Shuto Saito's Tokyo Sushi Adventure vol.2 ～A visit to 'Sushi Sho Saito' ~a winner of the Clone Wars~
A week ago in Akasaka far, far away...
DA-DA-DA Duuh Duuh, DA-DA-DA Duuh DA, DA-DA-DA Duuh DA, DA-DA-DA Duuh
'Sushi Sho Saito' ~a winner of the Clone Wars~
The 'Sushi Sho' style was imitated!
After having established a style of serving sushi and otsumami (appetizers) alternately, Keiji Nakazawa’s 'Sushi Sho' Army has grabbed a majority of sushi lovers’ heart at an incredible speed and succeeded in sweeping over the sushi world.
Sushi chefs at other sushi restaurants lost their men as well as their guests.
Following that, many sushi restaurants adopted the 'Sushi Sho' style.
These sushi chefs did nothing but investing their time to develop new types of otsumami.
There were only few people left who were trying to compete on their sushi.
With increasing numbers of vicious drinkers as well as long-stay guests, sushi restaurants transformed into a lawless zone.
Real sushi lovers became victimized.
Tokyo Calendar, issue Jan/2017, a gourmet information magazine popular among food lovers, made a special feature entitled ‘Fun is the trend; a new era of how to enjoy authentic Sushi.’
Shoku-raku, a popular magazine that introduces culinary art and alcoholic drinks all over Japan, asked Hikari Hayakawa known as the professional “sushi lover”, for an interview but he was cautious to answer…
On the November 5th, a severe shock hit the sushi world.
Hikari Hayakawa has made an announcement in Shoku-raku, issue Dec/2016.
“Nowadays, very few restaurants are competing on their sushi and most of them serves otsumami with sake alongside serving sushi. But as long as they are sushi restaurant, they should principally serve sushi. When you think about that, I cannot personally like a serving style which sushi and otsumami are served consecutively. Eating otsumami makes you drink more alcohol between servings, which numb your sense of taste, therefore you cannot fully enjoy the taste of sushi. Ideally, a serving style at Sushi Watanabe would be better. They serve sushi only after helping certain pieces of otsumami, so that you can enjoy sushi properly.”
These words, which were stated by a man who has established his position as a trend spotter in the sushi world, have shaken up many sushi restaurants that serve their customer with 'Sushi Sho' style.
And I am also flinched deeply by that.
“What should I do, well, I’m now heading for 'Sushi Sho Saito', where sushi and otsumami are served alternately….”
I went up to the second floor of some building in Akasaka.
Opening a sliver-black sliding door, Padmé Amidala (the heroine of the movie 'Star Wars’) welcomed me.
Oh, no no!
A charming female wait staff answered the door and escorted me inside.
Even part-time wait staffs were very well educated and the service was excellent.
Taking off my shoes and walking into a room with Ryu-kyu tatami mat, all the Jedis sang out loud; “Irasshai mase (Welcome)!”
Their voices with uplifting spirit vibrated my eardrums.
I was convinced that they wouldn’t let me down.
Toshio Saito, aka master Saito, served me very friendly as usual. He has one of the most remarkable careers among all other Jedis.
After having worked at 'Sushi Sho' as a third runner up for 8 years, he worked as a sushi chef in Hawaii for half a year then in New York for 7 years.
After coming back to Japan, he supported his master Nakazawa once again at 'Sushi Sho' for 4 years before he became independent in 2006.
He speaks fluent English and has good reputation from many foreign guests who are in Akasaka area.
Adding to that, his skill as a teacher has been recognized in the industry since he made Teruya Iida at “Ichiban-cho Teruya” and Sukeyuki Iwasawa at “Fudo-mae Sushi Iwasawa” Jedis.
The black-color based interior creates a relaxed atmosphere.
There are only 10 horigotatsu-seats (sunken floor) at the counter.
This is how they work; 6-8 seats at the front are served by master Saito with a third runner up and 2-4 seats on the side are served by a second runner up.
There are enough gaps between seats and no cramped feeling at all.
You can feel master Saito’s mindfulness through the very cozy atmosphere
“Let me start with seasonal sushi. Here is Sawara (Spanish mackerel) pickled in Matsumae style.”
At 'Sushi Sho', clam otsumami is served.
But here, sushi is served in first place.
Nevertheless they follow the same serving style, which sushi and otsumami are served alternately, I feel comfortable with a starter of 'Sushi Sho Saito' as a secretary-general of the “Sushi-restaurant-must-go-with-sushi Party“.
What followed next is soft roe of Madara (True Cod).
Soft roe itself is very rich but the flavor was balanced out very well with a light-seasoned soup stock.
I rather appreciate this seasoning, since many plates will be served in this kind of course menu; multiple dishes with a small amount of food.
Then it continues with; Hirame (Flounder) in various serving style, konbu soup with Uni (Sea urchin), Kinmedai (Red snapper) in shabu-shabu style and roasted Tsubu-gai (Crab shell).
Crunchy texture with ocean breeze.
And mustard put on the crab shell matched perfectly as well.
As always, the seasoning skill of master Saito is superb.
Now, bar-sushi with Aji (Horse mackerel) is served.
I have heard that he mixes dried gourd shavings into the rice to add sweetness.
Surely, sushi rice of press sushi in Kansai has sweet sugar flavor.
It goes well with vinegary pickled fish.
Katsuo (Bonito), Roasted Kinmedai’s (Red snapper’s) skin, Steamed egg hotch-potch with Konoko, Sujiko (Roe), Kawahagi (Filefish), Shiro-ebi (White shrimp), Kobako-gani (Snow crab), Kamasu (Barracuda), Sayori (Needle fish) and Hokki-gai (Surf clam)….
Despite a considerable number of sushi and otsumami, the chef serves them at a decent pace.
It is naturally impressive to see how master Saito pays attention around every corner and also how Padawans (apprentices in 'Star Wars') devotedly support their master.
And yet it is worthy to mention how truly inspiring the female wait staff worked.
They handle a task of bringing a serving plate or a soy sauce dish at the right moment.
Otherwise they “erase” their sense of presence as if Obi-Wan Kenobi, who sneaked in Padmé’s space ship which was heading for the planet Mustafar to follow Anakin Skywalker.
You never feel their stare beaming at your back, which tends to happen at usual restaurants.
A good pace and right interval. These are also musts for a good sushi restaurant.
“Would you like to have some more to eat?”
“Yes, please. I came here with an empty stomach.”
“Certainly sir! I will make more sushi, then. Here is Kohada (Gizzard shad), a king of sushi.”
Master Saito’s Kohada (Gizzard shad) tastes very delicious.
Actually, I felt the same way last time.
I had an incredible after taste from around my cheeks; subtle sweetness and sent of Nori (Sea weed).
“Next will be Saba (Mackerel). Please chew it well.”
Saba (Mackerel) was served in front of me while I was still in the mood of Kohada (Gizzard shad)
At the first moment when I threw it into my mouth, I thought it was normal Saba (Mackerel).
But then, every time I chewed the fine flavor of fat overflew.
It was a very interesting sensation.
“This Saba (Mackerel) is from Aomori. Talking about Saba, the one from Matsuwa is known as a famous brand. However, I must say it tends to be very oily. On the other hand, the one from Aomori is less oily, therefore I believe it matches sushi better”.
Rather than blindly following what he learnt from his master, he tries to find the best choice of each fish he uses from his own perspective.
I feel his pride as a sushi master through this approach.
Chu Toro (Medium-fatty tuna), Aori-ika (Squid), Kasugo (Young sea bream), Ebo-dai (Japanese butterfish), Kinmedai’s (Red snapper’s) skin, Kuruma-ebi (Prawn), Anago-shirayaki (Grilled sea eel), Ni-anago (Cooked sea eel) and Ankimo (Monkfish liver) with watermelon.
Being bombarded with sushi affair, I finally became full and unfortunately had to surrender.
Desert was an ice cream with Monaka (a bean-jam-filled wafers).
This ice cream was also delicious but in its humble way.
Once you have tasted ice cream from this restaurant, it is almost impossible to eat any shop-bought ice cream again.
Rubbing my tummy fully stuffed with delicious food, I left the place with a smile while hearing the voices of Jedi saying, “Thank you very much!” behind my back.
Now, being influenced by 'Sushi Sho' serving style, more and more sushi restaurants are serving sushi and otsumami consecutively.
In the sushi world, we are currently experiencing the very “Clone Wars”.
Who will be the winner of this Clone Wars, then?
I am convinced that it will be 'Sushi Sho Saito’.
Until now, I have been to so many sushi restaurants, which are part of 'Sushi Sho' school or adopting 'Sushi Sho' style.
But there was no restaurant where I have felt so satisfied like 'Sushi Sho Saito' .
It is perhaps because master Saito obtains three forces, “SHO’s force”, which goes far beyond Jedi masters of 'Sushi Sho' school.
1. Sense of taste
Surely, as Mr. Hikari Hayakawa pointed out at the beginning of this story, it tends to numb your sense of taste if the sushi restaurant serves sushi and otsumami alternately.
However, I believe that 'Sushi Sho Saito' is different.
Master Saito has an excellent sense of taste.
He takes the character of this kind of course menu; multiple dishes with a small amount of food as advantage.
By serving a great deal of flavors, he provides a wide range of food experiences.
Not only flavor, aroma and texture variation but also the pace of each experience that arises are all different.
You are constantly surprised by how many skillful techniques he has got.
He also uses different types of Shari (Vinegar seasoned rice) in an appropriate way.
He uses three different types of Shari.
For detailed information please review followings.
Table: 'Sushi Sho Saito' three types of Shari matrix.
Whether you are a regular or first-time customer, master Saito treats everyone equally kind.
Hospitality at 'Sushi Sho' school is also outstanding.
I assume he is originally good with his hands and his experience of studying in America has taught him how to treat his customer.
However, I deeply feel that he has a wide variety of conversation topics as well as a deep-hearted personality.
Whether you are alone or as a grope as well as a non-drinker or a drinker, his consideration to entertain his customers by using all sorts of tricks makes me feel happy every time I come to 'Sushi Sho Saito'.
3. Observation skills
Something very pleasant happened when I visited 'Sushi Sho Saito' again.
Master Saito has changed my menu into something by serving more sushi.
Of course, I experienced the same thing in the past, when I went to the other 'Sushi Sho' school.
But it was only master Saito who adjusted it to my taste with the right timing without even asking me.
Through the communication with his customer, he sensed the taste of him/her and presents a food experience with an order-made feel.
Even helping 10 customers at one time, he never drops his level to a usual sushi restaurant, which serves its customer automatically with Omakase (Chef’s choice).
It is actually not so easy.
While he was serving me (a member of the “sushi-restaurant-must-go-with-sushi” Party), master Saito was providing exciting topics about Sake as well as otsumami with the neighboring guest, who seems to love drinking.
And no drunken guest appeared to mess up the atmosphere of the restaurant.
It is because master Saito casually added a word when serving a dish to his customer.
It was never pushy, instead his presentation sounds like him saying; “it would be nice if you enjoy it in this way.”
Whether this affected them or not, every customer seemed to enjoy their meal.
Although it was friendly atmosphere, no one in the restaurant acted overly friendly.
That was super.
Sense, Hospitality and Observation.
These three “SHO’s force” made this restaurant a great one.
As sushi chef and consumer, master Saito and I discussed about sushi philosophy.
Stories master Saito tells is truly meaningful and it made me aware that I only had the poor knowledge that came straight out of a textbook.
After all I ordered Kohada (Gizzard shad), once again.
The flavor hit from my throat all the way to my stomach.
Mysteriously, as soon as I swallowed it, the flavor came back from my cheeks to my tongue.
While I felt like I was in heaven, I murmured the slogan.
May the force be with you!
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.