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.

Kaikaiya – Shibuya

 

Kaikaiya in Shibuya is one of my favorite places and I bring all out of town visitors here. It’s great for groups, the servers speak English, the vibe is great most importantly: the food is good. Their menu is mainly seafood. Wait, the menu is mainly approachable seafood, meaning it’s not weird with like eyeballs hanging off the fish heads or live shrimp dancing while hot liquid is poured on the spot. (They do have both on the menu, by the way. But there is a ton of ‘safe’ seafood. Like the ones you’d find at some European or American hotel cafe.

The sashimi plate is also legit — one of the neatest things is the piece of wasabi that comes and diners can grate their own. (Like in the photo up top.)

The flavors are Western / SE Asian, with a lot of Western / SE Asian spices like cilantro, Vietnamese fish sauce, Chinese chili sauces. The aromas and textures are familiar; but very, very, Japanese. For example, there is a carpaccio that is Vietnamese inspired but the fish sauce is so subtle, shrimp cocktail is ‘fishier’ than the amount of fish sauce used on the dish.

Then there’s the one dish that blows people’s minds:

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Maguro no kama (tuna collar) spareribs. It’s not very pretty but omg it’s so delicious. It’s spicy and tangy and acidic and the fish just melts in your mouth; easily one of my favorite dishes in all of Tokyo!

Another that I always order:img_6960

Crab ‘dip’ with rice crackers. It’s like the Japanese spinach and artichoke dip (LOL)… and tons and tons and tons and tons of other fantastic dishes that range from adventurous to even a kindergartener who’s never eaten seafood can eat it without being queasy.

Kaikaiya is also excellent with two people (request counter seats). This place is so on-point, I make sure to take all my favorite people!

Kaikaiya
Address (drop this into Google Maps)↓
東京都渋谷区円山町23-7

Calling at least two to three days in advance is recommended
http://www.kaikaya.com/index.html

Hokkaido Shinkansen

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I am in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan in a Starbuck’s killing time before my flight. My traveling companions are eating soup curry (super runny Japanese curry rice that looks like this — one of the things Sapporo is super famous for).

Hokkaido is the most northern island of Japan. It is the island known for their glorious seafood and the motherland of kombu.

I’ve had some incredible food here I will get around to posting but for now, here is a quick re-cap of what I learned from my second visit to this area in two months.

  • The bullet train is expensive ($200 USD for a one-way from Tokyo to Hakodate <– Hokkaido’s most Southern city; flights are about the same or cheaper. I rode in the Green Car, the equivalent of Business Class)
  • Hokkaido is MASSIVE. It takes about three hours from Hakodate to Sapporo on a super slow, lame train.
  • I much prefer Hakodate to Sapporo. Sapporo to me feels like Tokyo, where the city is so big there are many hits and many misses. The nightlife (bars, etc.) is similar to Tokyo. Hakodate has lots of small bars with more a cozy feel.
  • There is such thing as too much seafood. I’m so seafood-ed out, I am craving meat more than fish. Seriously such a first world problem in the highest order but I’m kind of over uni.

I’ll update with my recommendations in Hakodate (I’m still learning Sapporo).
Until then!

 

Fish Sticks – the Japanese Way

And the obsession with aburi 炙り foods continues… Aburi, is sear, grill, torch, etc., and this is from one of my favorite places that specializes in fish and seafood. This little two story restaurant is a neighborhood favorite and secret. It is a homey place, with a handsome chef / owner and his lovely wife runs the front of the house. Aside from the owner, there are two younger cooks. One who mans the grilling, the other is the sous.

Everything here is delicious. I can keep eating the fish grilled on the sticks. Each fish is individually seasoned with salt and pepper. Or olive oil. A touch of soy sauce. Perhaps miso. Sometimes yuzu koshō (yuzu is a citrus, koshō is pepper, yuzu koshō is a Japanese hot paste, like harissa if you are familiar with Middle Eastern spices). Every skewer is flavored differently to complement the unique flavors of each fish.

There is sashimi of course ↓

This particular sashimi was omakase (chef’s choice) for three (we were dining with three people). There is snapper, black snapper, iwashi (sardine), katsuo (fresh),  octopus and aji (mackerel).

They have wonderful starters from salads to tofu, traditional Japanese bites that go well with sake and shochū. They even have fried foods like gyoza and chijimi — what we call Korean pancakes pajeon in Japanese — korokke croquettes and the likes.

I prefer to stick with the fish, though, as they do fish so well. I mainly only bring friends who are not fussy eaters, as someone may be a bit frightened by sights like these ↓

That fish is amadai by the way which was the special on that particular day.  Amadai or tile fish in English, is a marvelous fish used in kaiseki Japanese haute cuisine specifically, Kyō ryōri Kyoto cuisine. Sidenote: amadai usually make appearances towards the end of fall, beginning of winter following ayu season, so I was a bit taken aback it was on the menu. As you can tell from the first photo, amadai is unique, in which when cooked, the scales stand up (as do the fins when they are supremely fresh). The scales are to to be eaten with this lean, white fish. Light in taste and texture, they gently pop in your mouth and delightful with the grilled fish’s meat.

When I visit this place, I am selfish. I prefer to eat without holding back or paying mind to other people’s preferences. And because an experience with amadai might be a bit scary for those unfamiliar, I do not bring many visitors here.

If you are adventurous both with dining and experiences (there is no English menu and the chefs barely speak English — though the owner spent time in California so he can communicate some), this place is highly recommended.

Reservations are not required but suggested.
Also, they have a mannequin that sits outside of the restaurant when there are seats available. So cute.

This place is like a home for me. It’s very warm and welcoming. The staff is very very kind to me and there is a sense of old school community I love so much about Japan. There are many people who dine here alone as well.

Sakanaya Kīmon
Drop this into Google Maps↓
東京都渋谷区恵比寿1-26-15
Open daily 5 pm – 12:30 am.
Last order is at 11:30 pm
Phone: +81 03 5420-1232
No website