Updated: Apr 8, 2019
The Full Book
This was my third sushi restaurant on my second day in Tokyo - Umi. I might have mentioned before that I'm not a big fan of rice, but inhaled enough on this trip to chalk up 10 years' worth in my flabby system. (I jumped onto a medical diet program right after this abbreviated visit to Japan, for real.) .
Stated in the previous post, I have never stepped into any chi-chi sushi place in Japan until now. This two-Michelin-starred sushi restaurant is named simply Umi (aka umami) and takes on these characters in kanji - 海味 - which mean tastes of the sea. Fresh produce is sent to the minami aoyama address everyday from Tsukiji market.
"Chef Nakamura personally selects all his ingredients. His search for the best begins every night when he calls his trusted suppliers with requests. Final decisions are made on arrival at Tsukiji Market the next morning, when Nakamura purchases his preferred fish and shellfish from among what has been set aside for him. The menu for cooked dishes that intersperse the meal changes monthly, expressing a significant sense of the season." - Tableall.com
Chef Ryujiro Nakamura took over late master Nagano who was and still is a respected legendary figure in the sushi world, just two years after joining the 10-seater counter (and two small tables) sushiya at 26 years old, and maintained the famous stars since 2015.
I read earlier reviews that the space and food were "unrefined" and "don't expect high quality" but my experience had been nothing short of AMAZING. Yes, the servers did startle me initially with their loud bursts of "oisah" or other when walking ithrough the sliding door at first, or when serving fresh hot ocha (green tea) every 2-3 courses in a different chawan (tea bowl) each time, but that was as "rough" as it got.
On its own or dipped in shoyu, this wakame from Aomori (first image) or marine algae tasted as natural as it can get. It was replenished now and again. Whereas sanko (or kaisou) is a mix of seaweed which has been eased into a kelp soup to kick off the meal.
Also originating from Aomori, this tuna has been aged for nine days and was part of the 216kg fish. (I smudged the nigiri-zushi with wasabi, oops.) Just look at that gorgeous color.
Or barramundi from Mie is considered to have very light pink flesh, but this was almost translucent to me. It is a fish in season (i.e. winter) that is smaller than suzuki or regular seabass, and tastes sweeter. This was tipped a little into a shoyu puddle before eating it.
Also in season this winter, one would never guess that these mustard-colored gonads (aka shiroi uni) came from dark purple sea urchins pulled out from Hokkaido waters. They are brinier in taste, and not as sweet as the other popular bafun uni. See the wafer-like support the uni are resting on? Well, it looked like a tart to me, so I took a big bite into it. Guess what? It was not edible. It was a piece of wood. I wonder how many people saw me do that! A tinge of wasabi helped with each bite of these tiny morsels.
Nishin or red herring that was scored and seared, and resembled the shari bed which it laid upon. It had enough fat to go a long way. And it really looked like a piece of seared meat done rare at first glance.
What an unexpected treat! it's pretty rare to see gasu ebi or rustling sweet shrimp (named after the sound they make when caught in the net) outside of Kanazawa. In the original prefecture itself, they are known as "kurozako ebi". So why did Chef bring this shrimp over to his Tokyo restaurant? Kanazawa was his grandfather's hometown and where Chef cut his teeth at Aoi Sushi, are what I can safely assume. There are strong emotional ties to the city set in Ishikawa perfecture. The prices for these shrimps tend to go northwards as the catch is usually smaller and it's not easy to keep them fresh. The effort was worth it as I got to have them raw, and taste the firm texture and sweetness, which induced a split-second flashback of my short stay in Kanazawa years ago.
Whole white "Japanese anchovies" were cooked in eggs from Aomori. As you can tell, the egg "custard" was not the usual firmness but soft and a little runny. Keeping the seafood in its wholeness that's quite unlike regular chawanmushi where small precious pieces of a few types of seafood are mixed together and sometimes even one or two gingko nuts. This was my first time ever having such a decadent combination.
Also hailing from Aomori is this kumochi ika or pregnant squid filed with its own roe. It lent a natural saltiness from the sea, and was also tender when chewed on.
Shima, meaning stripes, are seen on this shrimp found in Hokkaido. It is said that this sweet crustacean tastes best when it is kept alive until it's about to be eaten.
This is specifically kan-saba or cold mackerel from Chiba. The fatty fish is served raw and gutted with julienned cucumbers, sansho pepper and ginger. I've never had this as a roll before, as it looked like a maki without the rice. I remember biting into this and just feeling the crispness of the vegetables and the vinegared marination of the fish. Chef's magic touch on this was undeniable.
The octopus is an eight-limbed mollusc. This tentacle was cooked so perfectly tender, I've never had another one cooked just like this.
Young yellowtail from Mie prefecture was presented simply as is - fresh with very little fat. When grilled, just a little salt sufficed with a squeeze of sudachi lime.
Have you have this before? Incredible. These are two extended slices of baby tuna with a side of chunky shrimp paste (if you know what it is, tell me!). The unctuous slices came with yama (mountain) wasabi, and how I ate them was to fold them into three with a generous swab of the paste. It's not as fatty and rich as the belly but it's meaty and oily enough to stand on its own au naturel. And I'll say it again, this is one of the many firsts at this meal.
The white squid slice was from Kyushu, with a little sudachi lime and salt. The chew on this wasn't tough or soft, rather in-between if that made sense. Every bite was a clean one that was punctuated with a little springy firmness.
it's also referred to Japanese half beak from Miyagi prefecture. The small fish's "beak" sticks out like a needle, and is related to flying fish. Apparently the best kinds are caught before and after April to June. This is one for the book of firsts which is getting pretty crowded I must say.
Coming from the same 216kg tuna, deep red akami and otoro (the one that looks like marbled steak),
Or gizzard shad from Kumamoto city in Kyushu. Kohada is the piece de resistance in any sushi meal (and not the fatty cuts) in my opinion. Read more on the laborious process of getting this seasonal fish here.
More Murasaki Uni
Whoever complained about too much uni? This one was piled on really high though, and I had a teeny bit of trouble stuffing the whole thing in my mouth. The chilled temperature of the sea urchin, its oh-so-sweet flavor and almost melt-in-the-mouth feeling were unparalleled. I used to dislike uni till my late 30's. Imagine how many years I missed out on this delicacy! Don't worry, I've been making up for it since then.
Ebi (unknown specie)
I didn't pay attention. Oops. But after having gasu ebi earlier, my life was almost complete. At this point, I have to say that usually I'd feel so stuffed from so much food in general, even though we ask for extra-小さな (small) sushi rice. But this meal was so well-paced and surprisingly so balanced that I never "suffered" from "overeating". The "tastes of the sea" were clearly working in my favor!
Also known as Asian hard clams from Kyoto, hamaguri was served this winter season, although they are optimal all the way through early summer. The cooked clams (never served raw) were given a generous dose of yuzu zest and wasabi to lift the innate flavor, and usually brushed with nitsume or nikiri sauce.
When you thought I was a bottomless pit, finally the last course of this meal arrived. Sometimes mistaken for unagi, the freshwater eel, the anago is referred to as conger eel and thrives in saltwater. Here, the Nagasaki catch was charred till there were crispy crust ends but you won't be blamed for thinking it's unagi from the color and lookalike flesh.
What I do appreciate as a diner is Umi's stunning variety of the season's best and must-have's in every omakase sushi meal. Chef Nakamura was also at ease and that took away the jitters for an inexperienced sushiya diner like myself. Throughout the meal I discovered new species from the sea for the first time, and some cuts which I were familiar with but presented quite differently from the norm. The whole line-up was also planned so carefully and went down very well from beginning to end. This is one restaurant which I would want to return to every time I'm in Tokyo.
N.B. : Chef Nakamura uses koshihikari from Hokuriku and sasanishiki from Tohoku rice types, and red and rice vinegars to create his signature shari beds.
BOOK NOW : +81-3-3401-3368 / tabelog
1F, 3－2－8 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0062, Japan
Nearest subway station : Ganmai-en
Open daily (except Sunday & ph) for dinner, by reservation only
Cuisine : Sushi / omakase
Seating Capacity : 18