I've eaten at a couple of the big-name sushiya in tokyo (Jiro ginza, Mizutani, Sawada, Sho, Shin, Yoshitake, Ichi, Kyubei, etc..), and wanted to widen my horizons this trip. Tried a couple of odd-ball suggestions from friends/acquaintances/this-board over the last week+:
- A bit of a trip out in Asagaya, but still easy to find. Had 4 seats at the bar with the head chef. (place holds about 12 diners) This was an odd but great meal. Many of the people who hype Namba talk about the quality of the sushi rice, but in this visit, the vast majority of the meal was in the otsumami/appetizers - all of which were good, some excellent (cooked oyster, octopus, saba). For the cooked fish - it all happened over wood - no gas or electric grills in sight (awesome). The nigiri course was very short however - short enough that I really didn't get a good sense of the rice except that the temp/texture was spot-on - I think my palate was screwy from being almost-full already too. We had ~7 pieces of nigiri (two of which were the same uni) after the otsumami, and while all very good (tuna in particular) there wasn't enough variety to fully suss out the rice qualities. This is definitely a place I would return however. Chef and his staff were great and friendly. Head chef sent out one of the interns to practice his english on us. Fun time. Also, the price is amazing considering the amount of excellent and varied sake we drank. (iirc was about $100us/pp)
Sushi Ichikawa (1*):
- Another trip - this time to Setagaya - a fast commuter rail from Shibuya, but a long walk from the station. Young chef. Good service - space for about 7-8 people. Nice sake selection(s). This was another odd-ball meal that consisted of a lot of cooked fish. The otsumami was good, highlights were the stuffed cuttlefish and electric-grilled butterfish, and the sushi rice was very good - perfect temp/texture and a good amount of red vinegar seasoning. Nigiri course was a bit odd though, we had maybe 10-12 peices (no uni or eel, btw) of which 6+ were tuna - akami, akami-zuke, chu-toro, chu-toro-zuke, otoro, otoro-zuke - some two (of the same) at a time. The progression was interesting, but also somewhat tiresome. Kohada was under-pickeled. Also during the nigiri course, he served us two sets of cooked fish over rice, one in particular (a marinated black-throat sea perch) was the best thing we ate that night, but it made for some odd pacing. Overall, it was an enjoyable meal, but compared to Namba (which was half the price) I probably won't be returning unless I need to be in the neighborhood. (about $200us/pp)
- This place has been bumping around near #1 on tabelog for a while, and english reviews are slim, acquaintances told me it was great. Had four with the head chef - space seemed to seat 8 total. Service was excellent and the bar itself is beautiful. That said, this was the most disappointing meal of the trip. None of the four of us left happy with the meal. Objectively, much of the neta is very good. Sashimi courses were solid and there was a good diversity of fish (something that was missing from Ichikawa and Namba). That said, this was some of the worst sushi rice I've had in tokyo - cold and mushy with very light seasoning. Additionally, some of the neta just didn't have the depth of flavors that you would expect from a top-level sushiya in Tokyo. That plus a fish-to-rice ratio (too much rice) that everyone complained of unprompted. I still thought this was a 'good' meal, but for the price ($250us/pp), I don't think I'll return.
Sushi Nakamura (1*):
- Easy location in Roppongi. I will offer that our meal was a bit odd. We had moved this reservation from 4 seats to 2 seats in November, and our concierge informed us that the time changed as well, but I'm not sure that Nakamura got the message, and we may have been late (or early? - i thought the meal was actually moved up) and this meal felt a bit rushed. That all said, this was the best sushi meal of the trip. Nakamura was very friendly, and served us some truly remarkable pieces of tsumami and nigiri over the night. The rice was *perfect* - warm, nicely vinegared, with the perfect fluffy texture. Appetizers were great - including fresh shirako in a very interesting sauce I haven't tasted before (reminded me of that weird industrial run-off sauce you get with singaporean chicken-rice, but was awesome), cooked pike mackerel with daikon, and a smoked clam that was a killer intro. He did keep serving us otsumami through the nigiri course (sushi sho style), but I'm not clear that was normal or him trying to get us up to speed with the other diners that night due to our lateness (earliness?). That said, i enjoy the 'Sho' style of doing things so it didn't bother me too much. Nigiri highlights were his kohada (perfect), saba (interesting garlic-like garnish of green onion and ginger), sayori, and uni. Tuna was very good too. This meal had the exact sort of touch of creativity and freshness to it while still maintaining edomae principals that I enjoy. I would love to go back with a more certain reservation. (about $200us/pp)
While I'm at it, I had a triplet of non-sushi meals in tokyo worth mentioning:
- Noma at the Mandarin Oriental: best meal of the trip. Enough said elsewhere about this.
- Aria Di Tacubo: Japanese Italian. In Ebisu. Tasting menu. Just awesome. GREAT GREAT GREAT MEAL. Go there. Buri with burrata, persimmon with prosciutto, fried shirako with spicy tomato sauce, perfect pasta with Fugu, breadcrumb roasted abalone, sweet potato dumplings with venison, roast beef cheek. Epic meal. AWESOME wines by the glass. Would return in a microsecond. ($140/pp) I've tried a bunch of other high-en japan/italian before (inc. Honda and Aso) and this was by-far the best.
- Jimbocho Den (1*): Modern Kaiseki. Maybe even a better meal than Tacubo. So much fun. Incredible chef/staff. Creative/inventive/fun meal. Highlights: Supon nabe, Den Fried Chicken (DFC), Buri sashimi with a nori sauce (amazing), fried fugu with brussel sprouts and bamboo shoots, the 'den' salad, and the most awesome black A5 wagyu beef over rice with fresh wasabi. Desserts were delicious and fun too. Did I mention a great staff? I will definitely try to return here my next trip.
Anyway, hope this is helpful for anyone who is considering restaurants in Tokyo. Next trip, i'd love to go back to Jiro, Sawada, Sho and Shin to reset my expectations, but I expect Namba and Nakamura will enter the rotation at some point as well.
Happy eating, all.
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