Friday, September 20, 2013

Tokyo Short Trip - Sushi Sho

When I first walked in to Chef Keiji Nakazawa's Sushi Sho Restaurant in the quiet neighborhood of Yotsuya near Shinjuku, I thought I went to the wrong place. It's a bit tugged away with a small entrance on the side street not far away from the Yotsuya Metro Station, and the interior was reminiscent of an izakaya on a random street corner rather than a legendary sushi restaurant that Sushi Sho is known as. But looking past the rather humble settings, this is one special dining experience.

I arrived right on the dot at my reservation time, and was shown to a seat near the entrance at the counter right in front of Chef Nakazawa. The counter can seat around 10 people - it's a little tight but not uncomfortable. I was a bit nervous as I sit in front of him, because I heard the chef could be very strict at times - rumor has that Michelin Guide inspectors were being kicked out for being rude at the table once upon a time and they have never returned since. But turned out he's friendly and tried his best to explain everything to me with limited English and hand gestures. The restaurant settings were more informal - there were altogether 3 chefs working behind the counter, and in front of them, all the ingredients on display in the covered wooden box.

The omission from Michelin Guide apparently has no effect whatsoever to the popularity and fame of the restaurant - it was rated highly by local diners on tabelog; seats at the restaurant remained one of the most sort-after in town especially during lunch hour when he serves a chirashi rice bowl to only 20 customers a day on first-come-first-served basis. Dinner was a more formal affair but still it's very much relaxed and fun. He even competed in the Iron Chef TV series once (and lost to Japanese Iron Chef Morimoto, by the way). But the flamboyant Chef Nakazawa has achieved the legend status long before that, being considered a fundamentalist, a sushi master true to the tradition of classic Edomae sushi with its own unique style of serving (now known as sushi sho style). 

As in all top-end sushi restaurants in town, there's no menu and I was at the chef's safe hands, and dinner at Sushi Sho took longer than usual, with over 30 different dishes served over a 2 hour period. Chef Nakazawa was known to be an expert in aging fish - the process of leaving the fish for slightly longer in controlled condition, sometimes in different kinds of light marinate intended to bring out the fish flavors. Yeah, we were brought up with the theory that fish was best when fresh so the thought of fish being aged instead was almost subversive, but the process did intensify the fish flavors and altered the texture too. And he didn't seem to follow any particular order of serving - as if he just made whatever he saw fit and put it on your plate.

I am not going to describe every single piece I had - there were some 30+ of them and I lost track soon after the meal started, and no point hearing me say "good" "delicious", "yummy" multiple times. In general, his sushi all have a deep hue and intense flavor, and the menu I had was inclined towards red fish and light on shellfish - probably a reflection of what's in season at this time.

The picture pretty much spoke for itself, but for my own record-keeping here's what I think I had - at least that's what I scribbled in my notes (I did miss a couple pictures): 1/2. Mako and Kinme Sashimi (konbu-jime - cured with kelp) (turbot and golden eye snapper); 3. Hamaguri (hard shell clams); 4. Steamed squid stuffed with rice; 5. Shima-aji served with ginger and shiso (striped jack); 6. Sagoshi (young Spanish mackerel); 7. Katsuo (skipjack tuna); 8/9. Ika (sushi and grilled) (squid); 10. Kohada (gizzard shad); 11. Shin-gingko; 12. Sanma (Pacific saury); 13. Kisu (Japanese whiting); 14. Ebi with Vinegared Eggs (Prawn); 15. Akamai Zuke (marinated tuna); 16. Anago (conger eel); 17. Sawara (Spanish mackerel); 18. Tako (octopus); 19. Baby Saba (Shio-Jime - cured with salt) (mackerel); 20. Saba (aged); 21. Toro (aged for 10 days); 22. Iwashi (sardine); 23. Uni (from Kyushu); 24. Awabi (abalone); 25. Otoro; 26. Nodoguro (grilled) (blackthroat seaperch) ; 27. Shako (Mantis Shrimp); 28/29. Botanebi (with head deep-fried) (spot prawns); 30. Kobashira (baby scallops); 31. Kinmedai (golden eye snapper); 32. Katsuo Toro; 33. Ohagi (chopped toro with onion and sesame); 34. Ankimo (monkfish liver); 35. Aburi Tuna Cheek; 36. Clear clam soup; 37. Anago; 38/39. Tamago (eggs served 2 ways - bigger one with scallop broth, and the smaller one with shrimp broth); 40. Wasabi Icecream; 41. Tomato Sorbet with Sea Salt. (Also, I started off with some sea grapes and seaweed with dipping sauce, and also somewhere in the middle two kinds of pickled vegetables were served as well - eggplant and radish)

Well, a few interesting ones did worth special mentioning - the kohada and sanma had amazingly mellow flavors and fatty textures. And all the "red-fish" was nicely made that evening - starting with the small piece of katsuo done tataki style, then akamai-zuke marinated in deep soy sauce, the chu-toro aged for 10 days, the fatty o-toro, the katsuo toro, ohagi (chopped toro mixed with onions and sesame) and the aburi tuna cheek. What amazed me was every bite felt completely different even though they all looked alike! He also prepared rice in small batches so he's able to keep the rice warm and vary the taste of rice for different dishes.

It's the first time I had the combination of Ankimo (monkfish liver) and Uri no Narazuke (a thin slice of Nara-style pickled melon) as a sushi dish, and it worked like charm! It's almost refreshing even the rich taste from that of the ankimo was still evident, and with contrasting textures too between the creamy liver and cruchy melon. That combined with strong flavored rice with red vinegar was a perfect match.

Intertwining between nigiri sushi dishes, Chef Nakazawa would pass along tsumami dishes - finger-size snacks which could be sashimi or pickled vegetables. Of which I loved the squid stuffed with rice that was served in the beginning, a cute skewer of shin gingko (young gingko), the broiled octopus, grilled nodoguro fish, and the abalone.

Apparently Chef Nakazawa was quite a sake expert too - he's happy to give you recommendations on what to go for, depending on the stage of dinner you were in when you finished the previous cup. I started off with a rather jolly, easy-drinking one called Gangi unfiltered, sparkling Junmai Ginjo from down south (Yamaguchi), then moved on to the slightly dry Junmai from Miyagi prefecture (Kenkonichi Tokubetsu Junmai), and finished off with the sweeter one from Fukushima (Hiroki Tokubetsu Junmai). Three entirely different wines with totally different styles.

Over 2 hours later, I finished the meal with a small cup of clear clam soup (super yummy!), anago sushi (sea eel), 2 pieces of tamago (egg) - one made with shrimp broth and one with scallop broth, then finally, two desserts - tomato sorbet served with sprinkle of sea salt, and wasabi icecream. Even their desserts were quite different and they were delicious.

Dinner at Sushi Sho was an enlightening experience. Though most of the time I personally would prefer the more elaborate setting with a consistent flow of courses, I did enjoy the lively atmosphere, the free-flow style, and the unique food preparation techniques of Chef Nakazawa's Sushi Sho. It's in a league of its own.

Where? Sushi Sho, Yorindo Bldg 1F, 1-11 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
すし匠 日本東京都新宿区四谷1−11  陽臨堂ビル1F
Menu highlights? Everything! 
Gangi unfiltered, sparkling Junmai Ginjo (雁木無濾過活性純米吟釀 - 山口縣 八百新酒造)
Kenkonichi Tokubetsu Junmai (乾坤一 特別純米辛口 - 宮城縣 大沼酒造)
Hiroki Tokubetsu Junmai (飛露喜 特別純米生詰 - 福島縣 廣木酒造)


Edena said...

Thanks for sharing the Iron Chef episode. Although I had never eaten at Sho, I was disappointed he lost! With your review I definitely wanna go see Nakazawa San! Sounds like it was a really awesome experience.

Phil said...

Fantastic post!

You've inspired me to visit Sushi Sho in my next trip to Japan.

Can you please tell me how you went about booking a seat? How much advance notice and the process?

gary s said...

Thanks. Well I asked the hotel concierge to help with the booking. Last time I did it 2 weeks in advance.

Martin's Musings said...

Gd afternoon Gary

If you only could eat at 1 sushi place in Tokyo which place would it be?