44 Comments November 10, 2009

Sukiyabashi Jiro

中央区銀座4丁目2−15, Tokyo, Japan, Official Website

I always thought two parents were more than enough. But after visiting Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza, Tokyo, I will be returning with adoption papers.

Chef Jiro Ono has been recognized by the Japanese government as a national treasure and “modern master” for his contributions to Japanese cuisine. He has received three Michelin stars. The awards an accolades for this masterful chef are endless. And to believe he is over 80 years old.

Chef Ono’s dishes are simple and straight forward: the freshest fish imaginable, warm carefully selected and cooked rice, deft knife work, and a collection of wise and sarcastic jokes.  He is very serious.  But unlike Masa, he was faster to crack a smile.  He couldn’t stop smirking at how I took a picture of each piece of sushi and even offered to pose; though, his sharp sushi knife was a forceful deterrent.  He has a funny sense of humor and is full of clever quips; my limited Japanese only understood the surface.  He asked if we had any allergies or restrictions.  We made it very clear that we eat absolutely everything.

To me, an omakase meal is like perusing the colors of the rainbow: when everything is exquisitely fresh, it’s impossible for me to pick favorites or to dislike any of the fresh fish.  It’s like asking me to chose if I like the color red or blue better; I like them both.  Everything I ate here was unbelievable.

Full course list:
- Hirame (ひらめ)
- Sumi-ika (すみいか)
- Shima-aji (しまあじ)
- Akami (あかみ)
- Chu-toro (ちゅうとろ)
- Oo-toro (おおとろ)
- Kohada (こはだ)
- Hamaguri (はまぐり)
- Aji (あじ)
- Kuruma-ebi (くるまえび)
- Sayori (さより)
- Tako (たこ)
- Saba (さば)
- Akagai (あかがい)
- Uni (うに)
- Kobashira (こばしら)
- kura (いくら)
- Anago (あなご)
- Tamago (たまご)

We started the meal with cuts of Hirame, Sumi-ika, and Shima-aji.  Each piece was lightly brushed with soy sauce and freshly grated wasabi already applied.  The only accoutrement given was a healthy handful of ginger.  The hirame (fluke) left a trail of sweetness lingering in my mouth.  The sumi-ika (squid) had a texture that I’ve only experienced at Kozue: not at all squeaky; but chewy and translucent.  The shima-aji (amber jack) snipped as I bit through it.

Sukiyabashi Jiro - Nihon no omakaseSukiyabashi Jiro - HirameSukiyabashi Jiro - Shima-aji

Three slices of tuna came next, akami, chu-toro, and oo-toro increasing from lean, to medium fatty, to extremely fatty cuts.  The akami (lean toro) was the most tender slice of tuna I’ve ever tasted that did not contain noticeable marbelization.  The tuna was marinated in soy sauce for several minutes before service, perhaps contributing to this unique texture.  The medium fatty tuna had an interesting mix of crunch and fat, while the fatty tuna just completely melted in my mouth.  My friend with whom I shared this meal began to tear (I kid you not).

Sukiyabashi Jiro - AkamiSukiyabashi Jiro - Chu-toroSukiyabashi Jiro - Oh-toro

Making the transition from milder to more intensely flavored fishes came kohada, hamaguri, and aji.  The shiny skin was left on the kohada (something inbetween herring and mackerel) amplifying the already fishy flavor.  This fish literally smells like the ocean.  The texture of the hamaguri (a type of Japanese clam) was crunchy yet not dry.  The aji (horse mackerel) was soft and smooth with thin stripes of fat stringing together layers of lean meat.

Sukiyabashi Jiro - KohadaSukiyabashi Jiro - HamaguriSukiyabashi Jiro - Aji

The kuruma-ebi was simply gorgeous.  Killed minutes before and immediately flash boiled, the gigantic tiger prawn with beautiful bands of white and red made its way to our plate.  The texture of the shrimp was almost indistinguishable from langoustine: firm with a hint of pastiness.  I briefly wondered what happened to the head, my favorite part; but I was quickly distracted by the next course.  Chef Ono explained that the tiger prawn is sliced in such a way that the flavor and juices of the head are incorporated with the meat, and so the head itself is not necessary.

The sayori had a texture inbetween mackerel and squid: slightly crunchy yet clearly not a shellfish.

The tako, or octopus, was sliced very thinly and left lightly uncooked to preserve its soft texture and to prevent it from getting dry.  The edges of the fish seemed less cooked than the center, giving this slice of octopus a wide range of textures both chewy and crunchy.

Sukiyabashi Jiro - Kuruma-ebiSukiyabashi Jiro - SayoriSukiyabashi Jiro - Tako

Saba, a skin-less slice of mackerel that lacked the strong fishy flavor that I was used to.  This was the freshest saba I’ve ever tasted.

Akagai, or arc-shell clam, was a newly discovered favorite food.  I am literally tasting again this as I type this sentence.  A brittle and crispy yet moist clam with a strong briny flavor.  Chef Ono lightly scored the surface with his knife enhancing the crispy texture.

Uni.  Light and sweet with a slightly briny flavor and no iodine taste whatsoever.  The roe remained firm even while sitting atop the warm rice.  As my friend Lizzie said during our meal at Urasawa, “you can just inject this stuff directly into my veins.”  I couldn’t agree with her more.

Sukiyabashi Jiro - SabaSukiyabashi Jiro - AkagaiSukiyabashi Jiro - Uni

Kobashira, round clam abductor muscles wrapped in seaweed.  This had a stiff and crispy texture much like the akagai.

Ikura, salmon roe.  One of the few pieces of Ikura sushi I’ve had with almost no salting.  Chef Ono, in the most humble way possible, let us know that this was the best in the world.  It was certainly some of the best I’ve ever had, right alongside the Ikura at Urasawa.

Anago, saltwater eel.  This was much leaner and less oily than usual.  It was very lightly glazed with kabayaki to add sweetness.

Sukiyabashi Jiro - KobashiraSukiyabashi Jiro - IkuraSukiyabashi Jiro - Anago

And now, time for dessert.  This is how I would like to end all meals.  If the quality of a restaurant’s Tamago can be used as a barometer for the skill of a sushi chef, this is as good as it gets.  The sweet egg sushi had a fluffiness like a dense pound cake.  It was addictively sweet and marked a perfect ending to an incredible meal.

Sukiyabashi Jiro - Tamago

The bill came, and I was told that no credit cards were accepted.  Uh oh.  Struggling in a panic to put together my thoughts in Japanese, I explained that I would leave my sister at the restaurant as hostage while I went to an ATM.  With his slippers and in full chef attire, Chef Ono’s assistant kindly walked me into the connecting subway station to the nearest machine.  The machine was on the other side of the subway turnstyle; but a quick conversation with the toll guard and he let me through to the machine.  I returned cash in hand to see my sister smiling with several autographed books that Chef Ono had signed for her … she must have left quite an impression.  This example of kindness is not something I’m used to living in Paris.

This was undoubtably one of the best sushi meals of my life.  The combination of chef Ono’s skill and access to the best ingredients makes this a must visit.  Each fish was served at its ideal temperature.  His timing was impeccable: not a single piece of fish rested for a second longer than necessary.

I would recommend going with someone who speaks conversational Japanese as the staff speaks absolutely no English and, for me, much of the fun came from the chef’s witty humour.  It was an all around excellent experience, and I can’t wait to go back.

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31 Comments

  • Food SnobNovember 10, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Awesome.

  • ChuckEatsNovember 11, 2009 at 1:17 am

    How did you get in? I’ve heard they only accept those who not only speak Japanese, but with a Tokyo accent ?

    This is everything I wanted my Mizutani meal to be – maybe next time.

  • adamNovember 11, 2009 at 1:39 am

    I heard of similar difficulties getting a reservation here but I did not experience any. I called three weeks to the day, spoke Japanese, and was very polite; but that’s it. I really doubt I have a Tokyo accent.

    I’ve never been impressed with Mizutani. Seems more like a well-orchestrated show to me.

  • guestNovember 11, 2009 at 10:46 am

    have heard many horror stories about sukiyabashi jiro service… seems like u had a different experience…

  • adamNovember 11, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    I’ve heard horror stories as well; but I can’t play off hearsay. From my single experience as a regular diner, I was able to get a reservation, was treated exceptionally well, and even witnessed Chef Ono laughing. I was nervous about this reservation; but everything really worked out for the best.

  • LuxeatNovember 12, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    What an experience! Agree with Chuck,me too i lacked all this at Mizutani. Going to Tokyo next week, will try to get here..

  • Bu Pun SuNovember 15, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Chef Jiro and his son were not that friendly when I ate there
    Perhaps it’s due to the fact that I know no Japanese
    But still, it’s probably the finest sushi place in the world

  • KelvinNovember 28, 2009 at 1:53 am

    was slated to try this next week but the japanese-speaking requirement and no-credit card issue complicated matters so gonna skip it this time.

  • adamNovember 28, 2009 at 6:45 am

    It’s worth the trouble … see if you can find someone at your hotel or a friend make the reservation for you. Unfortunately, Chef Jiro won’t be in the kitchen much longer I don’t think … he’s over 80 years old !

  • Robert-Gilles Martineau (ロベル)December 28, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Dear Adam!
    Greetings again!
    I noticed we share a blogging friend in the person of Chuckeats!
    Cheers,
    Robert-Gilles

  • Neal KJanuary 15, 2010 at 10:44 am

    Adam,

    Great to be following you on Twitter as well. I’m salivating for sushi after reading this and it’s only 8am here. My favorite spot in San Francisco (Zushi-Puzzle) served an amazing range of toro if you were lucky enough to catch it (bad pun). Chef Roger would call the extremely fatty cut the “grandma” because you weren’t allowed to use your teeth, just let it melt and use your tongue. Thanks for sharing this adventure.

    Neal

  • S LloydFebruary 2, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Usually, the idea of probably getting a bad ..probably not..service kicks on my enthusiasm of dining at a restaurant, but if most of you say that this is among the best sushis on the world, then i guess it would worth the sacrifice.

  • JedApril 29, 2010 at 6:19 am

    Hi Adam,

    I’m going to tokyo in about a week or so and I’m wondering if you could recommend me the best sushi place to go for under $150 per head that I can get omakase meal like this one above. I’m very interested in going to Jiro as long as i dont have to pay $400 something per head, if you dont mind could you let me know of the price?

    ps: amazing food collection you have here on your blog.

    thanks.

  • Mike CAugust 20, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    This review is really shocking; this is like the only review that is positive about this place. All other reviews say the service is terrible to foreigners and that the sushi is way overrated for what you pay. You pay 1/3 the price at Kyubei for lunch and it is just as good or better.

  • MichaelAugust 22, 2010 at 1:54 am

    I finally got to try this famous 3 mich star sushi restaurant this past Saturday for lunch. I happened to be in Tokyo for business and had a Japanese assistant make the reservation given they do not speak English when I tried to make a reservation.

    I have to say that I was nervous because there were so many mixed reviews on this restaurant and some of the comments were that they were not to accommodating to foreigners and no one in my party of three people spoke Japanese. This restaurant is also on Youtube—Anthony Bourdain’s show No Reservations.

    I have to say it was an amazing experience and the sushi is fantastic. The famous sushi chef Jiro Ono and his son carefully make each piece-so there is a high level of personal attention. We had altogether 19 wonderful pieces and it was the right amount of food since we were getting quite full by the fourteenth piece. The order of each piece is not random–they crafted the sequence so you can enjoy each different flavor of fish.

    Overall a great experience–yes they don’t speak much English but we were not looking for a tourist friendly restaurant, we wanted very local authentic Japanese sushi. One thing for sure is that they take a lot of pride in their work and it shows. We respectfully responded; we just politely nodded, smiled, gave a thumbs up and said Oishii.

  • Chris CJanuary 18, 2011 at 5:09 am

    Adam, do you know if there would be any differences between lunch and dinner at Jiro, Mizutani, Saito, etc?

  • AdamJanuary 18, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Hi Chris — To be honet at that level they’re all pretty similar. I’ve had great meals at mizutani, kyubei, saito, sawada, and sushiko. I’d try to go to Jiro in Ginza though since he’s almost 84 years old and I can’t see him in the kitchen much longer. The restaurant will be very different when he’s no longer there.

  • RicardoJanuary 25, 2011 at 3:47 pm

    how much did you pay? you can ask for more ?

  • AdamJanuary 25, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    I think we ended up paying 35,000Y per person with extra sushi.

  • BrianJanuary 31, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Hi Adam,

    After seeing your blog entry, I’m really exicted about seeing Jiro next time I visit Tokyo in May (hopefully he is still there). I wanted everybody’s opinion about my options though – usually I just go to Tsukiji for a transcendant sushi experience (can’t beat the freshness), but I wanted to try the combination of incredible sushi with the extras that a 3-star mich rating gets you in Ginza. I don’t mind paying Y35000 for good omekase sushi, and I speak broken Japanese but have no issue bringing a fluent, tokyo-accented friend to cover me socially. My question is: is this the best place to drop $450 for sushi? Or should I try mizutani, kyubei, saito, sawada or sushiko?

    I’m looking for the restaurant that’s going to leave a lasting impression, food quality second to none, but most of all, somewhere where I can have a real “experience.”

  • ChuckEatsJanuary 31, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Brian, I haven’t been to Jiro but Sawada is an “experience” (2-3 hours, 30+ dishes) w/ the corresponding $300-400/person cost (depending on the day’s ingredients.) There are none of the frills of European 3-stars though – but Sawada is very much a temple of fish – very quiet & serene. The nigiri is not as good as Jiro (or Mizutani) but the quality of fish was the best i’ve ever experienced.

  • NellieOctober 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you for your post! I have seen a documentary flying around making a big impact in the film festival circuits this 2011 year called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. Your post and the trailer is making me want to take Japanese lessons JUST to go to Sukiyabashi Jiro. Thank you so much.

  • ArneDecember 14, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Thanks for, finally, a good review in English.

    When you read through some of the rambling on other sites where people have the audacity to criticize everything from food over prices to service yet can’t even spell the most basic ingredients right (“naguro”, “oto” and “kohado”. I kid you not.) it makes you wonder.

    Anyways, if you happen to be in Tokyo I would suggest you check out the restaurants at the market, especially the two Daiwas (築地卸売市場6号館). Obviously their sushi is a much more “raw” variant but for what it’s worth they are really good. Important that you go really early (before 7AM) and avoid the weekend post-party crowd.

  • FranOctober 10, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    I am curious if you have been to Kanga An in Kyoto, and if so what did you think?

  • To Tell the very Truth...December 3, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    Well, speaking of Sukiyabashi Jiro, three days ago I went to this restaurant in order to take some pictures of it to write a little article about this three-stars sushi-ya. Went I arrived there, a gentle couple – mister, his wife and their little baby in his/her cart – of american tourists were taking pictures themselves. After one or two more shots, the Wife went to the restroom while Mister gave me the place. I’ve just began when a young cook went out and shouted loudly I was not allowed to take pictures of the inside of the restaurant. As I made him note I was far away from it he repeated his defiant order: don’t take pictures ! I told him I was outside the restaurant which meant I could take picture without hurting any law and then the young cook pointed with his finger the restaurant sign saying I was allowed just to shoot that part of the restaurant. What an outrage ! What a misbehaviour ! This restaurant is very low on the “welcome criterium” and it trashes his reputation, the Michelin judgement and the so-called “sense of hospitality” of Japan that is a vast joke as the american tourist admitted after the incident, as we had a little discussion about what japanese tourists do when they visit foreign countries – which include taking pictures with violent flashes of Renaissance paintings – but can’t stand a foreigner taking pictures of some public places, shop windows and so on. A private and a national shame !

  • RogerFebruary 12, 2013 at 1:30 am

    The net is full of reports of Jiro and his staff being racists and misogynists: foreigners not allowed and treated extremely rude, they also say women get smaller sushi pieces and can’t make sushi due to menstruation. I think the Michelin guide should be responsible and strip him of his stars, as this has nothing to do with good service and is totally unacceptable.

  • mtFebruary 16, 2013 at 4:39 am

    I went to Sukiyabashi Jiro for my birthday this past fall and I must say Chef Jiro was incredibly gracious, even playful and I did not see any examples of the horror stories many have reported even though he had just cause. Part way through the omakase, my dining companion did not like one of the selections and tried to hide it under the finger towel. I was mortified and certain Jiro would throw us out. On the contrary, he simply laughed, offered his hand out and quickly removed the half-eaten fish. Despite the language barrier ( we were two female Americans) he proceeded to joke with us and smiled wryly for the rest of the omakase. At the end of the meal, both he and his son came outside and took pictures with us. It was a very subtle dinning experience, but an incredible one none the less. I came away having even more respect for Chef Jiro and even feeling great affection for him.

  • J.O'Ly.February 16, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    MT – Thank you for that comment. It’s such a shame to hear these horror stories, indeed, but I’m sure that the chef is put under such a high degree of scrutiny that the sensation of negative accounts will clearly outnumber the pleasant ones. I almost think it’s more exciting to see if he’ll be a jack-hole or not (if you can afford such an risk [which I can't, but I don't do drugs or buy women; I buy sushi]), and I will, of course, be on my best behavior. Thanks again. I’m very sorry for those who had a bad experience.

  • AwkwardAugust 27, 2013 at 8:39 am

    A life worth EATING?!? What are you, a grim reaper!?

    :)

    Lovely review- hope to eat there someday with my brothers and sis.

  • MonicaMarch 21, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Hi!

    Loved your review, the sushi looks absolutely amazing! And it sounds like you had a very positive experience – thanks for sharing!

    I’m quite interested in how you made your reservation. I’m from California, US and I’m interested visiting Jiro’s restaurant during my upcoming trip to Japan. I also don’t speak Japanese… Did you call in to make your reservation and was it difficult to get?

    Thanks!!
    -Monica

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