Saturday, September 14, 2013

Tokyo Short Trip - Sushi Kakutou

I found myself landing in the country of rising sun yet again within a short span of time (the second time this year, and fifth since last - if you must count). It's a rather short trip with a lot on the agenda; nonetheless I did end up in a few magnificent restaurants during the week-long stay which made the trip less unbearable.

One of such restaurants was Sushi Kakutou owned by Toru Okuda of the Michelin-starred Ginza Kojyu. The restaurant was located in Ginza 7-chome in one of those side streets. It was packed when I walked in for my 8:30pm reservation but most customers were already finishing their meals. I was joined by 2 other Japanese couples for the later seating so that made it five of us at the table when my dinner started - and we essentially had the same thing. Chef Fumitoshi Kakuto was the only one working behind the wooden counter with his assistants working in the kitchen at the back.

I began with the "amuse-bouche" of a neat slice of summer vegetable terrines. Dashi sauce (made with kelp and shaved bonito) was turned into gelatin form with seasonal vegetables juliennes (eggplant, okra, asparagus, fava beans and baby corn) layered in the middle, served with a spoonful of sesame sauce. It's an interesting combination of unfamiliar textures, but the overall freshness taste from that of the vegetables did come through, which was enhanced by the concentrated aroma and flavor from the roasted sesame. I was expecting a light creamy sauce judging by the color but it's indeed a sesame bomb which awakened the senses.

Chef Kakuto continues to pass over a few appetizer dishes. The grilled eel was served cold with scrambled eggs and marinated seaweed and cucumber and it's refreshing with a subtle, mild vinegar taste. Then the squid tenticles marinated in shio koji with tsuyu gelatin, grated ginger and daikon (white radish) - I loved the tingling sensation from that of the fresh, young ginger on the tongue.

And finally it's the beautifully cut kamasu (barracuda) fillet served with grated radish brushed with soy sauce (which looked like a croquette) and a slice of myoga (Japanese ginger) and a halved sudachi (Japanese lime) as garnish. The skin was scored and grilled crisp, with good firm texture of the fish, and the tangy citrus flavor from that of sudachi wrapped it all up.

Just as we were finishing the grilled fish, chef brought out two wooden basketful of steaming hot rice. He showed us one bowl of white vinegar and one bowl of red vinegar that he's using, and then started the mixing the vinegar in each of the rice basket in front of us. The whole room was immediately filled with the deep aroma from the rice vinegar.

After the rice was mixed, left cooled and ready, we then moved to the nigiri sushi courses. We started with some white fish in lighter flavors, and white vinegar rice was used. First up was tai (snapper), with a good rub of salt and drizzles of sudachi, followed by ika (squid). I think they both worked well with the warm and light but lasting-flavored rice. Reminded me of the rice from Ginza Harataka but less salty. I had a few more nigiri sushis served with the white vinegar rice - kisu (Japanese whiting), hobo and kimedai (golden eye snaper) - in progressing flavors. They were all very good.

Afterwards, the red vinegar made its entry for our red fish dishes, and we started with a trio of tuna. Two leaner akamai pieces were served first - one slightly marinated in sherry vinegar and one with soy sauce (zuke), then followed by the fatty chu-toro. I wasn't sure which one I liked best - the chu-toro was smooth and creamy with good "meaty" flavors, but the marinated ones had balanced tastes, especially the one with sherry vinegar which seemed to have brought out the hint of sweetness in the fish.

The chef seemed to have picked up the pace after the tuna with two additional sushi served in quick succession. While not the best of the evening, the kohada (gizzard shad) was decent with firm texture and sweet taste, and so was the aji (Spanish mackerel) which was served with grated green onion. I loved the fatty texture of the aji. Another interesting observation was Chef Kakuto kept the rice in a bain marie throughout the evening, instead of just placed the rice inside the Hinoki-made rice basket, so it's moist and loose and warmer than usual when served - something I appreciated and thought it did enhance the fish flavors.

I was surprised when the tamago (egg) was served after the aji. It seemed to be a little early to finish the meal (traditionally tamago was the last dish and by then I was only half full) and it's served hot with grated daikon on the side - another difference from the usual where it's often served cooled. Soon I realized the chef only serves this as intermezzo - much to my relief - as he started picking up more ingredients from the wooden box. Sanma was right in season and it's so delicious (I was so touched by it that I almost cried - no kidding!), and the botan ebi - spot prawns - were so huge! I wish I had a picture of it to show - that's the biggest spot prawn I have ever seen. It's firm but almost like creamy and has rich flavors without the need for much additional seasoning other than a blob of wasabi. The chef mentioned the botan ebi was the most special item of the evening and I enjoyed it a lot.

And we weren't done yet. Here are the three final pieces - ikura (salmon roes), uni (sea urchin) and anago (sea eel), and to wrap up, I was served a bowl of miso soup with shimeji mushrooms and togan (winter melon). Dessert was simple - just jello with grapes and pears served on a champagne flute, but just good to finish the meal with. Overall the fish quality was excellent - which shouldn't be a surprise as they came from the same fishmongers who supplied to the Kojyu which was one of the few restaurants with Michelin 3-stars since the first year when the Tokyo guide was published.

The restaurant has a great drinks menu - with good choices for wines and sakes among other drinks available. I started off with a Isojiman Naka-dori junmai-ginjo (磯自慢 中取り純米大吟醸). I had a similar one a couple weeks ago at home and loved it, so I didn't mind doing an encore. It worked extremely well with sushi, I reckon, with the subtle yet enticing aroma and rich taste. Then on chef's recommendation, I tried the Tedorigawa Yoshidakura Junmai-daiginjo (手取川吉田蔵純米大吟醸) from Ishikawa prefecture right before we switched to red-flesh fish. It has a much lighter taste but with a good kick towards the end.

Both were lovely but in retrospect I should have done the other way, with the lighter sake went first instead. Service was excellent - the waitress spoke good English and the chef was friendly and paced himself well - I spent a good 2-hour at the restaurant from start to finish without feeling rushed at all.

When one place was described as "good value", it's often implied the quality was somewhat compromised for sake of a lower price tag, but Sushi Kakutou represented top quality AND excellent value. This was actually my favorite meal of the entire trip this time, and in my opinion, Sushi Kakutou should give Michelin Guide inspectors plenty of food for thought (pun intended), and this is certainly the place I would recommend for someone looking for a top-notch sushi dinner without breaking the wallet.

For more pictures, please visit my Flickr page:

Where? Sushi Kakutou, 4th Floor, Soiree do Ginza Yayoi Building, Ginza 7-6-19, Tokyo
鮨かくとう 東京都中央区銀座7丁目6−19ソワレ・ド・銀座弥生ビル4階
Menu highlights? It's very consistent throughout the evening - all of which were highlights, really.
Isojiman Naka-dori junmai-ginjo (磯自慢 中取り純米大吟醸 - 静岡県 磯自慢酒造)
Tedorigawa Yoshidakura Junmai-daiginjo (手取川吉田蔵純米大吟醸 - 石川県 吉田酒造)

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