Sukiyabashi Jiro – Roppongi Hills
In the world of food, there are a few widely accepted meccas of cuisine. When it comes to sushi, I feel all can agree that Japan stands at the pinnacle of what can be achieved by a lone sliver of raw fish. Now I know I cause a bit of a ruckus with my post claiming to have found the worlds greatest pizza. While I won’t repeat the mistake of speaking for others again, I must share with you, the finest sushi (In my opinion) I have had the opportunity to sample. Sukiyabashi Jiro, located in the Roppongi Hills neighborhood of Tokyo, forever changed what I thought I knew of sushi. I have had some extremely fine sushi here in the states, the likes of Nobu, and Masa, both of which I had the pleasure of sharing with my esteemed colleague. However, Sukiyabashi Jiro trounced them both with ease. Located on the backside of a nondescript office building, among various other shops and convenience stores, Sukiyabashi Jiro carries none of the flash of many high end sushi joints in the States. As with many other things in Japan, this restaurant allows itself a subdued elegance which is reflected most noticeably on the food. Now for a little background of Sukiyabashi Jiro. The original restaurant by the same name (albeit with two more Michelin stars) located in Ginza, is strictly off limits to foreigners without a Japanese escort. The chefs make a daily pilgrimage to the Tsukiji fish market to scout the freshest catches of the day. Upon returning to the kitchen, each fish is placed in a special refrigerator kept at a specific temperature to ensure the highest quality. Now while I wasn’t able to visit Jiro-san’s, the old man didn’t leave me hanging, luckily he had a son, Takashi, who opened up his own Sukiyabashi Jiro. What welcomed myself and a good friend upon entering was a modest, well designed room, a fine wood bar with ten stools, Takashi and his assistant.
I can’t describe the peacefulness of the room, no dance music blasting from the sound system, no trendy decor, no roar of the hip crowd clamoring for their negi-toro rolls and bamboo’s of YK-35. No, just me, Matt, the chef, and his wonderful array of fresh fish. Upon being seated by the hostess, we were immediately brought two glasses of cold sake and a moist towel. The anticipation for what was to follow was almost too much for the two of us to handle. We had been eating practically nothing but sushi since we stepped foot on Japanese soil (as per the vow we both took not to eat anything but Japanese fair), but we knew this was something special, the chef knew we were in for something special, and I like to think he knew we’d appreciate what he was about to bestow upon us. No menus, the chef already knew what he was going to serve before our reservation had been made, no this was strictly omakase or “it’s up to you” in Japanese. This style of dining usually begins with the lightest pieces to the heavier, richer pieces. Now before I get into the fish itself, allow me to diverge a bit. This dinner was on our last night in Japan, so up to this point we had gleaned some important lessons in Japanese dining etiquette.
#1. Nigiri is to be eaten with your hands unless presented on a plate from the sushi chef. We learned this at a previous meal when the chef gestured to pick some pieces up with our hands, and some with our chopsticks. The moist towel is to clean your fingers after each piece.
#2. If you are given soy sauce, always lightly dip with the fish side down. It is considered bad etiquette to leave pieces of rice floating in the soy sauce dish.
#3. Nigiri is meant to be eaten in one bite. In Japan I noticed the pieces were much smaller than here in the States.
#4. Wasabi is placed on the fish when the chef prepares it, no need to mix any in with your soy sauce. No little green ball sitting on your plate, this is the fresh stuff, grated right in front of you.
This may sound unnecessarily rigid, even snobby. I found that it lent an elegance and order to the meal, which ended up feeling more like an sacred ritual rather than just another fueling. At Sukiyabashi Jiro, the chef even took care of the soy sauce for us, using a small brush he would lightly coat the fish with soy sauce to accentuate it’s flavor while allowing it to be the main event. Now for the fish, and since I felt it might be a little disrespectful to bring my huge camera to document our momentous meal, I wasn’t able to get any pictures. However, other people weren’t as timid as I was so I’m just going to borrow their images as they illustrate more or less some of the treats we had.
Very nice light Hirame (Fluke) to start us off with a light brush of soy sauce. After our first bite, we realized that the quality of fish we were experiencing was above and beyond anything we’ve had before. Each piece was as tender and succulent as the finest piece of toro here in the States.
A wonderfully pearl-like Ika (Squid) was sweet and tender as could be.
Chutoro (Medium grade fatty tuna) This stuff was ridiculous, I thought I loved toro before, but my goodness! The chefs at Sukiyabashi Jiro lovingly led us through all three grades of toro. These cuts of tuna were of the highest quality available. The flesh would literally, and I mean literally, begin to melt as it hit your tongue. At the end of the meal they asked if there was anything else we’d like to have again, I don’t think I need to tell you what I asked for.The only thing I regret is not having a photo of the Otoro. I do have a toro picture from the place we hit up just a few hours after landing in Japan, so that’ll have to do.
Now I had had Uni (Sea Urchin) before. But I hadn’t HAD sea urchin until I had it here. Everywhere else I had tried it, it was always very briny. Here, it was almost dessert it was so sweet. I equate it to the finest whole foie gras, but even more velvety, with the most amazing mouth feel. After taking a culinary tour of the most delectable morsels the sea has to offer, it was a sad moment when we finally had to say our sincere thank yous and goodbyes to the chef and hostess, who seemed just as thankful to us for visiting them. This meal is easily in my top 5 best ever in my life, and as my colleague mentioned in the Joél post, it was great to share it with one of my best friends. So to anyone planning on traveling to Tokyo in the future, I highly suggest you make a stop at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Roppongi Hills, the rice alone has the power to move you on an emotional level.