Sushi Saito

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In 2009, when Michelin decided to uncover Japan’s culinary scene by including us in their guide, two things happened. One: the world got a glimpse of our extraordinary cuisine. Two: it caused absolute chaos to the reservation situation in Tokyo.

Frankly, it’s now shit.

There is way more demand than supply since most spots seat only 8-10 people and for those who aren’t Japanese or speak the language, they are SOL (shit outta luck). Sadly a lot of crappy tourists bail last minute or worse, don’t show up or even call (seriously, who does that?) and have ruined it for others to score bookings. Nowadays, a majority of the higher end and exclusive places are invite only for quality control. This isn’t because Japanese people don’t like foreigners. It’s because when a place is so small they only serve 20 or so seatings a night, it hurts the business a lot when people don’t show up; especially since ingredients are purchased daily.

But as frustrating as the booking situation is, one of the best parts about dining in Japan is the intimate experience. A lot of high-end sushi and kappo (cuisine with heavy kaiseki influence – thoughtful presentation, high quality, hyper seasonal ingredients, open kitchen, usually counter seating where diners get to watch/interact with the chef and his apprentices) spots, the taisho (chef) is extremely generous with his knowledge and every time I dine, I always learn something new.

This visit to Sushi Saito, here’s what I learned:

  • Male shishamo tastes better than female shishamo. Shishamo is smelt and kokusan shishamo is Japanese smelt. For about 15 or so years now, Russian or Mongolian smelt are served instead of Japanese smelt since there is a shortage and kokusan shishamo is now hard to obtain. Female smelts are widely served carrying eggs (komochi shishamo) but I barely see male shishamo. I’m not sure if I’ve even had it before. Saito-san also shared that male shishamo is served raw (sashimi) and slightly seared in the spring. Amazing.
  • Kimo is fish liver and the most commonly served fish liver is ankimo (monkfish liver). Fugu (blowfish) kimo is also served — I had no idea. Saito-san told us his first fugu kimo was in a region far up north (I forgot where). When we asked him if it was good, he said: “It’s delicious but I can’t say for certain if it was tasty because it’s so rare or because it is truly tasty. Would I risk my life to eat it again? Probably not.” while laughing. And then he went on to say: “Nothing beats Kawahagi kimo. Ankimo has a kuse.” Kuse, means a distinctness — scent, texture, flavor, what have you — like blue cheese. People either love it or hate it. I kind of think he didn’t really like fugu kimo haha
  • Saito-san trained at Kanesaka and directly under Kanesaka-san. (Kanesaka is now legendary and has two restaurants in Tokyo, several abroad. I’ve only been to Kanesaka once and didn’t really like it but that’s a story for another day.) Saito-san calls Kanesaka-san, Kanesaka jiisan (Jiisan is old man but for Saito-san to fondly address him by that nickname is a huge sign of respect and signifies their closeness) and told us how Kanesaka-san taught him how to crab and fish. Saito-san also mentioned how they used to go together all the time. So cute ❤︎
  • Saito-san can tell the difference between a male and female fish; he said he has to feel them though. That’s pretty mental.
  • The best fugu restaurant in Tokyo is Ajiman

 …I feel like I’m missing some learings so I’ll add if I remember. 

Such a fulfilling meal both physically and mentally, which makes Sushi Saito one of my favorite places on the Earth.

 

Oden … and the most fucking amazing guide to Tokyo

Excuse the F-bomb in the headline (I know, so inappropriate but whatever. This is my fucking blog and I can fucking drop fucking F-bombs heeeeeeere… weeeeeeeee) but I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to contribute to a once in a fucking (another F-bomb!) lifetime comprehensive guide to Tokyo that nothing out there even fucking (and another one!) comes close to.

There is so much information about everything one requires when planning a Tokyo trip. Beyond that, though, the writing is high quality and puts my writing to shame. (Note to self: step your game up.)

The guide is here and everyone with even a remote interest in Japan and Tokyo needs to smash the bookmark button a bajillion times over and share with all.

…anddddddd somehow, I snuck in.

Still in disbelief I’m included and in no way am I posting this because I contributed. It’s a beautiful, informative, fascinating look into the complexity of Japan from various viewpoints and an excellent guide. My contributions are: decoding conbini (convenience stores), unraveling Tabelog (the most accurate dining compass of Japan) and share mid-range priced sushi; I eat at spots that aren’t expensive as shit and here’s the proof.

Hope you enjoy!

Bonus: you may or may not know this fact but massive editing takes place (of course). My pieces would be NOTHING without the editors. Seriously, they are all stars. But just for shits and giggles (loving the ability to freely curse, obviously) there are several parts of my conbini piece that were massively edited (and for good reason). I wasn’t attached to a lot of the parts the Eater editors vanquished but I just can’t let the oden part go so I’m side-barring here.

On Eater:

Oden

From September to mid-April, there are often large, heated metal trays or pots near the registers of most conbini. Inside the trays are different ingredients — tofu, daikon radish, boiled eggs, and fish cakes — floating in a hot, fragrant (almost pungent) dashi broth. This is oden, Japan’s winter comfort food. While the absolute best typically comes from chefs who have spent a lifetime perfecting their broth and curating the ingredients to pair with it, the conbini version is fun to try.

Butttttttt lemme tell you how I really feel:

From September to mid-April, there are huge pots with weird shaped ingredients floating in a funky broth near the registers. This is oden and a Japanese comfort food staple, delicious when properly prepared. Conbini oden is more symbolic. When we see oden set-up in conbinis, we immediately think: start of winter and once they are cleared, we know that summer is here. I have never seen anyone actually buy conbini oden but if you happen to be here while it is served, it may be fun to try. Oden is best home cooked or at oden specific restaurants where chefs are usually 70 year old men who have spent their lifetimes perfecting their broths and hunting for foods that pair perfectly with their broths.

Oden properly prepared is like this ↓ and I also wrote about it here

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Gen Yamamoto – A Tokyo Must

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Bar Gen Yamamoto is one of my favorite places in Tokyo and I recommend everyone and anyone coming to Tokyo to visit. He is beyond a ‘mixologist’ and more a magician, a flavor savant, a true genius of his craft. I’d even argue he may quite possibly be the best in the world when it comes to surprising and delighting with his cocktails.

People seem to freak out over a four or six cocktail tasting in fear of getting trashed but the thing is, his drinks aren’t boozy at all. The spirits he uses are activators, pulling forth the deepest, richest flavor notes from the fruits and vegetables he pairs them with and so basically, the drinks have only a splash or a touch of alcohol. I doubt anyone could actually get drunk off Gen-san’s cocktails.

These days I visit him at least once a month — sometimes more if there are people in town. Here are a few highlights from August:  Continue reading

Sushi

Almost a year has gone by since I ate my way through Tsukiji and it’s time to update — especially since revisiting some older posts, my face turned hot and red; I am extremely embarrassed at how little I knew about sushi.

So today, almost 12 months and many, many high-end sushi meals later, here are a few things I have learned. Warning: this will be a super long and ultra nerdy post with barely any photos…

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Gen Yamamoto in the Typhoon

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All we could do, is laugh. As we rush out of my favorite fish on sticks place* to hail a cab, the rain is coming down mean and hard. The sidewalks are overfilling with steep puddles and I swear I see Noah’s Arc with elephants and giraffes lined up two-by-two heading our way.

Should I call an Uber?” he asks. “This is Tokyo. Ubers are unnecessary.” I say. He looks back at me a bit skeptical and just when he was about to whip out his phone I spy an empty cab I successfully flag down. “See?” I say and he smiles, holds the umbrella up near the door as I rush in. Even with him shielding the rain with our shared umbrella, the downpour is so aggressive I’m immediately drenched. He climbs in after me making sound effects. He is wetter than I. We look at each other and laugh. The cab driver laughs — first at his gibberish, then with us as I say, “only thing left to do is laugh.

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