A friend of mine was raving about a small sushi restaurant she found right by a Tokyo subway stop a couple years before this trip. It came recommended to her by a local and ended up being delicious.. Based on the long set of paragraphs she wrote about the place I decided that I needed to find it and try some of their sushi! So after I was done relaxing in Yoyogi Park, I jumped on the subway and headed in the direction of this mystical subway sushi restaurant.
The description sounds awfully like a restaurant Obama visited when he was president, but it does not appear to be the same place. In the pictures it looks almost identical, but it's by a different subway stop. It almost sounds like my friend went here thinking it's the other place. She said the restaurant is owned by an old chef who used to run a Michelin star restaurant, but then opened up this sushi shop with only 10 spots for customers by the bar. No other seats. That matches up with the place Obama ate at (Sukiyabashi Jiro), but the location is different. So I'm not really sure what's going on here, but in the end the sushi was delicious
I was told that this place is very busy at lunchtime and that I will have to likely line up in a long line that tends to form outside. When I first arrived I couldn't even find the place.. Google maps took me to the right spot, it seemed, but I just could not see this restaurant anywhere. I had to walk through some of the underground tunnels by the subway to eventually find it.. It's a very small place sort of tucked in a corner. I walked past it twice before finally realizing I had found it. And when I arrived (later on in the day, well past lunchtime) there was almost no line and only a handful of people in line ahead of me. Brilliant!
I sat down at the bar and put in my first order. The menu was very simple, with no fancy sushi rolls you might expect to see at a north american style sushi restaurant. Instead there was an impressive variety of different types of fish prepared in simple ways, from what I could see anyway. The menu had pictures and English names for the different options. My first order was all nigiri sushi, half of it salmon and the other half tuna:
is exactly what you see above, a thin slice of raw fish layered on top of a mound of rice. There is also usually a small amount of wasabi in between the two layers. The expectation is for the patron to use chopsticks to dip the sushi in a tiny amount of soy sauce (although this is optional). It is key to not oversaturate the sushi with the sauce, which is seems so common in North American sushi restaurants. In Japan, when I looked around at locals eating sushi, they did not use a lot of soy sauce at all, and sometimes none at all. You don't want to overwhelm the flavour of the fish and drown it out. You are paying for the fish, and if it's fresh that's where most of the flavour is going to be. Soaking your sushi in soy sauce is almost seen as a sign of disrespect. If you remember the dark alley sushi restaurant I went to many posts ago now, I had the chef pour me the amount of soy sauce needed. He also showed me how to dip it properly. You want a tiny amount of soy sauce on your sushi, or none at all.
I was also used to mixing in wasabi with my soy sauce before dipping my sushi in the mixture. That's what I always did in north american sushi restaurants. After this trip though I have changed my ways! I now always put a small bit of wasabi on the piece of sushi itself, and then gently dip it in the soy sauce. Even when the fish is not the freshest, that's how you get the most out of the flavour.
My second order was a bit different:
You are looking at Aburi Sushi
. It's essentially the same thing, except that the fish is slightly torched from the top. According to my friend anything that was torched in this restaurant was worth ordering. So I did. I tried a couple of the aburi options on the menu and they were all delicious.
I would have stayed longer and tried other types of fish, but I was full! I could not decide if this was the best sushi I had in the country or the 2nd best. The fish market sushi was definitely very good, but that was all sashimi. The fish was probably fresher there, since it was right by the fish market.. but then again, who knows.. The dark alley sushi was very good too, but I can't decide how that stacks up at all. It's probably my 3rd favourite. The baseball stadium sushi was also good, but a step below these 3 contenders.
I sent my friend a thank you note and a picture of some of the aburi sushi I ate. She insisted that anything aburi on the menu will be amazing, and it was.