Sukiyabashi Jirō

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Jeffrey Merrihue, Jirō Ono, Yukari Sakamoto

My journey to Sukiyabashi Jirō started almost a year ago. Last February I was contacted by the Chowzter website to be the Tokyo Chowzter. I was happy to join this amazing team of chowzters and helped to suggest my favorite spots in Tokyo here. Chowzter will help you in many parts of the world. Over the course of the year I have met people behind the scenes at Chowzter as well as London Chowzter, Niamh Shields, cookbook author and brilliance behind Eat Like a Girl. Chowzter founder, Jeffrey Merrihue, as been very hands on from the beginning. I remember a while back Jeffrey e-mailing me and asking if I had been to Sukiyabashi Jirō. I said no, and that I would love to go someday, especially if Jeffrey sponsor my meal. He said that when he was in Tokyo we would go. While I did not hold my breath, I never forgot, and kept waiting for news of his arrival.

Well, the great news came. Jeffrey was coming to Tokyo. He was going to be here for a week to film chef Yoshihiro Narisawa for a documentary. He managed to get a 7:00 p.m. reservation for two at Sukiyabashi Jirō in the busy month of December. We arrived a bit before 7:00 p.m. and I pointed out to Jeffrey the two other restaurants that share the hallway with Sukiyabashi Jirō. Birdland, one of my favorite yakitori restaurants in Tokyo (it’s in my book, Food Sake Tokyo) and Nodaiwa, a branch of the 5th-generation unagi restaurant. And, these three restaurants share the same bathroom in the hallway. The bathroom is far below Michelin three-star standards. But, who cares?

In the taxi on our way to the restaurant we discussed the upcoming dinner.

“Don’t take photos,” I suggested.

Do expect a fast meal. “40 minutes?” asked Jeffrey.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it is less than 30 minutes.”

We walked in promptly at 7:00 p.m. and were seated at the counter, right in front of the master. This thrilled me as I have heard of some people dining there and having their sushi made by the son and not Jirō. It’s a simple restaurant. Only ten seats at the counter and a few tables to the side. It’s not in the Ginza subway as is often misreported. It is in the basement of a building. The access to the basement happens to be a stairwell that leads to the massive subway station that is underground the Ginza shopping district.

Seated next to us were two Japanese businessmen and at the end of the counter, an Asian couple.

We were asked if there was anything we couldn’t eat and I said that I was allergic to shrimp. The son told me that I would not be getting the kuruma-ebi or the tamago as it is made with shrimp. I nodded in agreement. The son told Jirō that I would not be having these two courses and Jirō nodded.

We ordered a beer, enjoyed a well-deserved kampai toast, and washed our hands with the warm wet towels.

There was a small wet paper napkin at each seating to wipe your fingers with between pieces.

There were three behind the counter. Jirō, his son, and a young apprentice. The young boy helped keep things running smoothly by wiping down our trays every now and then and fetching our beers. The son cut all of the seafood and would lay the cut pieces on Jirō’s cutting board. Jirō would then form the vinegared rice to the texture of a soft pillow, added the cut seafood, and serve it to each of us. The only pieces the son made were the gunkan, or pieces with nori, like the uni.

At the beginning of the meal there was a nice rhythm going with Jirō serving each of the six customers in order. But, at some point, the Asian couple slowed down the pace at which they were eating and the rhythm was awry. The rest of the four of us finished our meal together. I didn’t notice, but Jeffrey said that at one point Jirō had put more than one piece of sushi in front of the Asian guy. A minor slap of the wrist?

At the end of the meal we were asked if there was anything else we would like to have. I was hoping to try kinmedai (splendid alfonsino) or tako (octopus). I asked if we could order anything that wasn’t on today’s menu and was told no. So we said that we were finished. Jeffrey looked down at his watch and said, “twenty-nine minutes”.

We were escorted to a table where the perfect dessert was waiting for us. A slice of ripe melon. You know the ones that can sell for hundreds of dollars a piece at department stores or fruit specialty stores. The best way to end the meal.

Menu for Monday, December 16, 2013

hirame – olive flounder

sumi-ika – cuttlefish

kanburi – winter yellowtail

akami – tuna

chūtoro – medium-fatty tuna

ōtoro – fatty tuna

kohada – gizzard shad

mushi-awabi – steamed abalone

aji – horse mackerel

kuruma ebi – Japanese imperial prawn

akagai – ark shell

saba – Pacific mackerel

hamaguri – common Orient clam

iwashi – sardine

uni – sea urchin

kobashira – baby scallops

ikura – salmon roe

anago – sea eel

tamagoyaki – omelet with shrimp

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Japanese muskmelons, like this one, are the perfect finish to any meal. Juicy, sweet, and unforgettable. I love as this is the only photo of food that was taken this night. I know Jeffrey wanted very much to take a photo of one of the pieces of sushi.

Jiro Menu1

Sukiyabashi Jirō – Honjitsu no Omakase

Jiro Menu2

Menu for Monday, December 16, 2013.

Jiro Menu3

I really enjoyed our meal. And, I am still thinking about some of the pieces I had, three weeks later. Some of the highlights for me were the kanburi (winter yellowtail) that melted in my mouth. The hikarimono (silvery fish) like kohada (gizzard shad) and saba (Pacific mackerel) were seasoned just right, a bit salty and a nice tartness from the vinegar. The clams were especially delightful. The akagai (ark shell) is a red clam that had a nice crunchiness to it and the hamaguri was cooked just right and dressed with a sweet tare (soy reduction). The anago (sea eel) was so tender I have no idea how it was cut and picked up.

I was not served the two shrimp courses and thought I would get something in lieu, but did not. Oh well. C’est la vie. When the first shrimp course came around and there were only three pieces of shrimp on Jirō’s cutting board he asked where the fourth piece was. His son, kindly reminded him that I was not going to have any of the shrimp courses. Jirō then said he forgot, and the son had a small laugh, reminding his father that he is becoming forgetful. I shared this with Jeffrey and we all enjoyed the moment.

After we finished our melon we paid our compliments, “gochisō sama deshita”. The son went behind the register to collect payment and Jirō waited for us outside. He was gracious to let us shower him with compliments and posed for the photo that so many fans must ask him for.

I’ve spoken with many people who’ve eaten here. Some are disappointed that the meal is so fast. So, if you want to dine here, expect a quick meal. If you want to linger over your sushi, there are several other restaurants of this caliber who will let you take your time. I have also heard that he’s not nice to you unless you come in with a regular customer. I would have to disagree with that as the staff, including Jirō, were very kind to us.

Jirō is a shokunin, a skilled craftsman, and his art is sushi. My take-away from the night was that his time left at the restaurant is limited and I am glad that we could experience a meal with the master sushi chef. I will remember this evening for a long time. I am sure that I will be talking about the meal long after I forget it. But it is the experience that I will never forget.

Sukiyabashi Jiro1Sukiyabashi Jirō

Chuo-ku, Ginza 4-2-15, Tsukamoto Sogyō Bldg. B1

03-3535-3600 (+81-3-3535-3600 from abroad)

If wanting to make a reservation, check the website as they will say if they are fully booked for that month and when they start taking reservations for the next month.

Postscript notes:

As my friend Jeffrey says, “it was a religious experience”.

Another friend has just gotten reservations for an upcoming meal at Sukiyabashi Jirō. He writes that, “I’m trying not to have too high expectations, but simply enjoying the moment”. Wise man. If you are curious as to how this smart guy got a reservation at Jirō, he got it through this website: http://www.food-tourism-japan.com/our-service-fee.html.

Sushi on Sunday in Tokyo

As Tsukiji Market is closed on Sundays many sushi restaurants also take the opportunity to give the staff a day off. That doesn’t mean that sushi isn’t eaten on Sundays in Tokyo.

There are several places to look to for sushi on Sunday and national holidays. Check out hotels, department stores, and large train stations. Here is a shortlist of where to go on Sunday for sushi in Tokyo.

すきやばし次郎 Sukiyabashi Jiro at Nihonbashi Takashimaya is a branch of the famous Michelin 3-star Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza. Nigiri or chirashi sets start at 3,150 JPY – a bargain compared to what you will pay in Ginza.

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi 2-4-1, Nihonbashi Takashimaya Honkan (Main Bldg.) 4F

03-3211-4111

11:00 – 19:00 (last order at 18:30)

Sukiyabashi Jiro is also at Roppongi Hills.

築地青空三代目 Tsukiji Aozora Sandaime at Ginza Mitsukoshi is a branch of a third generation restaurant from Tsukiji’s outer market.

Chuo-ku, Ginza 4-6-16, Ginza Mitsukoshi 11F

03-3561-7021

11:00 – 23:00 (last order 22:30)

魯山 Rozan at Shinjuku Isetan

Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 3-14-1, Shinjuku Isetan 7F

03-3226-0115

11:00 – 16:00; 17:00 – 22:00 (last order 21:15)

魚力海鮮寿司 Uoriki Kaisen Sushi at Atre Meguro Station offers value for the price. Uoriki is not only a sushi restaurant but also a retail shop, and therefore purchasing a lot of seafood from Tsukiji Market. Expect good quality for a great price. The popular “ichiba sushi” offers 10 pieces of seasonal seafood with chawanmushi and miso soup for 1,980 JPY.

Shinagawa-ku, Kami-Oosaki 2-16-9, Atre Meguro 1A Bldg. 5F

03-6408-8378

11:00 – 23:00 (last order 22:00)

Where to Have Sushi at Tsukiji Market

Tsukiji Sushi

Tsukiji Sushi

Daiwa Sushi and Sushi Dai are two of the most commonly heard sushi shop names at Tsukiji Market. The problem is that they are so popular that they have such long lines, some queue for three hours. And yes, the sushi is great here, but is it worth hours standing in line? And for me, I would rather pay the same price, but have a leisurely sushi lunch in Ginza or elsewhere in the city for the same price. However, if you find yourself at Tsukiji and can’t bear to join the long lines at Sushi Dai or Daiwa Sushi, here are some other Tsukiji sushi shops worth checking out.

All of the restaurants serve an “omakase“, usually about eight pieces of sushi that are all served at the same time. But to have a more authentic experience, order piece by piece. Ask for “shun no mono” or seasonal items.

Nakaya 中家

Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #8

03-3541-0211

http://www.tsukijigourmet.or.jp/46_nakaya/index.htm

Another very satisfying way to satiate that craving for raw fish is to have a donburi, or a large bowl of rice topped with seasonal sashimi. Nakaya has a selection of donburi including an uni don of creamy, sweet uni. For a very over the top bowl, you can get toro (fatty tuna), ikura (salmon roe) and uni.

 

Iwasa Sushi 岩佐寿し (Note in a comment below that a recent diner did not have a good dining experience here. I have always had good sushi here so not sure if it was a bad day or what.)

Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #1

03-3544-1755

http://www.tsukijigourmet.or.jp/09_iwasa/index.htm

The seasonal seafood is all wild. The shop specializes in shellfish.

 

Sushi Maru すしまる

Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #10

03-3541-8414

http://www.tsukijigourmet.or.jp/45_sushimaru/index.htm

Using wild and top quality seafood. One of their signature dishes is the “aburi jyu”, a chirashizushi of seared fish over rice.

 

Ichiba Sushi 市場すし

Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #8

03-3541-1350

http://www.tsukijigourmet.or.jp/40_ichiba/index.htm

It is hard to resist the uni donburi or the uni and ikura donburi (check out the photos at the link above).

 

 

A post on Cheap Eats at Tsukiji Market.

Where to go for sushi on Sunday in Tokyo.

November  Seasonal Japanese Seafood (what you should be eating if you come to Tsukiji this month).

An article I wrote for The Japan Times on what to see at Tsukiji. Winter is the tastiest time to visit Tsukiji.

Tsukiji Market Cheap Eats

Tenfusa

Tenfusa

Nakaya

Nakaya

Toritoh

Toritoh

Toyochan

Toyochan

There are so many great places to grab a cheap and delicious bite at Tsukiji Market. And don’t worry if you can’t stomach raw fish first thing in the morning. Most of these places open early in the morning and close after lunch.

Here is a short list of some of my favorites:

  1. Tenfusa 天房 is famous for long anago filets and shrimp that have been deep-fried tempura-style are placed on wide bowl of steaming rice. This is drizzled with an umami-rich sweet soy sauce and served with a side of pickles.  Tsukiji 5-2-1, Building #6 (03-3547-6766). http://www.tsukijigourmet.or.jp/24_tenfusa/index.htm (Japanese – with good photos)
  2. Nakaya 仲家 for donburi. Donburi are bowls filled with rice and topped with sashimi. Get the luxury bowl of uni, toro, and ikura, or if you are in the mood for something cooked, grilled or simmered fish over rice. Tsukiji 5-2-1 building #8 (03-3541-0211). http://www.tsukijigourmet.or.jp/46_nakaya/index.htm (Japanese – with good photos)
  3. Yoshinoya 吉野家 is a popular fast-food chain famous for its gyudon, thin slices of beef cooked with onions and a sweet soy sauce are ladled over a bowl of rice. A branch of Yoshinoya is in New York City on 42nd Street. The first shop in the chain dates back to 1899 and was located near Nihonbashi. It moved here to Tsukiji with the move of the market. Tsukiji 5-2-1 Building #1 (03-5550-8504). www.yoshinoya.com/shop/tsukiji/index.html  (Japanese)
  4. Oomori 大森 is a curry shop, its signature dish is ½ curry and ½ gyudon. In business since 1923, the restaurant only seats 5 people at the counter. Tsukiji 4-8-7 (03-5565-3704)
  5. Yonemoto 米本喫茶本店 has been serving coffee since 1960. www.yonemoto-coffee.com. Tsukiji 4-11-1 (03-3541-6473).
  6. If you are craving ramen, head to Wakaba 若葉. Wakaba has been making ramen for 50 years with a 2nd generation cook. Tsukiji 4-9-11. (03-3546-6589).
  7. Nakaei 中栄 is a 4th generation shop serving up curry and beef hayashi. Tsukiji 5-2-1 building #1 (03-3541-8749). http://www.nakaei.com/
  8. There are many standing bars for food along Shin-Ohashi Dori. Here you will find hormone don (grilled offal over a bowl of rice) at Kitsuneya きつねや, Ramen at Inoue 井の上, soba at Jindaiji Soba Maruyo 深大寺そばまるよ. Tsukiji Donburi Ichiba 築地丼市場 runs 24 hours and the grilled tuna cheeks is juicy and meaty.
  9. Toritoh 鳥藤 is a 4th generation shop serving grilled chicken over rice. There is a large blue noren with red and blue writing to the left of the entrance. Their retail shop is just around the corner. Tsukiji 4-8-6 (03-3543-6525). www.toritoh.com (Japanese)
  10. Toyochan 豊ちゃん is a yoshoku restaurant famous for its omuhayashiraisu (ketchup flavored rice surrounded by a juicy omelet and topped with a beef stew).  Other popular yoshoku dishes include katsukare-raisu (tonkatsu and curry served over rice) and kanikurokke (creamy crab croquettes). Tsukiji 5-2-1 building #1. 03-3541-9062. http://www.tsukijigourmet.or.jp/11_toyo/#04 (Japanese – but great photos)
More information on Indo Curry Nakaei.
Orimine Bakers is a great little bakery minutes from Tsukiji Market.

Book Review – Sushi

Sushi

Sushi

A professor of biophysics at the University of Southern Denmark, Ole G. Mouritsen has penned the most extensive and authoritative book—dare I say encyclopedia?—on sushi to date. This weighty tome is packed with more information than most readers will ever need. Yet that’s exactly where it shines. The author’s curiosity and passion about fish is evident throughout. Perhaps most notable is that, unlike other sushi books written by non-Japanese, the information about seafood is factually correct. Sushi will educate readers on all aspects of fish—texture, taste and how they are served. Packed with photos and illustrations (by the author’s son), this comprehensive guide also includes information on other dishes at the sushi counter, from the rice and vinegar used to make theshari to the green tea that ends the meal. With an extensive glossary and a rich bibliography, Sushi will find its way onto the bookshelves of chefs and foodies the world over. After consuming this work, readers themselves should be given a PhD in sushi.

SUSHI

By Ole G. Mouritsen
Springer, 2009, 330pp, ¥3,357

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine:

http://metropolis.co.jp/dining/local-flavors/the-food-files/

 

Ginza Harutaka 銀座青空

Ginza Harutaka

Ginza Harutaka

Chef Harutaka developed his skills with 12 years at Sukiyabashi Jiro. This sushi restaurant is popular with top chefs in the city. Sit at the counter and watch the young, talented and soft-spoken chef as he handles the seasonal seafood with care and deft. Part of the delight in dining here is taking in the beautiful vessels he uses to hold the seafood. No detail is overlooked at this restaurant that comes highly recommended by top chefs in the city.

Ginza Harutaka 銀座青空

Chuo-ku, Ginza 8-5-8, Ginza Kawabata Building 3F

03-3573-1144

5:00 – 24:00 (Saturday until 22:30)

closed Sunday and holidays

no website


Ginza Kyubey 銀座久兵衛

Ginza Kyubey

Ginza Kyubey

Ginza Kyubey 銀座久兵衛

Chuo-ku, Ginza 8-7-6

03-3571-6523

11:30 – 13:30, 17-21:45

closed Sunday and holidays

www.kyubey.jp/index_e.html (English)

Kyubey Sushi, is famous as a top-class sushi restaurant in the city. It is so popular that it often turned away customers. To accommodate everyone they have opened a bekkan (annex) across the street. They are accustomed to foreigners coming in and you may be seated in front of an English-speaking chef. It is popular with Japanese as well as tourists. The sushi chef may ask you if he should change the size of the shari (rice) or the amount of wasabi. This thoughtfulness is especially appreciated by the ladies who lunch there who may want to have a little less rice as they may be watching their weight. Kyubey is a nice option if you are looking for a top quality sushi experience but want to avoid the prohibitive prices at some shops that are only open for dinner. The lunch here is very reasonable for classic Edo-style nigirizushi.

Magurobito Kaitenzushi in Asakusa 浅草のまぐろ人

Magurobito

Magurobito

Magurobito まぐろ人

Taito-ku, Asakusa 1-5-9 台東区浅草1-5-9

Phone: 03-3844-8736

Monday – Friday (11:00 – 15:00, 17:00 – 22:00)

Saturday (11:00 – 22:00)

Sunday and holidays (11:00 – 21:00)

www.magurobito.com/ (Japanese)

Magurobito is kaitenzushi (revolving sushi) with a good value and a selection of seasonal fresh fish. It is very popular so there is often a line, but it tends to move quickly. This is a chain so you may see shops around the city. Of the many kaitenzushi, this chain is one of the better ones. It is also very popular for its bang for buck. There is a second shop in the area but it is tachigui (stand and eat) and only accommodates a handful of customers.

Kizushi in Ningyocho 人形町の㐂寿司

Kizushi in Ningyocho 人形町の㐂寿司

Kizushi in Ningyocho 人形町の㐂寿司

Kizushi 㐂寿司

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 2-7-13 中央区日本橋人形町2-7-13

Tel. 03-3666-1682

11:45 – 14:30, 17:00 – 21:30 (Monday – Friday)

11:45 – 21:00 (Saturday)

closed Sunday and holidays no website

Opened in 1924, this third generation sushi shop feels as though time as stopped. The third generation owner works with his sons, fourth generation, behind the counter. This is classic style sushi that is served not onto a plate but onto a narrow counter in between the chef and the diner. If the sushi needs to be seasoned the chef will puts some tsume on it. You should eat your sushi with your fingers, which is why you are presented a small wet napkin in a small basket. The seafood is displayed in small refrigerated cases on straw trays, some which still may be moving. Dinner can be on the pricy side so come for lunch if you are on a budget. While some of these old style sushi shops have the reputation for not being friendly, you will be warmly greeted and looked after here.

Nipponia magazine has an excellent write-up of Kizushi online at:

http://web-japan.org/nipponia/nipponia47/en/feature/feature01.html

Tokyo Cheap Eats – Oedo Kaitenzushi 大江戸回転寿し

Ooedo Kaitenzushi

Ooedo Kaitenzushi

Ooedo Kaitenzushi

Ooedo Kaitenzushi

As a fishmonger, Shinji is always craving sushi. There are many ranks of restaurants, even within the kaitenzushi (revolving sushi). Ooedo Kaitenzushi came highly recommended for its variety of fresh fish at a reasonable price. Ooedo has several locations throughout the city. This one is near Okachimashi, just south of Ueno station and near the boisterous Ameyoko market.

Shirako

Shirako

Assorted Sushi

Assorted Sushi

Assorted Sushi

Assorted Sushi

Ooedo Kaitenzushi – Okachimachi Kitaguchi Ten

Taito-ku, Ueno 6-2-1

Phone: 03-5812-2097

http://www.ooedo.co.jp