>> Monday, April 25, 2011
Today we come to the end - the culmination of the Tribute to Japan series. I purposely chose to write about this special restaurant last because it's the epic, gastronomic pinnacle of our dining experiences in Japan.
You would think it would be hard to beat perfection.
After our last trip to Japan, we returned to the US unable to eat sushi for months because it paled in comparison to the incredible dining experiences we had in Japan, most particularly at a wonderful place called Kyubey (frequented by none other than the likes of Steven Spielberg and Nicholas Cage!!). We had fond memories of that place, and even went back for a second visit this time around.
Our epic meal at Sushi Kanesaka completely blew all those previous experiences away . . .
Sushi Kanesaka is a tiny, non-descript sushi bar hidden in the basement of a building in Ginza. 35-year old Chef Kanesaka trained at Kyubey for years before opening up his own place nearby. He is a huge proponent of "Edomae-style" sushi, simple sushi and sashimi made with an emphasis on the pure flavors from the fish. You won't find any funky fusion rolls here.
Sushi Kanesaka has received a ton of accolades, including two Michelin stars. The prices are crazy steep and the menu is simple. You have your choice of three omakases (set menus): 20,000 yen, 30,000 yen, or 50,000 yen. At today's exchange rates, you're spending a minimum of over $230 per person, plus drinks!
Bryan tried to order the 50,000 yen meal, but something was lost in translation, and we ended up receiving the 30,000 yen meal instead.
Unlike Kyubey, this restaurant is tiny and seats just 14. There are only two sushi chefs, each one serving around 6-8 people. Although Chef Kanesaka was there that evening, we were served by another sushi chef. This quiet, intense young man prepared each piece with a focused concentration that clearly demonstrated the seriousness with which he regarded his craft.
Now onto the meal!
30,000 Yen Omakase at Sushi Kanesaka
Disclaimer: I have tried my best to name each dish accurately, but I can't guarantee they are all completely accurate. I typed the names of the dishes as quickly as possible into my iPhone as he presented us with each dish. Sometimes he would just give us a rough English translation, so some of the descriptions may not be super detailed or precise. I apologize in advance!
We began with a lovely mixture of tai and ebi (red snapper and sweet shrimp). The red snapper is the dark red stuff on top, while the sweet shrimp is on the bottom (the pale pink/white mixture). The ingredients were extremely fresh - not a hint of fishiness at all.
We moved onto some "fish liver" (sorry I can't be more detailed than that) which was sitting in a light ponzu-like sauce with freshly cut scallions. The slight tartness of the sauce and the crispness of the scallions perfectly offset the creamy, decadent liver. Update! More than one commenter has told me these are probably cod sperm sacs! Glad I didn't know that WHILE I was eating it!
A traditional omakase always begins with sashimi first and ends with sushi later. Here we began with our first piece of fresh fish: a simple slice of yellowtail.
We then moved onto chutoro sashimi (medium fatty tuna belly). In general, toro is one of my favorite types of raw fish, so I was super excited. These high quality slices were perfectly cut and luxuriously soft and flavorful.
A small amount of grilled fish with a spicy chili sauce followed . . .
Next up, katsuo or bonito (Skipjack tuna), a fish that is also commonly used to make the Japanese dried fish flakes (bonito flakes or katsuobushi) commonly used for making dashi.
I loved the fresh, simple, yet beautifully rich flavors coming from these humble cuts of octopus (tako) and abalone.
This next piece of otoro (super fatty tuna belly) was absolutely decadent. I think I still prefer it just slightly seared (just like my favorite toro experience ever), but this was so good I actually forgot to take a proper picture of it after he put it on my plate! Thankfully I have the picture of him slicing it!
Grilled Tuna Cheek
Next up came one of our favorite and definitely most memorable dishes of the evening. Surprisingly, it was a cooked dish that stole the show! Slightly grilled tuna cheek is simply out of this world. It is buttery soft, takes on a beautiful sear, and has a wonderfully full and rich flavor that's really hard to describe.
I was quite sad when I finished my piece - it was so good. We later on found out that one difference between our meal and the 50,000 yen meal is that they get more tuna cheek.
This stuff's so good . . . gosh, it might actually be worth considering . . . .
After several pieces of sashimi, we moved onto traditional nigiri sushi, which is rice mixed with vinegar topped with fish. The first one? Otoro (full fatty tuna) with just a brush of soy sauce. Unlike in the States, many high-end Japanese restaurants do not give you wasabi with your nigiri. The philosophy is that there is already a perfect amount of wasabi inside the nigiri (between the fish and the rice) -- so there's no need to add more.
Furthermore, in almost all cases, the chef brushes on soy sauce (or some other sauce) for you, so you do not even need to dip the fish into soy sauce. The nigiri that he hands you is already perfectly formed, perfectly seasoned, ready to eat with absolutely no additional intervention on your part.
I loved the texture of the rice at Sushi Kanesaka, which was perfectly al dente. You could really taste each individual grain of rice. The assistant sushi chefs brought out new rice frequently in small batches, which meant we always had the freshest rice possible with every nigiri piece.
When our chef brought out the tiger prawns, visions of horror from my last "prawn" experience at Kyubey popped into my head. Thankfully, there were no live beheadings or anything of that sort. Instead, the prawns had already been cooked, and he merely made some simple but perfectly executed nigiri with them.
Tiger prawn with shrimp powder and wasabi
Next, a mackerel ginger seaweed roll. Check out those perfect individual grains of rice!
Although I've put the next four pieces together in one photo, they actually came out one by one. In fact, every single piece comes out separately, served moments after it is made. The chefs really want to ensure that you enjoy the piece at its best and not a moment later.
Clockwise, from top left: aji (horse mackerel), ikura (salmon roe), clam, and anago (sea eel).
I discovered that I actually love uni (sea urchin) after trying it in Japan. Before, the ones I had tried in the US were always strong smelling and, in my opinion, stinky. The ones I've had in Japan are very fresh and actually quite sweet and creamy. This beautiful piece was deliciously creamy with a lovely fresh uni flavor without a hint of stinkyness.
The final fish "course" - toro temaki (fatty tuna hand rolls).
We capped off the dinner with the most elegant and refined piece of tamago (sweet egg omelette) I'd ever had in my life. It was like a delicate custard, yet denser throughout. I absolutely loved it.
It was truly a perfect way to end such an incredible meal.
We loved our meal at Sushi Kanesaka. Every single small bite was a brand new experience, delighting the senses and surprising the palate. There was a super high level of sophistication in the execution of every single piece. It was like we were watching a master artist exercising his craft right in front of our eyes.
Our sushi chef was quite serious and didn't talk too much, so we did miss out a bit on the fun, jovial atmosphere that we enjoyed at Kyubey. I believe Chef Kanesaka himself is actually a bit more talkative, so the overall experience could vary wildly depending on which sushi chef you get.
Overall, food here is absolutely incredible and hands down the best sushi experience I have ever had in my entire life. I still dream about that tuna cheek . . . .
Tribute to Japan Epilogue
In short, I hope this series has given you a bit more appreciation for the richness and depth of Japanese culture. It's a country with which I have always been fascinated. I never tire of Japan, and I am always seeking opportunities to learn more about the country.
Let's hope they can recover as quickly as possible from the aftermaths of the earthquakes and tsunamis.