Tokyo Trigger #1: Sushi Tsubomi
Updated: Apr 8, 2019
It was 7 degrees in Tokyo, Japan. And I was very nervous, This would be my very first time having high-end sushi in this city. I kinda freaked out, for real. I was strongly advised to do the following :
1. Never be late;
2. Never use perfume;
3. Take pictures quickly, or else.
The day before my flight was to take off, I was forewarned that there will be a snow storm that might delay or cancel flights coming into Tokyo. WHUUUUT! Then I realized that if the plane did touch down as scheduled, I would have approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes to line up and get stamped at immigration, run and grab my luggage, decide which mode of transportation to use to go where. I mean, it was either scoot straight to the restaurant so that my friend and myself don't miss the 12 o'clock reservation, or rush to the hotel and risk arriving late at our first reservation, but at least we would be luggage-free. Guess what we did?
Let's backtrack a little bit. I flew on Japan Airlines (JAL) and was really impressed at how timely they took off and how early they arrived at our destination, like 30 minutes early. The immigration area was almost empty so I went through that in 3 minutes. plus we spotted our luggage very quickly on the carousel that morning. So yes, it was a situation that was too good to be true.
Because we had more than a few extra precious minutes, we loaded up the local cab and dashed straight to the hotel, and took a little time to refresh ourselves before walking to the nearest subway station. At this time, I was a little worn out. I flew the red-eye from 37-degree-Celsius summer heat to 7-degree-Celsius winter chills in seven hours. But the icy morning air more than woke me up, it was invigorating. I was also relieved that I made my first impression at the very first legit "atas" sushi restaurant a good one by arriving five minutes before the stroke of twelve, thanks to our "unofficial" street navigator.
I walked in with much trepidation (don't laugh). As it turned out, 44-year-old head chef Makoto Maruyama wore a jolly personality the whole time (PHEW!). Born in Niigata, the son of a fish wholesaler father prepared his path into sushi-dom with a deep knowledge of the different varieties of seafood nurtured since young. He helmed Taka by Sushi Saito in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for two years, then he returned to Japan to take on this brand new 10-seater space in June 2018 that bears wafting scents of fine wood.
Our lunch was a private and intimate one. It was supposed to be closed as it was a public holiday, I heard, but Chef opened the restaurant specially for our lunch reservation. *Disclaimer : I did not book this.*
Now, enjoy feasting your eyes on the freshest produce from Tsukiji market, where Chef uses only the signature red vinegar and salt for the large grained sushi rice, both orchestrated by Takashi Saito of the legendary Sushi Saito.
The very first dish to start off my inaugural sushi meal.
Also known as icefish, these translucent and mini-sized fish are caught off Lake Shinji in Shimane. This specie of fish thrives in brackish waters and is a seasonal treat - from mid-winter till spring (May). In fact, Lake Shinji is positioned as the seventh largest lake in Japan, and shirauo is one of the seven delicacies bred in these waters. At least two inches long, I was treated to flavorful bites as these fish were presented in maguro dashi (added with katsuo) and grated ginger.
A thick slice of monkfish liver on zarame or brown sugar, topped with yuzu zest, was truly the best I've ever had in my life. Many likened ankimo to quivering, creamy and melt-in-the-mouth foie gras, but that ultimate experience never met me till I arrived here.
Extra large scallop from Iwate prefecture was sliced and grilled on both sides, that created a little smoky and a little crispy crust. Sandwiched between a slice of toasted seaweed, the seasonal hotate (usually September - February) was seasoned with ichimi also known as chili pepper. I've had the full plump sized scallop served in this way before and it was too much of a good thing. Reducing the thickness and searing it brought out the best of the best flavors without any cloying aftertaste.
I absolutely adored this. This was the only place I got to have it on this whirlwind trip of four sushi restaurants and one yakitori restaurant in 2.5 days. Kawasumi is dried mullet roe or bottarga that's wrapped with warm crepe-like mochi which tasted like a dessert and a savory bite. The texture was crispy on the outside, and chewy on the inside hugging tightly the salted fish roe. It would have been perfect to have had this with some chilled sake.
Ika or squid comes with eggs is fished out of pristine Aomori waters that's considered ichiban in Japan. Accompanied by soy sauce, sugar and yuzu zest, the combination brightened the natural flavors of this seafood.
OMGS. This almost had me fooled as it honestly looked like marbled beef at first glance. The luscious fat can be attributed to kama toro or "gill flesh". Some people refer to it as tuna cheeks. There are only two pieces that can be cut from one fish, and this came from a huge one that weighed 150 kg. In-between the two generous pieces was a little mound of grated radish (or daikon oroshi) that helped cut down the fat and further enhanced the real flavors of the cut when eaten together.
Horsehair crab from Hokkaido was diligently handpicked and served warm.
Unlike its name, this is not a black fish rather it is referred to as "rosy seabass" with white flesh. However, the inside of its throat is black, hence nodoguro. The rare breed is apparently highly prized, so as a result it is usually only found in fine-dining places. It is caught along the coast of the Sea of Japan in Kyushu. Oily and tender to taste, the blackthroat seaperch was grilled to delicate perfection.
At this point, you must be thinking...where's the sushi? Click on the next post to find out.