Ode to Akami and Sushi Saito

Someone randomly liked a super old post on Instagram which prompted a bit of reminiscing. I then realized, I only IG’d most of my posts and never really blogged about my sushi experience in Tokyo… which is a shame because I spent way more than I care to admit eating high-end sushi two to three times a week for about two and a half years, and now know more about sushi than a normal person should know. So I thought, why not write an ode (better late than never, right?)

After a year or so of consistently eating sushi, I finally felt confident to form informed opinions. Such as, which season to eat sushi is my favorite (neta fish used for sushi is hyper seasonal and you start picking up on patterns of what is served when), the various shari sushi rice from which chef and where (every chef uses their own recipe and flavoring techniques to complement their curation techniques… most chefs learn from where they apprenticed and usually put their own subtle touches) and I’ve also drawn the conclusion, my favorite sushi restaurant is Sushi Saito. My favorite piece of sushi is the simple red tuna. Or, akami, as we say in Japanese.

At first akami seems so boring and mundane but I didn’t understand the allure and depth until moving to Japan and experiencing the high-end sushi and for that, I am grateful.

So here is a gallery of Instagram posts of akami from Saito. Even before declaring akami is my favorite piece, reckon I subconsciously knew, as a lot of my posts from Saito are of the most mundane piece of red tuna on top of rice.

Read more about why I love Saito-san here. Really nerdy post on thoughts and learnings about sushi are here. Ranking of Tabelog’s top sushi spots are here though most of the top spots are near impossible to book.

🚨🍣New Sushi Spot Alert 🍣🚨

Found this place that just opened through a wonderful food friend… and oh my god it was seriously one of the best meals I’ve had in Japan.

From the attention he pays to every single detail in his shop (design, hand towels, and even specialty toilet paper), to ceramics, his choice of staff all reflects in his stunning food.

His shari (sushi rice) was literally perfection. His otsumami (small plates) surpasses any of the places I’ve eaten before.

Above are only a few of the photos and the notes, not as extensive as I’d like (too preoccupied enjoying my meal).

6 hour steamed abalone in its juices
Hokkaido shishamo caught only in October served two ways (nigiri and gunkan)
Ankimo with mizunomi (ankimo steamed with the mizunomi omg the texture!!!)
Of course nodoguro

…and the sushi was 100%. Not a fan of cured neta that is pungent, or shari that is too sour (I can name a handful of super famous spots that are aggressively flavored)

On and on I can keep going but honestly, I only remember being blown away. Asking trillions of questions like I always do. And not retaining most of the information… hashtag OLD.

So, I will leave this post with my friend Ash’s succinct – but vulgar – description (and this guy knows. his. shit.)

Threes

They say deaths come in threes and boy has the culinary world in 2018 suffered the effects of that urban legend. First Anthony Bourdain. Then Jonathan Gold. And now, Joël Robuchon.

My first experience at a Robuchon establishment was in Tokyo, where he owns this strange mansion-esque building that houses three Robuchon restaurants and one bar. I’ve eaten at all three, even had drinks at the bar.

Living in Asia, it’s easy to travel around the region and in every cosmopolitan city of this part of the world, there is at least one L’Atelier that is starred by Michelin. And that is the extent I know about him: A decorated chef with a lot of stars around the globe.

Reading tributes, I now have a better understanding of the man and the impact he had on global fine dining. Pete Wells’ NYTimes piece basically sums it up perfectly.

I don’t really have much to contribute but I did come across a mashed potato recipe of his I’ve cooked several times. They are French style mashed potatoes, creamier and richer than the mashed potatoes Americans are used to, perfect for when you want to control mashed potato intake because honestly I can eat an entire pot of American style mashed potatoes. Oops!

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Ferran Adrìa and Daniel Boulud

I get it. I do. We all cut corners.

Ina Garten uses store bought marinara (Rao’s) as does Giada de Larentiis. Rick Bayless uses Tamazula hot sauce. Andrew Zimmern (4x James Beard winner) uses Sam’s BBQ Sauce and Trader Joe’s brand harissa (wtf), on and on, if you do Google searches, there are loads of information of ready made products chef use.

Almost all of the store-bought products top chefs rely on make sense. Why bother wasting time and energy making something if store bought ones taste better? Personally, I veer from house-made / homemade ketchup and mayo — Heinz still makes the best ketchup, Hellman’s and Kewpie for mayo.

However, there are two unforgivable offenses I just can not get over.

  1. (points below)

and 2. (points below)

In no means am I a purist but these are three star Michelin chefs!!!!!! Preserved lemons are just salt and water. Variations may have added spices and lemon juice but come on! What is so difficult about tossing some spices or squeezing juice? Not to mention, he is a master chef and restauranteur who owns chains and employs thousands of people. He can easily have minions make preserved lemons. Buying pre-made is just lazy.

Ferran Adrìa is the genius behind elBulli, the now defunct mothership that bred countless of world-class chefs dazzling Europe. And he uses dashi powder? WTF. Dashi powder is the equivalent to bouillon cubes of Japanese cooking: FLAVORLESS SALT BOMBS.

I am strangely disappointed, extremely offended, and most of all sad, since I no longer trust these chefs.. If Chef Daniel Boulud can’t even prepare his own preserved lemons, what else does he cut corners on? Makes me never, ever, want to step foot into Daniel or any Boulud restaurant ever again.

Oh, well.

The French Laundry #throwback

One of the greatest things about Twitter is how bits of information are shared, which is probably due to how anyone can post whatever they feel like quickly. The 280 character limit and knowing the information will most likely pass through a vortex of information and disappear into the Internet blackhole relieves pressures of thinking too much … which is beneficial for the masses as we can see deeper into our favorite people/brands/businesses that are normally out of reach. (Usually — as I am obviously taking politics out of the equation.)

The other day a friend alerted me to The French Laundry’s Tweet, sharing their opening night menu in 1979 (!!!)

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Fast forward to 1994, Thomas Keller bought the building and in 2018, TK is arguably still one of the top 5 chefs in North America, and TFL is one of the greatest restaurants in America.

The original handwritten menu on opening night, though, beautifully sums up the state of food in America in the 70’s and up until the late-00’s (perhaps early 2010) when the American public finally started caring about food.

Take a look:

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“Fresh asparagus” and “rice” are on the menu — wow.

America, you have come a long way! And thank you, Chef Keller, for being on the forefront of the food revolution in the U.S. Much love and respect.

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.

été – an invite only French spot in Tokyo

Some of you may recognize this cake making its rounds all over Instagram. The baker, young Nacchan, made a huge splash in the Tokyo dining scene last year. Hailing from the Michelin starred “Florilege”, she was the sous then ventured on her own at the tender age of 27 to open “été”, an invite only private dining spot in Tokyo.

Anyway, I had the privilege to dine there and her food was in fact, delicious! Some of the photos may not do her food justice (too preoccupied eating) but if you get a chance to go, definitely worth it!

*phone number and address are withheld

Tacubo 


It’s no longer a secret the Japanese make unbelievable Napoli pizza (David Chang just filmed a segment for Mind of a Chef in Tokyo) but don’t write off the Italian food cooked with Japanese ingredients. Take this stunning primi piatti from Tacubo in Daikanyama. Open for less than a year, they have already attained a Michelin star and quickly rated a top 5 Italian in Tokyo. The antipasti and pastas are beautiful but the real stars are the meats cooked to perfection in the maki yaki (薪焼き) firewood grill. The lamb is 💯🐑🐑🐑

Bookings are still not impossible but pretty soon, they will become another restaurant with hard-to-acquire reservations so if you are planning a trip here, I suggest visiting sooner than later.

Tacubo
Drop this into Google Maps↓
東京都 渋谷区 恵比寿西 2-13-16 ラングス代官山
03-6455-3822

*Reservations are a must

Super Duper Insider Info: New Sushi Mitani

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Sushi Mitani is notorious for having an impossible waitlist (currently it’s at 3 years). Earlier this year, Mitani-san suffered from a heart attack and was out of commission for a few months. Sidetrack for a second and imagine waiting two and a half — possibly longer — years for a booking only to find out he isn’t well. Man, I don’t know how I would feel and what kind of person that makes me…

Anyway.

So Mitani-san, the man himself, is okay and back making sushi. His first apprentice Takano-san (who was standing in while Mitani-san  was recovering) opened a new shop in July. The other day, it was announced Mitani-san is closing his shop in Yotusya, moving to Takano-san’s shop, making sushi in the private room.

To sit in front of Mitani-san, the wait is still 2.5 years, as Mitani-san moved all the existing bookings from the original Mitani to the new Mitani. But, seats in front of Takano-san are still available.

As I keep repeating, sushi is personal preference and I’ve enjoyed Mitani-san’s sushi once and since I’ve found my favorite go-to sushi spots I will not be booking. But if you are planning a visit, I would recommend eating at Mitani at least once. The man is a legend. And if you’re into Michelin and stuff, he has two stars.

Hurry and make bookings at the new one while you still can! It will FOR SURE become another place where it is impossible to get seats.

Side-note: Mitani-san’s shop was a 2.5 year wait even when Takano-san was making the sushi. Frankly it doesn’t matter if you sit in front of Takano-san or Mitani-san as you will be able to enjoy the same neta (fish) that Mitani-san has access too, which is equally as important as skill.

Kioichō (I hope I’m spelling this correctly in roma-ji but it’s 紀尾井町 三谷) Mitani
03 6256 9566
Drop this into Google Maps↓
東京都千代田区紀尾井町1-2
Open for lunch and dinner (same price, unfortunately. Around $300 USD before tax and drinks); open 7 days.
http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1308/A130801/13198197/dtlphotolst/1/smp2/

Because Japan


If the Michelin barometer dictates your eating,  it’s no secret Japan is the best place to visit. (We boast the most Starred restaurants on the planet.) 

I’m not a Michelin chaser, I just like things that are delicious. But, it’s nice to know a guide which influences diners world wide acknowledges Japan’s food culture. 

The above place is most likely Bib Gourmand but it’s pretty neat how such an affordable place is included in the guide 😊

I love Japan! 

You can see all the Bib Gourmand (as well as the Starred establishments) here