Sukiyabashi Jiro Revisited
My first visit to Sukiyabashi two years ago was one of the best sushi meals of my life. The meal's beauty lies in its apparent simplicity: just rice and fish. Of course this is deceiving. The exquisite sushi is the amalgam of impeccable ingredients and skill, from the hand-selected blend of rice and its meticulous steaming, to the exacting ratio of fish to rice and the timing with which it's served. Even the luke-warm temperature of the rice and its precise grain count per piece, as well as the sushi's position on the plate, is no accident. Chef Jiro Ono, Japanese living legend, is perhaps the world's greatest sushi chef. The atmosphere of Sukiyabashi Jiro seemed more relaxed and comfortable than the last time. While both the chef and his son were friendly and engaging in 2008 food photography -- no matter how subtle -- seemed to make them a bit uncomfortable. Two years later and chef Ono was smiling and welcoming photos. The sushi bar also seemed to have more foreigners. During my last meal I was the only foreigner at the table. Considering my meal in 2010 was on the exact same day as in 2008, it's unlikely a seasonal difference. This is probably due to its Michelin 3* rating permeating out, as well as the increase in internet publicity.
Empty seats at the best sushi counter in Tokyo.
Chef Jiro Ono using his palm to consistently measure the quantity of rice per piece. He never lets his assistants measure the rice as over the decades he learned how to use only his palm as an exact measuring tool. Another's palm would introduce inconsistency to the portioning.
Sumi-ika - Sliced thin and glazed with soy sauce. The ika was served very cold and at this temperature developed a texture that "snips" in your mouth. It was incredible. Very few places serve sumi-ika with such a texture. Kozue, at the Park Hyatt, is another one.
Inada - Very young yellowtail that has not yet developed most of its fat. The result is a concentrated flavor of yellowtail that is extremely lean.
Akami - Super-lean tuna. This slice reminded me that it's possible to have a melt-in-your-mouth texture with very little fat content.
Oo-toro - very fatty tuna. The warm and porous thick-grained rice absorbed a lot of the fat.
Kohada - A bit fishy from the brining process, but in a really good way. This was a bit more mild than saba (mackerel) and less salty, but still had a pasty interior. I really liked this, even though I was generously given two extra pieces by my dining companions.
Akagai - Red-shelled clam. The color is red due to its abundance of hemoglobin and iron. This was one of my favorite slices of the night -- it was playful to chew and tasted like lobster.
Aji - One of my favorite fish, clean and bright with a slightly rigid texture.
Kuruma-ebi - Oh god. Absolutely incredible. The softness of the shrimp was a lot like langoustine. My only regret was not being able to eat the head.
Hamaguri - Lightly brushed with a sweet soy sauce that complimented the clam's natural sweetness at the expense of holding back some of its brine. The texture had so many ruffles and edges that it was at once light and firm.
Saba - This slice of mackerel was served with only a thin slice of skin really helping to cut down on its inherently fishy taste. This was absolutely the best slice of mackerel I've ever had.
Shako - This mantis shrimp is the only piece of fish this evening that I didn't like. Actually I hated the texture of it. Aside from the very fishy crayfish-like taste, the texture was sandy, brittle, and dry. I've tried shako a few times and have never liked it; it's just a texture I can't get used to.
Sayori - This long and thin fish was sliced to resemble an exotic deep-sea creature. The flavor was exceptional, a cross between aji and squid.
Uni - While I rarely don't like sea urchin, for whatever reason it didn't seem as fresh as the last time. The urchin was beginning to lose its shape and melt down the sides of the seaweed. I noticed this was served from the end of the wooden box in which sea urchin usually comes; it was probably sitting around a bit longer than it should have been.
Kobashira - Small trough-shell scallop. Not as sweet as larger scallops with more brine.
Ikura - Practically saltless. There was little burst as the skin of each egg was so thin and fresh. The eggs basically disintegrated on their own from the heat of my mouth.
Anago - Absolutely the best piece of saltwater eel I have ever tasted. I can literally smell it -- the distinct buttered-toast smell -- as I type this.
Tamago - light and fluffy, like pound cake.
Musk Melon - For dessert we were transferred to an adjacent table and served green tea and musk melon. Absolutely the sweetest and juiciest melon I've ever tasted.
After the omakase was finishsed the chef asked if I wanted to repeat any other pieces. This was probably a mistake. I had two more pieces of uni, two more ikura, two more arcshell clam, and another kuruma-ebi. The second time around the uni was much fresher and at the level of quality for which I remembered it.
Portrait of Chef Jiro Ono
This was an incredible experience -- even the second time around -- and is an absolute must-visit for anyone in Tokyo who is truly passionate about sushi. For some reason I remember my first experience here being slightly more magical, but I'm comfortable dismissing that as a result of already knowing what to expect.
The meal was essentially flawless. Chef Ono is approaching his mid-eighties so be sure to visit quickly as he is not only one of the best sushi chefs in Tokyo but likely the oldest.