Happy New Year and an Ode to Sushi Saito

It’s been a while — actually too long — since I last updated. Lots of changes and things going on blah blah blah [insert more excuses]. Ok fine. We are all ‘busy’. Truth is, I’ve just been too pre-occupied to update.

A lot has happened over the past few months but I promised myself to update more. And here is my first post for the new year, an ode to Sushi Saito. My most favorite sushi restaurant on the planet.

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VIP seats; right smack in front of him!

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Super Mega Early Tsukiji


More visuals from backlog posts continue as I sort through photos from my old phone… Here are the photos I took from this post in which I finally went to the tuna auction at the butt crack of dawn. I don’t even remember taking the photo up top but, it came out pretty legit.

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Beautiful tuna sashimi pieces (that again, I do not recall taking) from the breakfast sushi. My defective phone camera worked perfectly whenever it felt like it I guess because this one isn’t blurry. I’m actually shocked by how it turned out!

And in case you’re interested, more photo dumps after the jump…

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Tsukiji Tuna Auction

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Photo courtesy of Naveen

It’s an ungodly hour in Tokyo but the fish market is alive and buzzing. We get there at 3:30am but barely make the cut into the second group to view the tuna auction. We walk through the door and given vests. The first group is bright green. We, the second group, put on blue ones. The room looks like a pretty big storage room cleaned out and turned into a waiting room. Hard concrete floors, bright halogen lights and white walls makes the room more reminiscent of a looney bin. I am the only Japanese and almost feel like a refugee waiting for Japanese immigration to give me permission to enter the country. It is not a pleasant experience. 

The holding room.

Apparently, I texted a friend this photo who kindly sent it back to me. Sort of hilarious this is the only photo I have after my big, sad ordeal. We’ve been sitting around this room for hours and finally the first group goes out into the auction room. We stand around for a few more minutes and it’s our turn.

Being the only Japanese is a bit of a blessing and a curse. The workers are shocked a Japanese national is actually participating in the auction viewing but more so, I learn things I perhaps would rather not know. There are the things I learned.

Heads up: this may take the magic out of the experience if you are planning to go so I’m putting it behind a jump.

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Turning Japanese

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Forgive me Internet, for I am sinning.

As much as I believe in the typical American ethos of “sharing is caring”, there are some things I need to keep off the Internet and social channels — especially, restaurants I do not want discovered by tourists (yet). And there are not one, but handful of places I choose not to share on Instagram and this blog.

This sushi restaurant is one, where the chef’s knife skills are absurd. The photo up top is of toro with 56 cuts into it. It’s already hard enough securing reservations there, once discovered to the world, I am terribly afraid booking will be near impossible.

Once I go another few times I will share. Promise.
I am turning into one of those secretive Japanese people…

Deciphering Sushi Garnish

 

This is aji from the Mie prefecture, over akazu rice. Aka is red. Zu su or osu is vinegar. Akazu is used in Edomae Edo is what Tokyo was called sushi, the traditional Tokyo sushi. Red vinegar sleeps for three years before it can be used for consumption.

Akazu vinegar sushi basically ruined me from enjoying sushi made with clear vinegar. The acids are toned down and akazu draws out the flavors of the fish. It can only be used in the freshest fish and the results are absolutely magical.

Aji, is a hikari mono shiny fish because the fish are really shiny. In Japanese, hikari mono indicates a more prominent sea taste vs subtle ocean like with shiro mi zakana white fish like trouts and snappers (hirame, tai, hamachi, etc.)

Now the toppings seem complex but really not. It complements the fish and rice instead of taking over the flavors. This one piece of nigiri was a stand-out.

1. daikon oroshi grated daikon
Daikon is a Japanese radish and is in season during the winter. It’s used in grated form added to many foods in Japanese cuisine. It’s topped on grilled or raw fish, added to udon, rice bowls, grilled vegetables like eggplant. In solid form, daikon is added to a lot of our winter dishes like oden, nabe hot pot. Daikon and daikon oroshi is a must in any Japanese kitchen.

This piece of nigiri had a teensy dollop of daikon oroshi.

2. Kujyo negi
Negi is Japanese green onions or scallions. Kujyo negi is just a variation of Japanese green onion. The root portion is a bit thicker and seen in hot pots or sukiyaki whole.

3. Myoga
Myoga is a type of ginger and they are so delicious.

They come in two forms: stick or bulb:

They are commonly used as a garnish for grilled foods – generally fish. Both the stick and bulb can also be pickled to eat with rice. Yum.

For the sushi, the itamae-san sushi chef cut them in ultra thin strips and added the teensy bulb shape on the aji. The nigiri was then spritzed with kabosu (a citrus that is used when yuzu is out of season).

And there you have it – sushi garnish 101.
You’re welcome.

Daily Tsukiji: Buri Belly 

Googling how to reset my memory so I can enjoy places other than Shutoku did no good. I came across useless articles about how to get over someone who cheated on you. Or like, how to forget that one unforgettable guy/girl. I tried replacing ‘guy’ with ‘food’, but it didn’t work out too well. Actually it was very strange. (I’ll spare the details.) So I did the next best thing: go to another place that serves akazu vinegar rice sushi. Akazu, is the five year brewed vinegar. 

Since I forgot to take a photo of the buri belly from last week, I went back to the same place that serves seared sushi and ordered three pieces of seared (Aburi) omakase and four pieces of non-seared omakase. With the stipulation the buri belly be included. 

Customizing orders can be challenging here as the menu items are all in Japanese (except the set menus.)

Image is cropped funny because the interior is kind of cluttered and it didn’t look very presentable.





Usual suspects from left to right: kinmedai, tachiuo, nodo guro – the descriptions are on the previous post.



Buri belly. I remeber it was white last week and not confident this is the same fish lol



This one is new. it’s called kue (クエ) and a simple white fish with a bite.. this fish is named ara in the Kyushu region of Japan and, morocco in the Tokyo and surrounding areas. I mean, it was good but not out of this world.





Seki Saba. Mackerel from the Seki region.



The last piece was a chu-toro. Didn’t even compare to the one I had at Shutoku. 

I’m not being biased, but, at the same price I can have a way better meal at Shutoku. Probably not returning here again. Sadly. 

Tsukiji Fail

I have a colossal problem.

Today I had a lunch at my scheduled place. I just… couldn’t enjoy my meal. I didn’t even take photos. Shutoku has basically ruined me; I can’t stop day dreaming about my experience there.

Every piece I eat, I’m comparing Aoki Chef’s knife skills to others. I wonder how he would garnish that particular piece – or if he would even garnish. Would he just sprinkle salt? Brush lightly with soy sauce? Or maybe top it with grated daikon radish. I stare down at the cut fish on top of rice and imagine how he would present it. My taste buds are craving the perfect balance of akazu vinegar rice with the freshest, highest quality fish. And I wonder what Aoki Chef would say, as he served the piece to me. He has set the bar and Shutoku is now hands down, my favorite place in The Market thus far.

How am I ever going to eat through the other places in Tsukiji?

I get that this is a good (spoiled?) problem to have. But I need to figure out a way to reset this meal so I quit complaining and give accolades to other establishments.

After all, every place is different.
Off to googling I go…

Daily Tsukiji: $200 Meal for $50

Shame on me for failing to immediately post these photos but I’m still processing the stunning omakase from Tuesday. (Today is Friday by the way.)

Every now and again, I have an unforgettable meal I can’t stop thinking about for days on end. My lunch at Shutoku 秀徳 was definitely one of them. I’m terribly concerned my photos and words won’t do this place justice…

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Such a sexy work station.

 

The citrus pictures is sudachi. Not pictured is kabosu. These two citruses are mainly used outside of Tokyo and in Tokyo when yuzu isn’t in season. Osaka, uses sudachi year round. Only a few sprinkles from the grated rinds releases an unbelievable, delicate citrus aroma.

Now on to the show – get ready for some major sushi porn.

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Daily Tsukiji: Seared Goodness

Wow, one of the most memorable places so far for sure.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the seared Kama toro I had at Kuybey (as opposed to the raw one at Sushi Ichiban on Saturday) so I asked the people at Tsukiji for their recommendations of a place that serves seared sushi. General consensus was Kagura Sushi.

Kagura Sushi was indeed delicious. For their rice shari they use Yamagata rice with housemade akazu 赤酢 (five year aged vinegar of a darker finish, usually used for sushi). And for the searing aburi 炙り they don’t torch but sear on a net. Searing on a net ensures there is no bitterness to the finish of the fish.

The results? Incredible.

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Nodoguro sea bass. A firm white fish that is so delicate, serving it seared elevates its tastes.

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Kinmedai sea bream (?) a popular white fish, kinmedai frequently appears in sushi and also traditional Japanese cooking. I love it when it’s baked in rice, stewed, wait but the sushi form was also excellent. It’s one of my favorites.

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Tachiuo. The transalation is a bit strange. It says scabbard fish, not sure what that means. The fish resembles mackerel sanma and the Japanese characters 太刀魚 means Great Sword Fish. This guy is a hikarimono shiny fish. Hikarimono are known to have more prominent tastes, a bit more naturally fatty and (good) oily. It blended so well with the rice I didn’t want it to end.

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Kuromutsu. Another one where the translation makes zero sense. I don’t think this one is widely available abroad too. This one, too, fantastic. I don’t remember the exact tastes but more so the texture and scent — it was a perfect piece.

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Kinki. Again, strange English name. I think I’ve had it in the US before. It was as tasty as beautiful.

For the last piece, I asked the itamae-san chef to serve me his choice not seared. Out came Japanese winter amberjack kan buri 寒ブリ toro. The character is ‘cold buri’. Holy cow, this one was incredible. I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo… Oops. It was just like toro, luxuriously soft with a subtle ocean.

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Then finished off with an elegant white miso soup that was out of this world.

They also have tons of grilled fish items (lots of collar!) and specials of the days. I can’t wait to go back again, it was really that good.

The pink blob I blurred out in the background is Himalayan salt. I ate all the pieces with no soy sauce — the rice and fish were flavorful on their own. The itamae-san noticed I wasn’t using soy sauce right away and lightly flavored the pieces for me.

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C4 and E5 on the Tsukiji map. (I went to the one at C4)

I read, write and speak Japanese so I was able to customize my order. They don’t have an English menu but they have photos, so you can point. This place is a definitely in my top three at Tsukiji thus far.

Daily Tsukiji: Unreal Uni

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On Friday, February 13th I had unreal uni during my daily Tsukiji trip. As always I went to say my daily hello to Saga-san at the uni bar. He told me he put a special uni aside for me to try (!!!)

Pictured left, this uni is from the Rausu region of Hokkaido. Rausu is on the East Northern tip along the Nemuro Strait. The topography is optimal for sea life and Rausu konbu kelp is one of the three highest grade kelp used for Japanese cuisine. Uni eats konbu and the various grades of uni is dependent on the kind of konbu it feeds on.

Words can not describe how amazing this uni was. I never had anything like it. There was a firmness but it melted into my mouth like smooth, thick, rich liquified chocolate. Just a touch sweet, with the slightest hint of sea I could smell through my nose. The sensations were out of this world.

I’m still thinking about it, that’s how much I loved it. The uni on the right is from the Tomakomai region. Delicious but didn’t even compare to the Rausu.

Both were eaten with freshly ground Himalayan salt. Himalayan salt by the way, looks incredible displayed on beautiful sushi counters.

Thanks to Saga-san I am turning into a reluctant uni expert. I don’t think I can eat ‘regular’ uni anymore. What a spoiled problem to have…