23 Comments January 21, 2011

Sukiyabashi Jiro Revisited

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

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.


Hirame


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.

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21 Comments

  • o.January 21, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Just awesome!
    Less than a year after my first and only trip to Japan, I was considering going back there in 2011. Your latest blog posts make me yearn for it so much more!

    The akagai piece looks just luscious, and both the sayori and tamago ones seem worthy of a trip to the restaurant on their own.

    Jiro was on my to-do list, it just moved to the top 3.

  • AdamJanuary 21, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Thanks! It’s definitely worth going back just for the akagai, sayori, and tamago … no question. Even the lean tuna blew me away.

  • SvenJanuary 22, 2011 at 5:49 am

    Unbelievable that you had the opportunity to take pictures and got in in a normal way. What Jiro Ono is doing now with foreign visitors is almost criminal; you can eat there, just for the maximum of one hour for the price of 35.000 yen per person. Adam, what do you think of that?

  • AdamJanuary 22, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Hi Sven — Thanks! I’ve never personally had a difficult time getting a reservation here but I’ve read stories. I always preface my reservation request with “sushi is my favorite food, i eat absolutely everything” and that seems to work. They also appreciate any attempt to speak Japanese no matter how butchered.

    It’s true the meal was quick and timed to exactly an hour; it was also pretty expensive. But even Japanese guests ate with the same timing schedule. Not sure if they paid the same; I sure hope I didn’t subsidize anyone’s meal!

    Chef Ono seems to be really into the rhythm of serving sushi — almost identically timed pauses between each serving of fish. You’d think he has a timer behind the counter or something.

  • Sammy GrimesJanuary 23, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Excellent post. haven’t been to Jiro Ginza, and never really tempted to because of the *stories*. Four visits to Mizutani over the years has been the pinnacle of sushi for me, over visits to Sawada, Masa, Saito and Tako. Mizutani is one of the world’s culinary treasures, personally one of life’s great food experiences and will be back this Spring, along with a visit to Araki and some fab reports of Hatsunezushi. Now do I have to fit Jiro in somewhere? :)

  • CharlesFebruary 1, 2011 at 10:59 am

    Never had a good experience in trying to book a seat here. You mentioned they appreciated any butchered attempt to speak Japanese, but this doesn’t seem to be so in my case as I always (around 3 times already) get directed to their Roppongi branch as a result of that. A contradiction? Or it might just be them. I think it should be the latter.

  • AdamFebruary 2, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    @Sammy: Thanks. I think you should visit Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza while Chef Ono is still working. Mizutani and Sawada are also incredible places. Honestly once you reach this level of quality the differences become more like variations in flavor — no one place being superior to the other.

    @Charles: I’ve heard horror stories also. It almost made me not try to make a reservation the first time around. Maybe I’ve just had a lot of luck because I haven’t experienced any of them first-hand.

  • BeeJanuary 24, 2012 at 6:22 am

    Every food photo is such a piece of art. I’ve watched Jiro dreams of sushi and am thrilled. And you article is another equally great story of Jiro in an article form. Thank you for sharing. And may I ask does the price start at 30,000 yen?

  • PumhiranJanuary 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I wonder how could i make a reservation at Sukibayashi Jiro? Please tell be the way as I have been dreaming having the best sushi here, Thank you.

  • CharlesJanuary 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    To Pumhiran: I live in Japan and have only been to Sukiyabashi Jiro once during my four years here. Despite my native language not being Japanese, I was still able to get a seat by reserving in person, which means going to their restaurant after a day of shopping in the GInza district, a stone throw’s from Jiro. It’s actually not the first time I tried reserving up front. I got rejected several times when I first came to Japan, perhaps due to my poor Japanese, but finally nailed it after my third attempt. It may be that my Japanese improved over the years, but in my opinion, it’s still far from fluent. Perhaps they opened up more to the public recently? Give it another try as you never know what to expect. By the way, the service was excellent, at least in my dining experience. Just watch out for that huge bill at the end ;)

    PS: Dined at Sushi Mizutani tonight, which reminded me of this post :)

  • 9mmleftshinkiJanuary 30, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Drooling OMG

  • Z @ Glutton on a BudgetFebruary 28, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Yet another reason to visit Tokyo. How expensive is Sukiyabashi Jiro really? From what I hear, I get the impression that it costs an arm. I wish I can try as many varieties as you have.

  • AdamApril 22, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Incredible pictures and descriptions. Thanks for sharing a small piece of Jiro with the WWW!

  • SandiNovember 16, 2012 at 1:38 am

    I am headed there on Monday — thanks for the detailed review, I am beyond excited! What is the dress code?

  • To Tell the very Truth...December 3, 2012 at 1:50 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 !

  • SurprisedDecember 15, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    So basically you intruded into a restaurant without buying a meal and then claimed the chair of a patron who went to the toilet in order to take pictures of food. You should probably try that out in an upscale French restaurant, tell us how it goes…

  • SurprisedDecember 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    I should probably add that the before comment refers to a previous commenter, not the author of this site which I find excellent.

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  • S LloydNovember 21, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Hi there,
    I was born and raised in a fishermen village and I remember that uni, unless you sample it within the minutes it came out of the sea, turns liquid-y if you let it in a natural way (for eg, no preservatives, etc). My question: the beautifully textured uni we see on pics of top end Tokyo’s sushiyas, are they what I think? Which means on preservatives in order to keep a vivid fresh looks?

  • TANYA GOFebruary 5, 2014 at 2:52 am

    Hi! I was wondering how you made the reservation. Did you call their number? Have been trying to call but always busy. Did you have to make the reservations months in advance?

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