Thursday, December 5, 2013

Late Dinner at Sushisho Masa

I walked down the stairs into Chef Masakatsu Oka's Sushisho Masa restaurant with very high expectation. My foodie friend H (aka the icecream chef) recommended this place after her visit a couple months ago, so I made a reservation for dinner during my recent visit to Tokyo.

This 7-seater restaurant in the basement of a building in Nishi-Azabu - around 15 minutes' walk from Roppongi Junction - is popular among locals and foreigners and often requires reservation weeks in advance, unless you don't mind eating a bit late. I had my dinner booked for 9:30pm, which turned out working well for me as I had more time to run chores after work, and for the most part I was their only customer during that time slot.

The young Chef Oka came from the "school" of Sushi Sho, having trained under Chef Keiji Nakazawa at the famous sushi-ya in Yotsuya, of which I had the privilege of trying only a couple months ago. Chef Nakazawa and his many proteges were known to serve sushi in random order with delicately treated fish and specially seasoned rice to bring out the unique flavors. They also serve sushi in smaller portion but more in numbers - my last meal at Sushi Sho lasted almost 2.5 hours with more than 40 items being handed to me.

Akami-zuke - aged for 8 days
Not just regular Katsuo, it's a particular species called Suma-Katsuo, as Chef Oka explained. This has been aged for 5 days.
With over 40 pieces served at Sushisho Masa there's no point describing one by one in details (I don't think I have kept a complete note of every single one of them either). Generally Chef Oka took special attention to the different cut of the fish and its different textures and flavors, spending time describing where each piece was from, and how they were prepared to those who are curious enough to learn. For example, I had four pieces of Katsuo (skipjack tuna) - with the one cut from inside served as sushi after marinated in soy sauce, one cut from outside slightly grilled tataki style and served with garlic and towards the end, I had two more pieces - the katsuo onaka sushi which is belly part, and lastly its skin was grilled and served. He did something similar with sawara (Spanish Mackeral) - with one cured with konbu and served raw, and one lightly grilled and served with a splash of yuzu juice.

Toro "mille feuille" sushi
It's interesting how Chef Oka served my toro sushi. The fish was thinly sliced into 3 pieces and served with wasabi placed in between - the "mille feuille" sushi, as he explained. Unlike Sushi Sho where aging techniques were used quite extensively, here this is less emphasized (it's still used but to a lesser extent), which resulted in quite a different flavor profile. This is a wonderful piece.

Keiji Sushi
Keiji was such a rare find (and people paid high price for it) that it came with a certificate of authenticity
I must have rolled my eyes a little bit when a piece of salmon sushi was placed in front of me - aren't we taught that Japanese don't eat raw salmon? Chef Oka went on to explain to me that Keiji - which literally means infant salmon - was one of the exceptions. Apparently Keiji was a unisex salmon which is normal in size but sexually underdeveloped, and they have a much higher fat content in their body. It's rarely found - apparently only 1 in 10000 among those caught in the wild - and hence considered a delicacy. I found it rich in flavor with the pleasant melt-in-your-mouth texture - and to a certain extent I would take this instead of a toro on any day.

Tachiuo - don't know if there's a proper English translation for this
Tachiuo (太刀魚) was another interesting piece - it looks like a normal grilled fish, but it has such a delicately soft, tender and almost creamy texture even with a hint of sweetness. That combined with the charred skin was amazingly good.

Both the Bafun Uni and Ikura sushi - served in small bowls - were impressive. The diners next to me - who were just finishing their meals as I walked in - responded with woos and ahs when they had them as finale, and I understood why after trying that myself later on during my turn. The Bafun Uni sushi not only looked beautiful but very tasty at just the right serving temperature and well-balanced with the vinegared rice. Chef Oka told me that this is the only time of year (generally from August to December) when fresh Ikura - not one that were previously frozen - was available. It has a much softer texture unlike any that I had before.

You probably can't find a sushi chef more mild-mannered than Chef Oka, as he's friendly and chatty, patient in explaining everything to you even with limited English, paced himself very well with superb techniques. He never rushed you into finishing what's on your plate, but just when you were ready for the next piece, he's right there with you with perfect timing. Along with the Michelin 3-starred Sushi Yoshitake that I went last year, this is probably one of the most enjoyable sushi meal I had in Tokyo. It's awesome from start to finish.

Price-wise, it's up there among the top ones, but trust me, it's worth every yen. If I need to save up by eating cup noodles for a week for this alone, I would.

More pictures on my flickr page: In the album there are a lot more photos actually.

Where? Sushisho Masa, B/F, 4-1-15 Nishi-azabu, Tokyo
すし匠 まさ - 東京都港区西麻布4-1-15 セブン西麻布 B1F
Menu highlights? Bafun Uni and Ikura Sushi
Bijofu Ginnoyume Junmai Daiginjo (美丈夫 吟の夢 純米大吟醸 - 高知県 濱の鶴酒造)
Daishinsyu Cho karakuchi Junmai Ginjo (大信州 超辛口 純米吟醸 - 長野県 大信州酒造)


Alex calceteros said...

Tachiuo is actually Sablefish...

Alex calceteros said...

Sorry, the correct name in english is Scabbard Fish...

gary s said...

Yeah, Scabbard Fish, or beltfish. It's similar to the hairtail, or nga dai in Chinese.


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