A visit to 'Takaoka' ～A Thousand Miles～
They say that all the sushi lovers have at least three restaurants of their liking (referred to as ‘Kakemochi 3-ken’ in Japanese).
The first on their list is a place of comfort, where you are familiar with its craft.
The second is a place of excitement, where you look forward to the next visit every time.
The third on their list is a place run by an up-and-coming sushi chef that you feel you want to support.
For the sake of simplicity, lets state the definition of ‘young’ as below the age of 36.
Junya Kudo of ‘Sushi Ikko’, Masamichi Amamoto of ‘Higashi-Azabu Amamoto’, Yuichi Arai of ‘Sushi Arai’, Katsumi Ichikawa of ‘Sushi Ichikawa’, Rei Masuda of ‘Masuda’, Ryujiro Nakamura of ‘Umi’, Takao Ishiyama of ‘Sushiya’, Hiroyuki Hashimoto of ‘Sushi Hashimoto’, Fumie Takeuchi of ‘Sushitake’, Jun Takahashi of ‘Sushi Takahashi’, Kazuki Kurosaki of ‘Kurosaki’, Yutaka Aizawa of ‘Sushi Otowa’, Yuta Kono of ‘Sushi Rinda’ and Yoshiki Hatano of ‘Sushi-shokunin Hatano Yoshiki’…
As a sushi ‘geek’, I have visited all the recommended shops myself, run by dashing young sushi chefs, savoring each of their craft.
Thus far, there are three chefs that I would like to personally recommend.
I have already mentioned two of the three in the list above.
Who may be the remaining one?
I personally feel that I do not want to make this name public at this time, but my last visit to this restaurant made me certain that this man is the ‘real deal’, so I have decided to lift my heavy pen and share about my findings to you.
The name of the man who has captured my heart, is Chiharu Takaoka, owner of ‘Takaoka’ located in Chiba prefecture.
There is a Youtube clip titled ‘Truly delicious sushi by Hikaru Hayakawa’ which features this shop, so you should definitely check it out.
I would deliver my passionate commentary based on the following five aspects; health, sincerity, philosophy, rigor and passion.
As the saying goes “A sound mind in a sound body”, anyone who is a professional should prioritize in looking after his or her health.
This goes for a professional in the culinary business as well, and more so for sushi chefs who works face-to-face with customers.
Of course, Takaoka stands as a lead example in this aspect.
At the kitchen, he does not give out a single cough, not to mention how he sleeps over at his shop, waking at 5 in the morning every single day to travel to Tsukiji from Chiba, preparing the best ingredients for the day, all by himself.
The height of his level of professionalism can be inferred from such story.
His snow-white uniform does not have the slightest of a crinkle, and the hostess is dressed very neatly.
The shop itself is kept perfectly organized and clean.
The Wajima lacquered panels on the wall and the spotless white-wood counter table glistens, reflecting the lighting.
While at work, he constantly cleanses the towels, cleaning the cutting boards and knives with care, while also making sure to wipe off the moist produced from the fishes and clams using disposable paper towels.
I actually don’t like it when some chefs use linen towels to do this, so his use of disposable paper towels gives me a sense of delight.
As a result, a cumulative sense of trust is built, and one can whole-heartedly lend his self over to the service.
Takaoka is always sincere with his craft.
You can probably even tell it from the Youtube clip, but I recognized this trait of his at the moment of my second visit.
He remembers every customer very well.
What the customer ordered for drinks, the topic of the conversation, and specifically what type of liking he or she had…all stored and organized on his head, no matter who the customer may be.
The lady who sat next to me looked very surprised and impressed when she found out that Takaoka remembered her.
Such skill can only be carried out by those who are truly sincere with their work.
The Nigiri and Otsumami served here tell a lot of Takaoka’s philosophy.
Unlike many dishes served by young chefs, it does not come in the typical ‘up-and-coming’ style.
Tako (Octopus), Katsuo (Bonito), Saba (Mackerel bar-sushi), Kinmedai (Red snapper), Maguro (Tuna), Kohada (Gizzard shad), Hamaguri (Clams), Kuruma-ebi (Kuruma-shrimp), Anago (Sea eel), Kanpyo-maki (Kanpyo-rolls)…
You can savor the original and natural flavor of the ingredients with each and every one of his servings.
This is only made possible with the Shari (Vinegar seasoned rice).
The temperature of the Shari is kept at the perfect level, accentuating the flavor of each sushi ingredient.
You can compare this to the use of perfume; when sprinkled on a piece of paper, the scent is flat, but when its sprayed on the female skin, the body temperature gives the scent more depth and color, permeating the surrounding air.
The same goes for sushi, where the Shari kept at the optimum temperature helps accentuate the flavor of the fish, when joined together.
The flavor is not too strong, but softly approaches every time you chew into the sushi.
It’s the type of flavor that brings a gentle smile to your face, rather than making you jump out of your seat and shout out loud.
By the time you step out of the shop, you’ll be filled with an unexplainable sensation of joy.
By the way, Takaoka cites ‘Hashiguchi’ as his favorite sushi restaurant .
The sushi of Takaoka is not expected to be similar in type to that of ’Hashiguchi’, but if you like sushi, let's assert positively that it is worth experiencing the sushi of Takaoka once.
In my opinion, Takaoka is a very stubborn man.
The manner of his talk and the atmosphere he creates is very gentle, yet parts of his words tell how he has a very strong will and philosophy behind his craft.
Like his sushi, he delivers each word very carefully even when conversing with the customer, where he emphasizes his way of thinking every step of the way.
Of course, if you’re not stubborn and rigorous about your craft, you would never be able to open such an elegant and successful shop in Chiba.
Or limit the capacity of your shop to 6 seats.
Or rent an entire rice field just for your shop.
Or specifically use the water only from the spring adjacent to the rice field.
Or only use the best quality ingredients.
Or use only Bincho-coal when broiling mackerel.
The series of such specific detail is the very ‘reason’ I recommend this place so much to others.
Unlike many other restaurants run by fresh young chefs, ‘Takaoka’ is actually built on a solid principle and long-term vision.
I am always impressed of how he tries hard to realize his ideal self.
This is exactly why I would travel all the way to Chiba from Tokyo; to witness this man’s quest to achieve his goal.
The last and the foremost reason why people are attracted to Takaoka is his passion.
His passion exceeds all other.
For example, say you ask him about the specific ingredient he used for the day.
Takaoka would always answer you with every specific detail of the history of the ingredient.
He talks about it so happily that makes you happy as well, where his passion transcends to you through his talk.
He also always talks positively about the fish brokers he deals with.
I’ve heard him mention the word ‘fish brokers’ at least 13 times when he was asked about where he purchases the ingredients.
His respect for the fish brokers as a professional and his passion for the art of sushi is the reason why he is able to purchase the best ingredients in the market.
As a seeker of the way of sushi, he has visited at least 400 other sushi shops in the country.
His brain is packed with the knowledge of sushi, almost like a digital database.
If you’re a sushi lover, you’ve found your soul mate.
The best of all is how he is still aspiring to improve.
Even when the customers complement him of his great work, he would always reply ‘There are so many young talented chefs out there. They stimulate and influence me in every way. I am still learning.’
You can tell that he would continually be reaching a higher level in the future.
When exiting the restaurant, Takaoka would give you a refreshing smile that would almost make you blush.
His character makes me want to travel again to his shop.
I took out my iPhone and while reminiscing about the wonderful time I spent at Takaoka, I joyfully sang the tune, “A Thousand Miles’ by Vanessa Carlton.
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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