This is the final instalment of our Japan trip. I started blogging again because of some pictures of sushi that I posted on Facebook. Looking at them, my friend Andrew insisted that I blog that meal, so here it is, enjoy!
We- and by we, I mean my husband- did two things before leaving for Japan. First, obtain tickets to Ghibli Museum. Second, secure dinner reservations at restaurant Sushishou. When husband called up the restaurant, the person who answered the call told him (in English), that he didn't speak English. We turned to our hotel concierge for help, and after a few e-mails were exchanged we got a booking for dinner.
There does not seem to be much information on the Internet about Sushishou. Coincidentally, Chubby Hubby had just blogged about this very same restaurant, but he refers to it as Sushi Sho. I will call it Sushishou, because the restaurant's name card spells it so, maybe the Japanese version is different.
Husband did not tell me why he chose this restaurant so I did not have any pre-conceived ideas. While dressing for dinner, it occured to me to ask him whether I needed to dress formal, so I was quite relieved when he said, no need. He only said, it is a very small place, not very fancy, I hope you will like it, they serve sushi. Ok dear, sushi is a good idea, I ate too much at lunch.
The taxi ride was short, and we alighted at a narrow lane. The restaurant is indeed small, and narrow. Counter seating only. We were warmly welcomed by the chef and all the staff when we entered. Our reservation was for 7.45 p.m. The first round of diners were nearly done with their meal.
The food was served. An appetiser. Boiled squid, the chef said. I don't usually see such pretty squid. When I ate it, my mind registered a few surprises. It was barely warm, squishy soft and yet a little chewy and the rice filling was so yummy. It was then that I turned to husband and asked him, dear, why did you choose this restaurant? He said, chef Keiji Nakazawa is very famous, master of many famous sushi chefs in Tokyo, he once competed in Iron Chef, and, some even said that he kicked out a Michelin inspector. So this place does not have a star, I asked. No, he confirmed. Wow, oh wow! I was so excited, I felt like raining kisses on my sweet, thoughful man for arranging such an interesting surprise, but it was a public place, instead, we clinked our glasses and settled down to enjoy our meal. A succession of amazing sushi was served, all incredibly delicious and completely different from all the other sushi I have ever eaten in my life. I did not take many pictures, just enjoyed the wonderful moments as they happened.
Sardine roll. After ooh-ing and aah-ing at the jewel-like appearance we popped it into our mouths and again, it was unlike any sardine sushi we've ever had. The fish was sweet and intense, very lively from addition of shisho leaves and pickled ginger.
We were enjoying a little bowl of chawan mushi containing succulent blobs of abalone, two types of uni and popping ikura when a party of seven gentlemen entered. They spoke Mandarin, only two of them could converse comfortably in Japanese. They came from Taiwan. I was curious. It costs a minimum of 20,000 yen per person, did these people just sign a multi-billion dollar deal? Or...so I asked the guy next to me, are you in the food business? He nodded his head, but asked me not to blow his cover. Throughout the meal, he engaged with the chef and asked many questions, most of them technical. In this way we also learnt a lot about chef Nakazawa's approach to sushi. I am sure that he knew the customer was trying to learn some of his secrets yet he did not seem to mind, in fact he was more than generous in sharing his methods and techniques.
Nothing was as it seemed. Before eating at Sushishou, I thought sushi means using the freshest fish you could find. Most of the fish we ate that night was not exactly delivered off the boat that morning. Like Chubby Hubby pointed out, the chef actually ages and treats his fish to coax more flavours and improve the product. They might be lightly grilled, or a little torched, or marinated in various types of konbu dashi, or cured with something. Seasonings can be special salt, home-made pickles or even pepper pastes. He doesn't just have one pot of sushi rice. We noticed that some of our sushi had brown-coloured rice (from some ingredient I didn't catch the name of, but it's definitely not soy sauce), some had white rice. When the gentleman on my right asked if oily fish pairs with brown rice and white fish with white rice, chef started a discourse that basically said it's not that simple, it is the end result of his research on how each component comes together to form a unified end-product and every piece of sushi he was presenting to us had gone through that process. A process that might even involve, say, slicing the fish so it resembled one of those modern skyscrapers in Tokyo.
I asked my new friend, so what have you guys been eating? He said, we came to Tokyo yesterday, and have since been eating non-stop, mostly Michelin-starred places. But this is the best one (of the lot).
I apologise for the poor image. Just that this was my favourite sushi that night. Sanma sushi, with a piece of the liver cooked till just starting to turn molten.
Toro. With the brown rice. At the counter and kept in various chilling cabinets we could see the various slabs of fish, some sitting on pieces of kelp, some just glistening like so. The toro though, came from a special metal box under the counter. Chef treated the toro like a family treasure, carefully taking it out and putting it back. The white streaks were not sinews, my sushi melted in my mouth in an explosion of warm, creamy umami, the slightly nutty rice acting as a kind of anchor, chewing it after the fish gone down my gullet, I could still taste the lingering finish of the toro.
There was a sushi of ankimo (monkfish liver) paired with watermelon pickle. Oishii.
Tuna came up a few times. The neck part was good.
Chef places sushi on our plates. Chef tells us the name of the dish, first in Japanese and maybe followed by its English translation. We ate. Mostly with eyes close because it was so darn amazing. Rinse. Repeat.
I drank beer in the beginning, but husband let me have a sip of his sake and I too, switched to sake. We had 2 types of sake, both recommended by the waiter. Ken Kon Ichi, and Haku Raku Sei, he wrote the English words for us. Husband looked them up later. The sake came from Miyagi, the breweries were competely destroyed in the 2011 earthquake but have since been rebuilt.
We chatted with our neighbours on our left, a young Japanese couple from out of Tokyo. The wife looks like a doll, with impossibly long eyelashes and porcelain face (actually every time we were at a nice Japanese restaurant there would be at least one young lady looking like that) and though she looked tiny and demure, she could eat quite a lot. It was their first time, and like us, they started off a bit nervous, but soon relaxed in the quietly congenial atmosphere.
Husband doesn't like uni, so he gave me all his uni sushi. I ate at least three types of uni that night, some in double portions. The last was this- yaki uni, the uni came from Aomori, and had been lightly grilled. Seriously, the most voluptuous, mind-bending uni sushi I have ever tasted.
The menu only starts from 20,000 yen, gets more expensive the more you eat. From time to time, chef would check if we were still hungry. I got full sooner than husband, and ate, I don't know, about 20 pieces of sushi. Husband had a bigger appetite, he continued eating more amazing sushi, there was also a soup, and some cooked seafood. His last course was a sushi with tuna that had been aged for 10 days. How was it, dear? Intense, almost funky, and definitely unforgettable.
In the taxi on the way back to the hotel, I asked husband about the bill. Expensive, he said, but worth every yen, and maybe more, because this was Tokyo, the best of the best. As usual, my husband is right. We were supposed to go to Tsukiji market the next morning. Earlier, I had planned to just arrive in time for breakfast and find myself a humongous bowl of uni chirashi sushi. After our wonderful meal, we decided that we would skip Tsukiji altogether, it just seemed like the right thing to do.