Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sushi Kanesaka, Tokyo

On my first visit to Tokyo several years ago, several co-workers and I, rather on a whim, decided to go out to lunch one day.  We wanted amazing sushi, and were able to fairly last minute get reservations at Sushi Kanesaka, then 2 Michelin stars.  It was a mind blowing experience, as we all decided to be crazy and get one of the higher end omakase sets.  By far the most money I'd ever spent on a meal before, let alone lunch.  By far the freshest sushi I'd ever had.  Such a memorable experience.

When I recently returned to Tokyo, I knew I wanted to have at least one great sushi meal.  I of course tried to get reservations at all of the top places, but they require reservations as far out as they book, and we only planed our visit 3 weeks in advance.  Also, we were a group of 6, which would completely fill many of the highest regarded establishments.  So, no Jiro for me.  There were a couple other Michelin starred sushi places we could have gotten in at, but all carried very hefty price tags.  I remembered Kanesaka, and looked it back up to find that they had been relegated to only one star, but, they also offered reasonably priced set lunches.  And, amazingly, they could fit our large group on the Saturday we were in town.  Done!

Sushi Kanesaka has also expanded to a second location, but we visited the original, in the basement of a building in Ginza, a bit hard to find if you don't know what you are looking for, as there is no signage in English.

The sushi bar is small, with only 16 seats, divided into two sections, each with its own chef, 8 seats per chef.  Our group of 6, plus one other patron, were assigned to one chef, the other side of the restaurant had about 6 people total, served by the other chef.

Once seated, we were asked if we wanted just nigiri, or a mix of nigiri and sashimi.  There is no menu, no a la carte ordering, everything is omakase, which we knew and expected.  We said we wanted both.  Price options were then presented to us, which, I didn't write down, but were somewhere in the $290+ range.  Uh ... whoops?  I thought they were supposed to have reasonable lunch options?  While we all took a moment to deliberate, I insisted that there were other options, and asked the member of our group who spoke some Japanese to ask about them.  Sure enough, if we were willing to stick in nigiri only, there were 3 omakase options: ¥5,000,  ¥10,000,  or ¥15,000.  Phew.

I knew we were going out to a huge dinner that night (more Michelin star french cuisine!), so I went for the smallest option, and was told it would include about 10 pieces.  One other person joined me in my small feast, two others picked the mid-range, and the final two went for the highest priced one.  This allowed us to see what the different price ranges really offered.

After seeing all the different options, it seemed like the ¥5,000 was a great deal, and the ¥15,000 really did include premium selections, but the ¥10,000 seemed like the worst pick, as, yes, it included a few more pieces, but definitely not twice as many, and didn't include the premium cuts.  I was quite happy with my choice of sets, and I was really glad that they allowed us to all pick different sets.

Along with our sushi, beer, sake, and tea were ordered.  The tea service was particularly impressive; as soon as you reached half a mug of tea, it was quickly replaced, so that not only did your cup never get close to empty, but your tea was also never cold.  I was shocked time and time again when my mug of tea would get replaced so stealthily, but near the end, I had to ask them to stop, because I was going to be bouncing off the walls from all the caffeine.  It turns out, when your cup never empties, it is really easy to drink far too much, and this doesn't just apply to alcohol :)

The sushi was all good, clearly very fresh, very high quality fish.  But, it didn't blow me away in the same way that it had on that first visit.  Partially, I think that it is because I've had plenty of good sushi since, but moreover, it is because most of the pieces weren't ones that I would have selected if ordering a la carte.  Because it is omakase, we didn't have any say into what we received, and since that first visit to Sushi Kanesaka years ago, I've narrowed in more on the type of sushi I like.  The pieces were all very good for what they were, but weren't ever going to be my favorites.
Plating up our starter.
The dining experience was a bit interactive, in that our chef was there preparing each piece directly in front of us.

He interleaved preparing our dishes, and those for the other patron in our section, but we never waited long before receiving our next piece of sushi.
Starter: Seaweed and diakon salad.
To start, we were given a little salad of seaweed and diakon, drizzled with ponzu and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

It was refreshing and light, the perfect way to start the meal.  The ponzu was intensely flavorful!
Such focus and precision.
Throughout the meal, I was impressed with the focus and calm demeanor of the chef.  It was only at the end of the meal that he stepped back to really chat with us.  He was friendly and answered questions as he was going, but was clearly focused on his craft, and did not want to be distracted.
Always wiping his blade between cuts.
He was meticulous about cleaning the blade between cuts.  While he sometimes sliced up a few different pieces at a time, he mostly prepared the pieces one at a time, and each of us would be served individually as soon as our piece was ready.  He placed the piece directly onto the plate in front of us.  I'm not sure what correct etiquette is, but it seemed right to each eat it as soon as it was placed in front of us, rather than waiting for everyone.
Hirame (flounder).
The first piece, flounder.  It was a bit firm, not my favorite.
Tai (marinated sea bream).
Next came marinated sea bream, but was only included in the medium and large sets, so I didn't get to try it.
Yellowjack.
The texture on the yellowjack was really surprising.  It was ... soft.  Not mushy exactly, but soft.  Quite strange.

All the pieces came pre-sauced/seasoned, and we were instructed never to dip them in soy sauce.  There were subtle citrus hints to this one, I didn't see what from, but I imagine there was lemon juice added.  Interesting, but still not my favorite.
Maguro (lean tuna)
Next began the tuna preparations.  Those of us with the cheapest set just got standard maguro.  It was clearly very fresh, had a deep flavor, but somehow maguro always tastes a little too "bloody" for me.
Toro (Fatty Tuna).
Those who got the mid-range set also got toro.
Chūtoro (Medium Fatty Tuna).
And those with the largest set, got chūtoro, which they all of course loved.
Otoro (Fatty Tuna).
And of course, otoro, which was so fatty it was breaking apart, again, only for those who selected the premium set.
Ika (squid).
Next, we all received squid.

This one was really interesting, as it had lime squeezed over it and was topped with sea salt.  The squid itself was firm and sweet, and quite nice, but the fresh lime and salt made it pretty spectacular.  I called it "margarita squid".  I can't say I'd ever had salt on sushi before, but, it worked, which makes sense, since soy sauce is very salty.  My third favorite.
Ebi (tiger prawn).
Next, tiger prawns.

But this was unlike any prawn or shrimp I'd ever had.  It tasted far more like crab or lobster.  The texture was perfect.  It was also stuffed on the inside with shrimp powder, which intensified the overall flavor even more, and a hit of wasabi, for some kick.

This was my favorite piece of the meal, and certainly the most memorable.
Japanese anchovy.
Included in medium and large only, so I didn't try the Japanese anchovy.
Aji (horse mackerel).
I don't generally care for oily, salty fish, but the aji was good.  Firm fish, and while salty, it was quite enjoyable.  Topped with a tiny amount of ground up Japanese chives.
Mackerel Steak.
Speaking of salty, the mackerel steak was intensely salty, and had a very strong taste.  I didn't care for it, but it was the favorite of one of my dining companions.
Baby Squids.
Included in medium and large sets, this was actually a bunch of tiny little squids all pressed together.
Taka (octopus).
Next, octopus.  It wasn't too rubbery, but it was a tiny bit too slimy for me on the edges.
Mirugai (geoduck).
Included in large set only, geoduck.
Hamaguri (clam).
And for all of us, regular clam.

This one shocked me, as I never really like clams.  It was chewy, but ... I liked it.  My forth pick, just behind margarita squid.
Miso soup with clams.
An intermission, continuing the clam, miso soup, with small clams inside.  It was warm, comforting, and actually really quite good.  Miso soup doesn't tend to interest me, but this was far better than most.
Uni (sea urchin).
And then it happened.  Uni.  Always my favorite.  And ... included in the medium and large sets only.  I was pretty sad.

One of my dining companions was going to be nice and let me have his when he saw how much I was missing it, but luckily I was able to ask for it to be added to my set too.

It was creamy, delicious uni.  My second favorite piece of the meal.
Anago (salt water eel).
Next up was the anago, served warm, lightly sauced.  My notes say, "good enough", which, for a piece I don't normally tend to like, is better than usual.
Tuna Cheek.
The folks with the large set received this one, which looked remarkably like steak.
Tamago.
Finally, always one of my favorite pieces, which I consider my "dessert": tamago.  Only this tamago wasn't like any I'd had before.  It wasn't layered.  It wasn't as sweet.  And, it contained shrimp.  But it was richly custardy, and did complete my meal.
Squash Roll.
Or so I thought.  Tamago is usually the last piece, right?  Then we received a vegetarian roll, filled with stewed squash.  This was way too filling at this point in the meal.  It was large, and there was so much rice.  I was full before this, and I think it pushed me over the edge.

Those with the large set received a negi-toro hand roll instead, which seems much more worth stuffing oneself for rather than squash!
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