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 caused 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 set foot on Japanese soil (as per the vow we both took not to eat anything but Japanese fare), 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, my food blog colleague at Luxeat was kind enough to share her 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.

Awabi (Abalone)

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 Joël 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.

Joël Robuchon – Las Vegas, NV

How can a restaurant be pretentious when it serves a sliced tomato? No matter how you “slice,” said tomato, it cannot. A tomato is one of the purest, most distinct, and flavorful foods on the earth. From now on I will compare every tomato, or anything else I eat for that matter, to this one restaurant. Simply put, Joël Robuchon, the restaurant that served me that tomato, is unlike any other. Let’s say you’ve never heard of Joël Robuchon, or the legacy he created by winning Michelin star after Michelin star. If you were to walk up to this place, tucked behind rows of penny slot machines in the rear of the MGM Grand casino on the Vegas strip, it may seem very unassuming. If you were to see the menu, whether it be a la carte selections or part of a 16 course tasting extravaganza, you might say, “this looks good, but c’mon, $400 for tomatoes, pea soup, risotto, and granita?” I however am pleased to have a little insight into the experience about to take place. The two gents as well as myself of course, appreciate food, flavors, contrast, and presentation more than anyone I know. Us guys….we get it. That is why I was so appreciative of having this once in a lifetime opportunity to give Master Robuchon complete reign over our palates. I apologize if I don’t go into the wonderful details of every course, but I am telling you, if you ever get the chance, close your eyes, don’t even question any of the flavor combinations, and just sink into the meal. Service….It was the pinnacle of what you would want out of a five diamond/3 star restaurant. The interesting thing, is that it wasn’t even what I expected. I’ve spent some time in some of the best restaurants around the country. At times, you cannot even get comfy because everything is so meticulously watched, and proper. I didn’t feel that here. We sat on plush velvet couches for goodness sakes! I felt like every member of the wait staff wanted nothing more but to keep that smile on our faces. They knew what we were getting ourselves into, and I applaud them for that. With each course we would all agree hands down, this is the best ______ I’ve ever had, and yet, its was so simple. It was like looking for your keys all over you house when they were in your pocket the whole time. But by no means do I think, “I could have made that.” On the contrary, I know that as far as I’m concerned, what was thought up, then created and finally eaten could not have been done by more than a handful of people in the world. You can call it passion for the craft but it’s so much more when you look at all the love we found in this meal…Everyone was in love. This next exchange illustrates what I am trying to get at. The meal was drawing to a close and the waiter asked if we would care for coffee or tea. One of my associates bravely requests the cheese cart, the waiter smiles and sneaks away. A few minutes later, he comes back with a plethora of out of this world cheeses which seem to have all originated from France naturally. As he is describing each of them one by one he has the most gleeful expression on his face. As if to say “I love cheese, and I hope you love it too! I hope you get something extra stinky!” Well we did. The fragrance emitting from the cart was intoxicating. We had to have the most smelly of them all. And when we did, along with a few other selections,… he let out a big grin. This stuff was so ultimately creamy it was melting off the serving spoon. I thought I had loved cheese before, but really I was just fooling myself. However I was stuffed. Oh no! I didn’t finish the cheese. Blasphemous…but someone was hunting my cheese as if he was a shark and my plate was the chum. The one who loved it more than me took my plate and devoured the rest. It reminded me of the first time you feed a child ice cream. Complete bliss. Totally in love. Finally, about the setting itself. The room is about the most gorgeous I’ve ever been in. With soft lighting mixed with vibrant décor, perfectly suited art, and a backdrop of bright green leaves covering the entirety of the far wall, it takes you to a place of pure fantasy. Along with all of that, to be able to enjoy this experience with two very special people in my life who I admire and shared some of the most deep and thoughtful conversation I can recall, needs one and only one more word to be added… Ten

Joël Robuchon on Urbanspoon

Steak yumms

How’s it going? I’m doing well. Hope the family is treating you nice. I made some steaks for my wife and her parents on Sunday. Just a little thank you for basically raising my child on the weekend while me and the wife frolic/galavant around. Even a nice meal of ribeyes, 1905 salad, baked potatoes and Nicaraguan beer cannot repay baby sitting. But it does not hurt to try. Those 6 day work weeks can be pretty draining, on top of all the other stuff we all have piled on top of one another. So back to the dinner. I thought it would be nice to do the dinner and was contemplating making Bun cha gio. It this really nice dish that has a lot of ingredients and takes a lot of time to make it really spot on. I was really exhausted at the time and as we walked through the grocery store, and I started dreading the process. So I blurted out something along the lines of “let’s just make steaks.”.  I guess that was a good thought because that’s what I did. Two 1 1/2 ribeyes, bone in of course. But here’s where the community discussion comes into play. I don’t have a grill. I do love grilled and BBQ food. But when it comes to steak I like it just thrown in a pan on high heat with a little salt and pepper. Just like I like my hamburgers. How do you feel about that? I think I could make a solid argument as to why cooking steak in a skillet or pan or flat top is better than the grill method. First, grilling gives meat more of that smokey, charred flavor which I feel masks the true flavor of beef. And second, the fat that holds all that rich buttery beef flavor falls through the grates when you use a grill. Using a flat surface causes the meat to basically fester in it’s own drippings. But as always it comes down to what YOUR preference is. And what would that be exactly? By the way “I don’t like/eat beef”, is not an acceptable answer.