Sunday, May 25, 2014

Enjoyable night at Sushisho Saito

I was merely looking for a half-decent place to eat on my last evening of the trip in Akasaka - hardly a destination when you think of good sushi - when I stumbled across Sushisho Saito on Tabelog, and I couldn't resist checking it out, given my previous experience at other "Sushisho" restaurants were nothing but spectacular. Chef Keiji Nakazawa of Sushi Sho at Yotsuya was known to have a unique way of serving edomae sushi, and many of his disciples named their restaurants "Sushisho" (which literally means Sushi Master) out of respect of their teacher - including Sushisho Masa near Roppongi, which I went last November and Sushisho Saito.

The restaurant was located in a nondescript office building within walking distance of Akasaka-Mitsume metro station, just a block behind the street with all the bars and restaurants in this lively neighborhood. I took off my shoes at the door and went in, just as the earlier group of some 5-6 diners were finishing up their meal. The place is actually quite big in top-end sushi-ya standard, with 12 seats in an L-shaped counter. Behind the counter was Chef Toshio Saito and his sous chef, and I was lucky to have seated on the side served by Chef Saito himself, and right next to me was a regular customer who spoke fluent English and whom I could strike a conversation with, something of a bonus for a lone diner like myself this time. The dinner's already off to a good start before it began.

As in the other restaurants in the Sushisho "school", there's no particular order of serving - Chef Saito basically just went with the flow with both sushi and sashimi pieces intertwining throughout the evening. The sushi pieces were prepared a little bit smaller than the usual size to fit more in a night - I did the count afterwards based on the pictures I took and there were about 30 pieces altogether that I had. Like his teacher Nakazawa-san, Chef Saito aged his fish, some as long as 10 days, before served, which was said to have intensified the flavor. He also has his rice prepared in small batches, alternating its flavor to fit the different pieces.

Sushi Course List - not in the same order though
Let me try to list out what I had though I don't think I could describe every single pieces: 1. Umi-budo (Sea Grapes); 2. Kasugodai (Baby Sea Bream); 3. Himo (Clam mantle); 4. Suzuki (Sea Bass); 5. Torigai (Cockles); 6. Matsuba kani Temaki (Crab Handroll); 7. Shiro Ebi (White Shrimp); 8. Aji (Jack Mackerel); 9. Hamaguri (clams); 10. Hatsu Katsuo (Skipjack Tuna); 11. Ayu no shio yaki (Salt-grilled Sweetfish); 12. Tako (Octopus); 13. Junsai (Vinegar-marinated "Water shield" with okra); 14. Mirugai (geoduck clam); 15. Inada (young yellowtail - aged for one week) 16. Akami-zuke (Marinated Lean Tuna - 10 days aging); 17. Hotate (Scallops); 18. Shimaji (Spanish Mackerel - aged for 4 days); 19. Awabi (Abalone); 20. Murasaki Uni (Sea Urchin); 21. Kuruma-Ebi (Giant Shrimp); 22. Mehikari no shio yaki (salt-grilled round greeneyes - served with a dab of grated pickled melon on the side); 23. Akagai (Ark Shell); 24. Kinmedai (Golden Eye Snapper); 25. Kohada (Gizzard Shad); 26. Aji (Jack Mackeral - vinegar-cured, and rolled with konbu, shiso and sesame); 27. Kurodai (black snapper - smoked); 28. Otoro (Fatty Tuna - aburi and 10 days aging); 29. Shako (Mantis Shrimp); 30. Tamagoyaki (Egg Rolls)

Quite a number of them did stood out - I still can't quite work out what was my favorite. The Kasugodai - baby sea bream - was delicate with a slight hint of smokiness of the skin. Two different shrimps were cooked and served differently and both were great - first was a shiro-ebi sashimi served raw with roes and anchovies, which was essentially an umami bomb, and second one was kuruma-ebi half cooked to give it a firm texture, which worked well as sushi with a tangy shari infused with red vinegar. The Aji was super-fresh with good oily texture, and the in-season Hatsu Katsuo (which means the initial skipjack tuna) was the first I had this year and it was delicious. The salt-grilled ayu was cooked perfectly with just the right hint of bitterness. The tuna pieces - both the akami-zuke and otoro - were aged for 10 days for much deeper flavors. Both kinmedai and otoro were greatly enhanced by grilling on open fire with that slightly charred taste. Chef Saito prepared the Akagai right in front of us and it's amazing to see he turned this unassuming, almost ugly "creature" into almost like a piece of art with the perfect form and taste.

The sake list was also remarkable. Like his teacher, Chef Saito apparently is quite a sake connoisseur as well so I just let him pick whatever's best for the food he's serving. I started off with a simpler junmai ginjo from Yamagata Prefecture and slowly moved on to a few different types with progressing complexity and quite different characteristics - both in terms of the brewing method and the types of rice being used. My favorite was the limited release of Junmai Daiginjo "Tefu" from Kokken Brewery in Fukushima. Made with 100% Miyamanishiki rice, it's sweet and has a clear rice flavor, accompanying with the fish very well, especially several of the aburi/grilled sushi (kinmedai and otoro) served towards the end of the meal.

My last sake was a very interesting one - just as my meal is coming to a conclusion, Chef Saito pulled out another bottle, saying this is a special one he would like me to try. From the label I almost couldn't tell it's a sake - with it saying "Henri Giraud Masuizumi Chene d'Argonne 2004" in English. I would have easily mistaken that as a Burgundy even as he poured the wine into my glass - with the deep straw color looked exactly like a well-aged chardonnay. Turned out this is a crossover between Masuizumi Brewery from Toyama and the Champagne house of Henri Giraud, basically putting pressed sake (made entirely from yamadanishiki milled down to 50%) to age in old oak barrels previously used for Henri Giraud's champagne production. The barrel aging brought the wine a distinct oak flavor, and the long process seems to have brought out some almost wine-like characters to it - I tasted a little citrusy and sweet melon from this 10-year-old sake. I am still not sure what food would pair best with it, but this is an enjoyable wine just on its own.

I was expecting a simple dinner in the hood at first and obviously this is much more than what I expected. This was easily the best meal of the trip and probably the most enjoyable 2 hours I had all week long.

More pictures on flickr:

P.S. The place was rated one star in the inaugural Michelin Guide Tokyo a few years back but disappeared from the book since then. Rumors have it Chef Keiji Nakazawa, considered the master of the Sushisho "school", once kicked out the Michelin inspectors from his restaurant for being unknowledgeable, and since then, all his and his disciples' restaurants were not rated anymore.

Where? Sushisho Saito, 2nd Floor, 4-2-2 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
すし匠 斎藤 東京都港区赤坂4-2-2 赤坂鳳月堂本店ビル 2F
Menu Highlights? Too many to quote
Junmai Ginjo Koume, Kobai Brewery, Yamagata Prefecture (香梅純米吟醸)
Iwa no Zo Junmai Ginjo (Unfiltered, 2014 Vintage), Tenzan Brewery, Saga Prefecture (岩の蔵 純米吟醸)
Hakugakusen Okuetsu Gohyakumangoku Nakadori Junmai Ginjo, Yasumoto Brewery, Fukui Prefecture (白岳仙奥越五百万石中取り純米吟醸)
Junmai Daiginjo "Tefu", Kokken Brewery, Fukushima Prefecture (てふ純米大吟醸)
Henri Giraud Masuizumi Chene d'Argonne 2004, Masuda Brewery, Fukui Prefecture


Martin's Musings said...

Could I find out approx how much is dinner there?

gary s said...

My bill came to around 26000 yen including drinks, I think.

Mr M said...

Noted with Thanks Gary :)