Last night was the second time I've been to Anzu at the Nikko.
I have heard plenty about this place being mediocre at best, and I can only assume it's because people were sitting at the tables. Each time I've gone, my dining partners have been amenable to sitting at the bar, and oh what a joy.
The sushi chef here is amazing. However, he is quite skeptical of non-Japanese who sit at his bar - probably one too many california rolls ordered, is my guess. Anyway, the first time I went here, I was a bit tipsy, and practicing the few words of Japanese I know (Domo Arigato, Hajimemashite, Irrasshaimase, Konichiwa, Konbanwa, Itadakimase, Oishi).
Kazuhito-san took mercy on me, and I told him to bring out whatever he thought was best. He started with pretty innocuous stuff, but once I started asking for ankimo and uni, he realized I was serious. So the good stuff started coming.
Anyway, last night, he kinda remembered me, but obviously not clearly. Our group first started to sit at a table until SL and I said we wanted to go to the bar. Fortunately, there were 4 seats available, and no reservations, so we headed over.
We sat down and started chatting him up a bit. He came over with a little bowl amazing spinach salad that was pungent and spicy and savory all at once. Fabulous. I told him I'd prefer no tamago and no sake (salmon), but would eat anything else.
First we got 3 pieces of white fishes - hamachi, amberjack & (I think) suzuki (rockfish). All delicate and amazing in that the fattiest-looking (hamachi) was actually the lightest in flavor. Kazuhito-san's rice is perfect. Really. It's a revelation, and after eating here, one reaches the distinct understanding that sushi is not just about the fish.
Next up we received ankimo, one of my favorite things in the world. This is monkfish liver, and really the foie gras of the sea. mmm. Kazuhito-san cures his own into a lovely, delicate pate - REAL pate, not that nasty-pressed-into-a-tube-so-it's-pasty stuff. It had a distinctly smoky flavor, but chef said that it was steamed. I've only ever had Ankimo this good one other place - Hama Ko - and even that was totally different preparation. We got this with a few slices of bread, but I was just eating it plain. I finished off SP's portion because he was clearly not enjoying it.
Next dish we got was 4 pieces of fish. I got 2 hirame (halibut), both from a different fish and 2 maguro (one Toro). The hirame, as usual, was stellar, and it's always interesting to taste and feel the difference between the same cut from two different fishes.
Everyone else got the same tuna I did, but they got salmon instead of halibut - one Alaskan and one Atlantic. They proclaimed them "awesome", but i didn't get to try.
Next we got these amazing wonton things - soft wrapper that tasted intensely of sesame filled with a bit of rice and some delectable scallop. Mmmm.
Finally, we told Kazuhito-san to stop serving the guys since it was all going to waste, and SL and I got an order of eel - one each Unagi (Freshwater) and Anago (Saltwater). I'd never had anago before, but I really did prefer it to the unagi. If I knew the quality of the restaurant, i'd gladly forgo unagi for the anago anyday.
At this point, SL and I were stuffed, too, so I told the chef that I wanted one ume (pickled plum) handroll and I'd be done. What i got was another revelation - perfect ume rolled in lovely nori with a bit of shiso and... SHARK FIN!! Holy cow. Holy cow. SL took a bite and couldn't believe it. I almost ordered another one since we ended up sharing the first one but... well... poor form and all that.
Anyway, Kazuhito-san gave me a piece of oshinko (pickled radish) and SL nearly jumped out of her seat - turns out, she orders the stuff from her local place to take home and snack on! So, she got a piece of her own this time. :-). Then we got a beautiful pickled carrot each, and had to call "mercy". We were stuffed to the gills.
With two large asahis, 4 large sakes and our meals, the total came to either $230 or $280 (I tried to peer over SPs shoulder without much success). Either way, that's an astonishing value for what we got.
I am now seriously craving the ume makimono... almost hourly. I wonder if he would just make me a few of those to go... hmmm?
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