speak foreign languages. As you may know, Iwasawa-san hails from Sushi Sho Saito and is able to speak English and Chinese well. A tall and steady figure, he provides warm hospitality and introduces all the fish names in English, making this a charming experience for sushi newbies and foreigners. There is certainly a lack of “local ambiance” here as you do not hear tons of Japanese spoken at the counter. I do not mind this - I place foremost emphasis on the food, but unfortunately I was not very impressed :(

In total there were around 10 tsumami, 3 pickled vegetable “courses”, and 10 pieces of nigiri. Most of what was served was very small and bite-sized compared to other places I visited. For instance, the two aji rolls (tsumami) were so tiny that both of them would equal the size of one roll served at, say, Hashimoto! The tsumami could really be described as “tiny snacks” rather than “appetizers” (for comparison, the portions were much smaller than at Takumi Shingo). Overall, the tsumami was pretty good, with highlights being the ika somen and grilled mehikari. Flavor profiles were clean and not heavy at all, although nothing really stood out as being extraordinary.

Nigiri was interspersed throughout the course, and shiro or aka shari was used depending on the neta, as is the case at Sho-style restaurants. The nigiri here was like delicate glasswork, so beautiful and shiny that they almost looked too pretty to eat. While the nigiri was not bad, several issues I had were:

- Both kinds of shari, especially the shiro shari, were extremely mildly seasoned, to the point that I could taste almost no vinegar in the rice.

- The sushi was really quite small. In Singapore, we frequently have people coming into sushi restaurants requesting small rice or (god forbid) no rice at all. Iwasawa-san’s sushi reminded me of some of those Singapore style nigiri. The nigiri still spread apart nicely in the mouth, although I prefer bigger sushi, especially when I’m in Japan.

- Iwasawa-san barely brushed shoyu onto each piece - it was literally maybe one light tap of the brush on each fish. While this allowed the natural flavors of the neta to shine through, the bland shari did not help at all, making for a balance that seemed almost too clean, too pristine.

While there were some very good pieces (kohada, ankimo narazuke, kuromutsu skin), many of them also did not leave a lasting impression. Vocabulary I would use to describe the sushi would include “kirei,” “kawaii,” “chiisai,” “petite,” effeminate even (think Kanesaka/Ichiyanagi style sushi) and while I’m sure some people like this, I have a feeling hardcore sushi eaters would not enjoy it so much. And back to what I mentioned at the start: I felt that while Iwasawa-san was able to produce sushi that came straight out of a textbook - they would get straight A’s in terms of appearance and proportioning - his food also lacked personality. He did introduce a selection of items you could add on - including a dashi-marinated kuruma ebi, kuromutsu skin which would be grilled and made into nigiri, and plum (ume) nigiri - and these were more unique. I only wish they were included in the main course so that the meal would be more interesting. Instead, Iwasawa-san’s selection of nigiri neta was very “safe” (ika, kohada, tuna, etc.) and although I did get the infamous ankimo narazuke, I didn’t get any other Sho-style originals like kinmedai grilled with its skin or the “ohagi” toro taku nigiri. In general, the impact of his nigiri was restrained, muted, and extremely clean tasting. It comes down to preferences, but surely I prefer more old-school and more intense Edomae preparations.

The price came up to ¥25,500 per person including 2-3 add ons; I would not consider this to be great value. I would still rank the food above Sushi Sho Masa although definitely below Takumi Shingo. I do buy some foodies’ criticisms that it is difficult to focus on the nigiri here given there are so many tsumami thrown in between, although I was fully expecting this from the start. Overall, I’d say Iwasawa is a perfectly decent Sho-style restaurant, with a cozy ambiance and good hospitality. It’s just that if you asked me to recall, in a year’s time, some interesting/idiosyncratic properties about this place, I doubt I’ll be able to share that much. . .

1. I don’t drink, which may have contributed to my reduced enjoyment at this place (and Sho-style restaurants in general). I think I'm going to take an extended break from Sho places now . . .
2. Compared to other Sho-style places, Iwasawa-san seems to do a few things differently. First, there is a clearly-defined course that everyone gets - that is to say, although nigiri and tsumami are interspersed, all diners get the same stuff in the same order. This was not the case when I went to Shingo, where every group got a different flow of items, i.e. our 3rd nigiri might be their 10th. It was still immensely interesting to watch the well-coordinated nature of the chefs here. Second, Iwasawa-san served all the sushi with shiro shari before moving onto all the sushi with aka shari. This was not the case when I went to both Shingo and Sho Masa (they switched back and forth between the rice numerous times).

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Shi 7 months ago

Review of Sushi Mizukami (Nov2022 Visit)


Just_Ingest 7 months ago

Sushi Mizukami
鮨 みずかみ
Nigiri: 7.9/10 CP: 5/10

Mizukami-san trained at Jiro Roppongi for 15 years before starting his own restaurant in 2018. The interior is warm, stylish, and mainly illuminated by white colors and tones of light wood. The counter seats merely eight, with Mizukami-san serving four diners and a sous chef serving another four (more on this later; suffice to say we breathed a sigh of relief when we were seated in front of Mizukami-san!). Mizukami-san began conversing in perfect English; “what would you like to drink?” “Please place your mask on the area underneath the counter; do you see it?” Well, surely because Jiro Roppongi entertained a lot of foreign visitors, Mizukami-san must have developed excellent customer service and linguistic skills besides just sushi techniques :)

For our dinner, we ordered the nigiri-only course, consisting of ~20 pieces of sushi. Perfect, I thought - a sushi fest with no appetizers, just the way I like it. The meal commenced with what I like to call the “mostly predictable set of 7 starting nigiri served at Jiro-school restaurants”: white fish, squid, another white fish, akami, chutoro, ootoro, and kohada. What immediately jumped out to me was the shari, which was seasoned with rice vinegar. Although it was assertive, with Mizukami-san commenting it was "more sour than at many other places," it was much less sour than the shari at Jiro Honten. (Also, when comparing to Harutaka, I’d say Harutaka-san’s shari is saltier but Mizukami-san’s is more sour). While the shari mostly overpowered the white fish, it turned out to be fantastic overall with all of the other neta - tart yet refreshing! The tuna was of high quality; the akami was not marinated but had sour and minerally flavors, as did the chutoro and ootoro. The sour/sour combo of tuna and his Jiro-influenced shari seems odd but I found it particularly divine, with wonderful balance. The kohada was decent although nothing to write home about. Overall, a pretty strong start!

Then came a lightly-grilled hokkigai; aji (served with no condiments and minimal sujime); kuruma ebi; ikura; sanma; uni; and saba. For some of the pieces, Mizukami-said, “please be careful with this, it is very delicate,” and I was thinking damn, this guy’s English is GOOD. But the more important thing was that his sushi was also GOOD. The kuruma ebi was the standout of the night - “this was just cooked, it’s still warm,” Mizukami-san said, as he sliced it into half, even for all the gents. The prawn was cooked just the right amount, retaining a soft crunch, and the miso sandwiched underneath the head made for a fantastically savory bite. Meanwhile, the hikarimono were all executed well, although not as perfectly as some of the more old-school places, and the nori he used for his gunkanmaki was immaculately crispy (I still don’t get why so many other places serve soggy nori). All throughout, the rice remained noticeable in the background, sour but never overpowering, maintaining its nice hard texture through the night. I think this rice is much less oppressive than Jiro Honten’s rice, reflecting a more modern, middle-of-the-road approach that should appeal to the younger generation of diners while still adhering to the spirit of Jiro-style flavors.

Hamaguri with tsume sauce signaled the near-conclusion of the course, and it was followed by smoked katsuo, toro taku rolls (I don’t know why he serves this as I thought some hardcore Jiro-school chefs like Mizutani-san would throw you out if you asked for negi toro rolls or something), and anago. The tsume was very well done as it had the distinct aroma of sake built into it, and it made the toppings more complex. I added on an akami, shako, and kanpyo maki; the former two were splendid, but sadly his kanpyo was completely overwhelmed by the shari. The meal finally ended with tamago. I love the sweet Jiro-style yam/shiba-ebi based tamago, and Mizukami-san's was pretty good although inferior to Harutaka's and the Honten's.

On the whole, if I were to nitpick, some of Mizukami-san’s fish was served a bit too cold, and there was nothing that really made me jump out of my seat except the kuruma ebi. On the other hand, every single piece of sushi I had was at least decent or good (there were no bad pieces), with the meal being very well-balanced from start to finish. The variety of ingredients served, including ones that required skill to prepare well, was also compelling. Finally, the size of the sushi was above average - definitely not as large as Jiro Honten or Harutaka. I found it about right and was comfortably full at the end.

Mizukami-san is not super in-your-face friendly but he does make the effort to ask where you’re from and how you heard about his restaurant. Otherwise, he was quite immersed in his work, and did not chat much even with the two other Japanese diners he served. ***At this point I’d like to mention again that there is a sous chef who serves four guests at the counter, and he shapes nigiri for them as well! More intriguing yet, this chef was talking heartily to the four customers, who in turn pretty much ignored Mizukami-san himself. I have no idea who this chef is and what his relationship to Mizukami-san is, but I know some chefs are sticklers about making ALL the nigiri for ALL of the customers at the counter, especially if the sushi restaurant bears their name. And by virtue of the sous chef being so boisterous, it did not really feel like Mizukami-san was in command. Hmm, this was a strange dynamic I haven’t seen at any other place. ***The much more important implication of this, of course, is that if you’re planning to visit here, you may wish to request Mizukami-san (although I don’t know if it’s possible). It is, after all, “Sushi Mizukami,” not “Sushi Mizukami where Mizukami-san only makes nigiri for half the counter" . . .

The bill came up to ¥29,500 per person. This was hardly ideal, and I non-jokingly joke that Jiro-style restaurants always find ways to overcharge people, although to be fair 1) I felt that Mizukami-san’s neta quality was pretty good and 2) The sushi was better than what I had at some other places at the same price level. I had an enjoyable time here, and I give high marks for the shari. For sure I’d recommend a visit!

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guest 7 months ago

October Dinner at Azabu Muroi(麻布室井)

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Leo Saito 7 months ago

After training at "Ishikawa" in Kagurazaka, Mr. Muroi, who also worked as the second chef at "Kimoto" for a long time, opened what is now the trendiest restaurant.
I had heard for a long time about Muroi-san's good sense as a sushi chef, so I visited the restaurant with high expectations, but the food was not very good...
The only thing that tasted good was the rice cooked over a wood fire at the end of the meal.
His overly confident attitude was also a negative point. I felt he should polish his culinary skills more and more before he becomes unduly arrogant without reason.
It seems that reservations are already difficult, but personally, I will not be going back for a while.

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Leo Saito 7 months ago

Review of Shinbashi Tsuruhachi (Nov2022 Visit)


Just_Ingest 7 months ago

Shinbashi Tsuruhachi
Food: 7.5/10 CP: 7/10

I have wanted to visit this sushi-ya ever since I read Shuto Saito’s TTT article featuring it. Thanks to the help of my friend, I was finally able to go!

The restaurant is located on the 2F of an unglamorous building in Shinbashi. You have to navigate through alleys of massage parlors before you finally reach the entrance. To be frank, in terms of location this was my least favorite sushi place. Thankfully, once you pass through the noren you can forget about the exterior for a while (although there is no restroom inside the sushi-ya, so if you need to do your business, you need to go back into the mall and pass those massage parlors again, RIP)

The taisho is Igarashi-san, and his background has been covered in the TTT article I mentioned. After a quick welcome, we sat down at the compact counter and started off with three courses of sashimi: karei, shako, and mirugai. The 3 slices of karei were humongous (foreshadowing the size of the nigiri); the shako was very good; the mirugai was a bit whatever. Clean flavors shone throughout.

Then we had 14 pieces of large nigiri. My thoughts on the main features of the nigiri:

1) When I say they were large, I mean they were really large. The toppings were ginormously thick-cut, and the shari was seriously sizable. I found the size of the overall nigiri to be a mixed bag: some of the pieces were difficult to put in the mouth and chew (e.g. katsuo, anago were overwhelmingly large), but the slightly smaller/more balanced ones were comfortably wholesome.

2) For its reputation as an “old-school” place and naturally inviting comparisons to the “Shimizu/old school aka shari” style restaurants, the shari was weaker than I expected it to be. It was a combo of somewhat sour and salty but not overwhelming in any way (it was nowhere as strong as the shari at, say, Shimizu). It worked well with most of the neta, and it was not punishing on the palate, so I felt I could eat many pieces without getting fatigued. My only gripe was that it got stickier throughout the night, and it was not as warm as I would have liked, so the texture and temperature were less than perfect.

3) Most notable to me was that the nigiri was NOT brushed with nikiri shoyu. I’ve never encountered this at another high-end sushi place before! Instead, you have to dip the pieces in soy sauce yourself, and the shoyu provided was NOT nikiri shoyu (i.e. not sweetened with sake/mirin). Or you can go really old-school and eat the sushi with no shoyu at all. Certainly Igarashi-san did excellent work with less than top-of-the-line ingredients, so the "unseasoned" nigiri was good, but at the same time I feel that not using nikiri-shoyu prevented the sushi from reaching great heights. (I did not like the shoyu he gave, which reminded me of a generic supermarket product. Oops)

We ended with the infamous Tsuruhachi tuna futomaki and half a kanpyo maki. Usually I can eat a decent amount of kanpyo but I was too full here - be prepared to consume a serious amount of rice at Tsuruhachi, lol. Highlights of the meal were a monstrously fatty iwashi; hamaguri with enticing tsume sauce; and the maguro futomaki (some people may look at this and call it one-dimensional but I thought it was really delicious). However, if I’m being honest there were also a number of particularly average pieces, including akagai, ikura, and uni. And as I mentioned, it didn’t help that I did not enjoy the soy sauce here.

When it came to preparations, from slicing the toppings to shaping the sushi, Igarashi-san was a one-man show. He would also pop into his kitchen from time-to-time to do on-the-spot grilling of several neta. His movements were brisk and dexterous, and he operated quickly and efficiently without being flustered, maintaining a good tempo throughout the meal. He is obviously a very skilled sushi master and it was a pleasure to watch him work.

On the flipside, precisely because he’s a one man show, apparently he sometimes works so much that he ends up spending the night at his shop. I wonder why some sushi masters do not hire apprentices. Besides the obviously brutal nature of the work, could it be that many young trainees prefer to flock to more “sexy” places like Saito, Sugita, Namba, which are more than well-staffed? I also grimly wonder that, if that were the case, would truly old-school sushi restaurants like Tsuruhachi disappear eventually? Would they be replaced by a modernist sushi ecosystem where okonomi is unheard of; where ¥‎35,000+ meals are the norm; where chefs fight to the death for the most expensive ingredients; where classic items that require technical skill (e.g. hamaguri) fall out of favor; where reservation books are perennially filled by champagne-chugging socialites? Some of these things are happening already, and I shudder at the thought.

The bill came to ~¥‎18,000 per person. This was slightly less than what I paid at Sushi Take earlier in the day for a similarly generous quantity of food, so it was a good-value meal. My impression of Shinbashi Tsuruhachi is that if I lived near the area and could speak Japanese, I could see myself coming here with relative frequency to order 8-10 nigiri per meal. But as it turns out, I don’t live in Japan, the entry barrier for non-Japanese speakers is high, and the sushi did not blow my mind, so my sushi journey continues!

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Shi 7 months ago

October Lunch at Sushi Arai

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Leo Saito 7 months ago

Nigiri: Hirame(flounder), Shimaaji(striped jack), Sumiika(black squid), Aji(horse mackerel), Buri(yellowtail), Ara(saw-edged perch), Iwashi(sardine), Saba(mackerel), Akami, Chutoro, Otoro, Hokki(Sakhalin surf clam), Ikura, Ebi(shrimp), Uni(sea urchin), Anago(conger eel), Tamago
It was my first visit in half a year.
The neta was large, the shari was a little larger, and the acidity of the red vinegar was a little stronger.
Hmmm, not very tasty this time. I would rate the sushi at A- or even B+ level with this taste. And my impression is that the portion was too large for lunch.
Maybe my tastes have changed …
Recently I don't really like sushi with large pieces of fish …

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Leo Saito 7 months ago