Sushi Kanesaka (Tokyo, Japan)

Sushi Kanesaka
Misuzu Building
8-10-3 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Dining date: 10/21/12

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There are so many sushi restaurants in Tokyo, it’s a daunting task trying to choose which ones to go to. However, the fact the I would be dining solo for most of the meals, and speak very little Japanese, helped to filter down the options. Sushi Kanesaka came onto my radar due to other blogs as well as its two-star rating in the Michelin guide. The fact that the restaurant was English-accessible and its Ginza location was walking distance from my apartment easily brought this up my list.

Shinji Kanesaka is a rather young sushi chef (40) but has already achieved much success. He trained at well-known Kyubey before opening his flagship in Ginza. Along with the 2 Michelin stars, he has already opened up a popular restaurant overseas (Shinji by Kanesaka in Singapore).

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In Ginza, there is one large bar serving 14, with one sushi chef serving each group of 7 diners. My sushi chef for the evening was Takashi Usuba (not sure where Kanesaka-san was this evening). Usuba-san, as well as most of the staff, spoke surprisingly good English. It made it fairly easy to get a little bit of dialogue going; the atmosphere was actually pretty lively and engaging, not like other quiet and uptight sushiyas I’ve heard of.

Two omakase meals were available for dinner – a ¥20,000 and ¥30,000 menu; I opted for the first one.

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Hokkaido Oyster

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The meal started off with a simple oyster from Hokkaido. Unfortunately I didn’t catch what species this was, but it was a big fella. It was a good oyster, cold plump and juicy.

Sea Bream Sashimi

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Next was a sea bream sashimi with choice of two different dipping sauces, soy or sea salt. I tried both and liked the added depth that the soy provided, but the fish itself was extremely tender and fresh.

Hairy Crab

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This was my first taste of Japanese hairy crab during this trip, which I believe is in season in the winter months. A cool, subtly sweet meat was delicious on its own; a light vinegar dipping sauce was available as necessary.

Katsuo (Bonito) Sashimi

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This fish was superbly tender with a delicate flavor, paired simply with wasabi and soy; I felt like I could’ve eaten this all day.

Steamed Abalone

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A six hour steamed abalone arrived next; expectantly it was tender with just a slight chew. It was tasty though the flavor was somewhat subtle, reminding me of the 10-hour simmered abalone of the night before.

Seared Blackthroat Seaperch

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Another cooked fish was the next dish, the nodoguro fish. It was very moist and light, paired with a cool grated radish. Pretty delish!

Sushi service began next.

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Shima-aji (Striped Jack)

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Slight chew, mild flavor.

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Chutoro (Medium Fatty Tuna)

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Always a favorite.

Otoro (Fatty Tuna)

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This was expectantly fatty but not overly so, with a very slight chew.

Ika (Squid)

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Also tender with just a little bit of chewy mouthfeel, it was topped with lime juice and sea salt. The rice was a little bit on the firm side here, but I liked it.

Aji (Horse Mackerel)

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Complemented by shiso, scallions, and ginger.

Akami (Lean Tuna)

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This tuna was lightly marinated, though I’m not sure with what.

Kurumaebi (Shrimp)

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Served warm – this was a sweet, plump bite with strong wasabi flavor coming through.

Ikura (Salmon Roe)

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Shiso and soy complemented the salmon roe; I thought this was an excellent example. It was very well balanced flavor-wise, with the crisp nori providing nice texture.

Hokkaido Uni (Sea Urchin)

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The uni was nice and cold, and the textural contrast of the nori and warm rice went well with the uni. Good clean flavor.

Mirugai (Geoduck)

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Soft chew with a slight salinity and sweetness.

Anago (Sea Eel)

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Warm and soft with a lingering sweetness from the eel sauce.

Tamago (Egg)

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I thought this was a very good tamago finisher – cold, light and moist with a subtle sweetness and very nice creaminess. Apparently baby shrimp were ground into the batter (not-so-secret ingredient?).

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Sushi Kanesaka. It was clear early on that the fish was very fresh and of high quality, that much was to be expected. Early on in my Japan trip, it’s easy to say this was some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. The warm atmosphere really helped the overall experience, as well. If there was one sort of downside, it was that I thought the variety of fish was pretty ‘typical.’ With the exception of the hairy crab, there wasn’t any fish I hadn’t had before (most many, many times)…I was expecting a little more variety. And, I don’t think it was because I was a foreigner, since neighboring locals followed the same meal progression. Having said that, it was still an excellent meal and a great way to get my feet wet in the high-end sushi scene.

The walk back to my apartment was a pleasant one; here, Ginza at night.

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Other Tokyo sushi:
Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi
 | Sushi Dai | Sushi Daiwa | Sushi Yoshitake | Umi

RyuGin (Tokyo, Japan)

Side Roppongi Bldg, 1st Floor
7-17-24 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032
Dining date: 10/20/12

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RyuGin was close to the top of my list of restaurants to try in Tokyo. The modern kaiseki restaurant garnered three Michelin stars in the 2012 guide and is ranked #28 on the 2012 World’s 50 Best Restaurants list (while I don’t really believe in this list, it’s hard to ignore). In addition, I feel like everything I’ve read about the restaurant has been nothing but positive.

Chef Seiji Yamamoto blends traditional Japanese kaiseki with modern Western influences. While an a la carte menu is available (after 9pm), diners are steered towards the tasting menu aka “Gastronomy Menu.” Priced at ¥23,000, it contains around 11 courses (though many of the courses have multiple components).

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Given its accolades from the Western world, the restaurant seemed well-equipped to accommodate customers from around the world. While there was Japanese spoken at some tables, English appeared to be the dominant language in the dining room. One neighboring table was even communicating seamlessly in French. While all of this often calls into question the authenticity of a meal in Japan, I’m confident that the food at RyuGin maintains its hold on its Japanese roots. As with any kaiseki menu, the food is highly seasonal and local, with a focus on the artistry of the whole plate (the Japanese have been doing it way before it became cool to do so in America).

Variation of Autumn Vegetables with Pine Nuts Dressing

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The server said there were 12 different vegetables in the dish from whatever was found at the market. I could detect various mushrooms, bean sprouts and mushrooms in the texturally-dynamic dish. To bring it all together, it was dressed with a tasty pureed pine nut vinaigrette. I thought it was a very well-balanced first course.

Soft Simmered Abalone and Blue Crab with Wakame Seaweed and Apple Vinegar Jelly
Abalone Broth Hot Soup

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Next was a duo of abalone, presented in-shell. The abalone, apparently simmered for 10 hours, was tender with just a little bit of chew – delish! Blue crab completed the shellfish tandem, while an apple vinegar jelly provided some bright acidity. To subsequently wash it down, the chef served a comforting soup made from the same abalone.

Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in Lace Wrapping Deep Fried Rare with Edamame Beans Paste
Grilled Mushrooms Cold Soup

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Next, this was quite a sight. Uni and seaweed were fried rare in some type of light rice flour batter. It was as good as it looked, with a delicate crunch and warm, oozing uni on the inside. So good! A cool mushroom soup provided an earthy contrast which was also quite nice.

Ichiban Dashi Soup with Grilled Seaperch and Matsutake Mushrooms in Autumn Presentation

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A very moist, light piece of sea perch sat in a bowl of dashi. I was worried the fish would overcook in the soup, but that wasn’t the case at all. The fish was delicious, as were the tender slivers of matsutake, while a dashi broth brought a soul-satisfying warmth to the dish.

Today’s Assortment of Sashimi RyuGin Style

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The assortment included squid, spanish mackerel, two sea bream preparations, a type of shrimp (ebi), and a cup of ikura with autumn vegetables. These were all pretty good, with the most interesting being the spanish mackerel with a smoked hay condiment providing a ton of depth. My favorite was probably the salty ikura with earthy mushrooms and greens.

Autumn Colors on a Plate: Grilled Thorn Head Fish, Eggplant, Chestnuts, Ginkgo Nuts

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Next was this plate with a grilled white fish and thinly sliced fried mushroom. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist with a crispy skin. An accompanying mixture of chestnuts and chrysanthemum provided a cool and refreshing bite while a slice of peach, lightly pickled with ginger, was an interesting flavor combination.

Simmered Presentation: Soft Octopus and Lightly Fried Sea Scallops with Autumn Vegetables

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Here, octopus was paired with a still-raw fried scallop. I liked the texture between the crispy scallop and slightly chewy octopus, paired with simmered spinach and turnips.

Chef Yamamoto’s Specialty: Charbroiled Large Wild Eel with Kinome Leaves in Don Style
Shrimp Broth Red Miso Soup

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This was also one of the most memorable dishes of the meal. This was my first time having eel in Japan and I was thoroughly impressed. The eel was cooked in a way that it had a delightfully crispy skin, while keeping a juicy interior. Loved the texture and it was so delicious. It was served don-style, atop some brown rice. Lightly pickled egg, beans and a root vegetable sought to provide a slight acidity to counter the eel, while a shellfish-based miso soup was a wonderful finisher to the course.

Following the last savory course of the meal, I was asked if I was still hungry; if so, the chef could prepare an additional course of either fresh soba or chicken rice (inspired by his time in China). I sort of misunderstood and ordered both…given the success of the meal at this point, I wasn’t going to reject anything coming out of the kitchen.

Chef Yamamoto Remembering His Childhood with Chinese Chicken Rice

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The first “extra” was this one. This is similar to a rice dish I eat every Thanksgiving and Christmas, a Chinese sticky rice (nuomi fan) with tiny diced mushrooms, carrots and chicken.

RyuGin Original Homemade Cold Soba Noodle with Yuzu Flavor

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I was told one of the sous chefs was making this fresh in the back. Soba is everywhere in Tokyo and I haven’t had a bad bowl (except the hit soup ones!) but I was very curious if RyuGin could elevate it. This was easily the best soba I’ve had so far with a superior, addicting chewy texture. The yuzu zest was a nice touch, but I didn’t really need it.

Two Grapes

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The first dessert of the evening was this duo of grapes. The first was a grape imbued with CO2 (I think), which resembled champagne when it burst in the mouth. Pretty cool. The second was a concoction frozen quickly via liquid nitrogen, cracked and topped with a grape jam. The interior of the grape had something like pop-rocks, leaving that familiar sensation in the mouth. The flavors were good, though I’m not a huge fan of the whole pop rocks sensation.

Grilled Ginjou Sake Oyaki Souffle with Egg Soft Cream

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The final dish of the evening was this dessert, the chef’s take on a souffle-style oyaki. It was prepared with sake, which I could taste in each light and airy bite. A rich, eggy soft cream….kind of like a thick froyo, provided a sweet, creamy contrast.


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To pair with dessert I had a bowl of hot matcha. Bitter and slightly thick, I really enjoy this with dessert or as an end-of-meal drink.

I had a nearly flawless meal at RyuGin, which lived up to the hype in my opinion. There wasn’t as much molecular gastronomy flair or “tricks” as I thought there would be, which I was actually pleased with. Instead, the preparations seemed to be relatively simple and straightforward, focusing on great ingredients and excellent execution. Service was impeccable, something almost always expected at a Michelin three-star, but it often fails to impress. Even though I still have a lot to eat in Tokyo, I think this will be close to (if not at) the top at the end – I may even drop in one more time before I go. Easily one of my best meals of 2012.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Tokyo, Japan)

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0032
Dining date: 10/15/12

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L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon was on my list of Tokyo restaurants early on, largely because I’ve had fairly consistently good meals here, but also because I think it’s been fun to compare them across the world (I’ve been to the Las Vegas, Paris, London and now Tokyo locations). For a sort of welcome dinner for our team in Tokyo, I was tasked to find a suitable restaurant. Ultimately this was the choice, given its English-friendliness (the Roppongi area is frequented by many foreigners) and approachability to Western tastebuds.

The restaurants present Robuchon’s refined cuisine in a more casual setting, full of counter seating. I think I read somewhere that Japan’s sushi bars were the inspiration behind the counter-centric nature of L’Atelier restaurants, so it was interesting to see it come together in Tokyo. Similar to the London and Paris locations, the Tokyo restaurant shares a Michelin two-star rating.

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A tasting menu and an a la carte are available, as well as a number of prix fixe menus with a variety of options. Most of us went with the latter; the below captures some of the other dishes but I’ll only comment on the ones I ate.

Pork Rillette on Crostini

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We started with an amuse from the kitchen. Even though the description was in English, we still couldn’t quite capture what this was. It was sort of a pork rillette simmered with white wine. Simple yet tasty.

I’ve always enjoyed pretty strong bread service at Robuchon establishments, and this was no exception.

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Next up were the first courses, including this impressive presentation.

Le Saumon tasmanian salmon tartare with shiso flower buds

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Le Crabe snow crab served with an avocado mousse and apple

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I went with this dish, a light starter with sweetness of the pear and crab mellowed by an avocado mousse. The shellfish gelee was a nice touch too, providing a lot of depth.

Next were the second courses.

Le Bulbe de Lys lily bulb cream soup with vanilla accompanied with a stuffed shrimp

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Les Ravioles foie gras ravioli in a warm chicken broth with herbs and spicy cream

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I couldn’t resist a foie gras ravioli, my first bites of the liver since the California ban. A rich chicken broth with herbal shiso accents provided the backdrop to the ravioli with its delicate chew and creamy unmistakable foie gras interior.

Next up were the main courses.

Le Boeuf sliced wagyu beef ribeye with wasabi flavored spinach and harlequin vegetables

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Le Boeuf wagyu ribeye with truffled mashed potatoes

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Le Caille caramelized foie gras stuffed free range quail served with mashed potatoes

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I opted for the quail, which the waiter said was a specialty across Robuchon restaurants. I’m glad I did, as this was an outstanding dish. The quail itself was moist and succulent, complemented by a subtly sweet glaze. The breasts were separated from the bone and stuffed with a creamy foie gras filling – so luscious. Delicious. Robuchon’s trademark uber-rich potatoes came along with it, while some herbal greens brightened things up a bit.

Lastly, we had the dessert courses.

Le Raisin fresh grape covered with a red wine jelly served on a light mint cream

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La Tendance Chocolat araguani chocolate ganache served with a cocoa sherbet covered with bitter biscuit powder

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I didn’t realize it when ordering, but I had something really similar to this at the London location earlier this year. My thoughts on the dessert remain unchanged; it’s a fine dessert, sure, but I found it rather one-note on the chocolate.

A plate of mignardises completed our meal, but we were too full to finish all of it.

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I found this to be a very good meal, highlighted by the quail stuffed with foie gras. In fact, I enjoyed the food here more than my London experience, though Paris remains the clear standard-bearer for me. I found service’s attentiveness to be rather inconsistent during this meal, with some courses brought to the table without a description and our server seemingly changing mid-meal without notice. Service-wise, I expected something more from a two-star. Still, this was an excellent starter meal for our stay in Tokyo.

Sarashina Horii (Tokyo, Japan)

Sarashina Horii
3-11-4 Motoazabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-0046
Dining date: 10/15/12

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I first learned about Sarashina Horii from an episode of No Reservations. Masaharu Morimoto took Anthony Bourdain here during the Tokyo episode, raving about the soba here. It looked really good, so I immediately added it to my list of places to visit. Indeed, it seems to be a well-known restaurant as many of the Tokyo locals have heard of the Sarashina name.

Sarashina Horii first opened in 1789 with its claim to fame being its soba. The restaurant serves multiple types, but the most notable is probably the eponymous Sarashina soba. This soba uses only the white inner part of buckwheat, resulting in its bleached-white color.

As with many Japanese restaurants, some legit plastic food art make ordering a breeze.

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The complete soba lineup has four varieties; three staples and one that changes seasonally.

MORI-SOBA hand-made brown-colored buckwheat noodle
SARASHINA-SOBA white soba made from only the center of buckwheat
FUTOUTI-SOBA thick soba made from 100% buckwheat powder
KAWARI-SOBA soba colored with natural seasoning

Given it was my first time and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to return, I ordered two dishes to try as much as I could.


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The first dish I had was a classic zaru soba with the Sarashina variety of soba. A great chewy texture was complemented by the cool soy/dashi-based dipping sauce. So simple yet so satisfying. I can’t say I noticed a ton of difference between this soba and the “normal” kind, but I thought the earthy flavor was more subtle here.

TENPURA-SOBA soba with one prawn tempura

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For my second dish, I wanted to try something on the opposite end of the spectrum – hot soba, this time with the traditional variety. I enjoyed the soup, but found the soba to be far too soft (a commonality with other bowls of hot soba I’ve had here). Others in our party attributed it to me waiting too long (I did eat much of the cold soba first), but I didn’t think this was the case. The noodles weren’t anywhere close texturally to the cold variety. The accompanying shrimp tempura was giant and quite tasty.

KAKIAGE-SOBA mixture of 6-shrimps and mitsuba fried in batter

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I also tried a bite of the seasonal soba, flavored with chrysanthemum. I really didn’t notice too much of a difference between this one and the Sarashina variety, though I do think I got a hint of the floral flavor…but I might just have been imagining it.

I’m by no means a soba expert (I think we have very few soba specialty restaurants in California), but I thoroughly enjoyed this meal. The cold soba was excellent in texture and balance of flavors, though I have yet to have a cold soba I haven’t enjoyed here. The hot soba was a different story, and I found this one as disappointing as others I’ve had here – maybe that’s just the style? In terms of the “extras,” the tempura was excellent. I hope to make another trip during my stay in Japan.

Sushi Daiwa (Tokyo, Japan)

Sushi Daiwa
Tsukiji Fish Market
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0045
Dining date: 10/12/12

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Tsukiji Market was close to the top, if not the top, of the list in terms of places to visit while in Tokyo. There are a ton of things to see, from all of the food stands and market stalls to just the observation of interactions at a real, working fish market. One of the most unique activities is going to the tuna auction; only 120 tourists per day are admitted on a first-come, first-served basis. Early arrival is a must…all spots were taken by about 4:30am.

At the auction area, dozens and dozens of tuna were laid out and inspected for quality. Occasionally an auctioneer would come out and start yelling unintelligible (to me) things; tuna were sold in a matter of minutes.

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What surprised me most was that all of the tuna were already frozen. They were presumably flash-frozen at sea, then brought to market. It made me wonder – is proximity a chief determining factor in the quality of fish anymore? If the fish is already frozen, what difference does it make if it’s defrosted at the market that morning or in Los Angeles the next?

While there are many things to see, eating some of the sushi fresh from the market is a must. The most famous sushi shop at Tsukiji is probably Sushi Dai, home to consistently long lines in the mornings. Next door is Sushi Daiwa, a shop that I’ve heard having similar quality but a shorter line.

At around 6am on a Friday, Dai’s line was already greater than an hour; however, our party of 5 was able to squeeze into the last 5 seats at Daiwa’s bar without a wait. Most of us (myself included) went with the daily omakase.

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That picture is pretty much the whole shop. Not more than ten seats at the counter and no tables; the narrow pathway through the restaurant couldn’t be more than a couple feet wide.

Miso Soup with Clams

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We began with a bowl of miso soup. I noticed a nice sea flavor coming through and lo and behold, there were these tiny clams at the bottom of the bowl. Delish.

The sushi came next, at a pretty quick pace.


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Ika (Squid)

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Tuna, Negitoro, and Ikura-Cucumber Cut Rolls

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Anago (Sea Eel)

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Kanpachi (Amberjack)

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This was the conclusion of the omakase. Expectantly, the sushi was fresh and well-made, and it was interesting to find such tiny pieces of uni (I believe they came from Russia).

I ordered three more pieces; a side-by-side toro comparison and another piece I saw going to a neighboring diner.


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Aji (Mackerel) ginger, scallion

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My second piece of otoro wasn’t as fatty as I anticipated…and was kind of chewy and sinewy. Definitely not what I was expecting. Overall, I found the sushi at Daiwa to be good, though not particularly special. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I found the sushi to be comparable to a good spot in LA (which isn’t a bad thing, but maybe I was looking for something more). At about 5,400JPY/69USD, it wasn’t exactly a bargain, either.

The next morning we made an attempt to eat at Sushi Dai. There was already a lengthy line at 6am, estimated to be a 3.5-4 hour wait. Ridiculous. I didn’t wait but I’m determined to go…stay tuned.

UPDATE: I managed to finally try Sushi Dai!

8089579800 64dbe9cb38 Sushi Daiwa (Tokyo, Japan)

Other Tokyo sushi:
Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi | Sushi Dai | Sushi Kanesaka | Sushi Yoshitake | Umi

Men Oh Tokushima (Los Angeles, CA)

Men Oh Tokushima
456 E 2nd St
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Dining date: 10/9/12

8073406627 25cf55e751 Men Oh Tokushima (Los Angeles, CA)

Men Oh Tokushima is the latest Japanese ramen chain to hit Los Angeles. Like the gourmet pizza/cupcake/burger, these shops seem to be popping up everywhere. However, the Little Tokyo scene has been rather quiet, with the likes of Tsujita, Yamadaya and Jinya opening up a presence outside of downtown. Sure, Shin-Sen-Gumi opened up a year ago to finally bring some competition (and relief for long waits) for stalwart Daikokuya, but there isn’t a whole lot of variety in the category (I dislike Orochon and find Mr. Ramen, Kouraku, and Chin-Ma-Ya to be second-rate at best).

Just this past week, Men Oh Tokushima opened their latest US branch in the Honda Plaza of Little Tokyo. They already have 12 locations around Japan and a couple in Northern California, so it seems like a successful concept. Their ramen is a little bit different from what I’ve had before, a shoyu-tonkotsu hybrid native to the Tokushima prefecture in the south of Japan. I’ve had both shoyu and tonkotsu (probably my favorite) separately but never together, so I was definitely intrigued. Standalone shoyu and tonkotsu broths are also available.

GYOZA pork pot-stickers

8073404474 911afa4f83 Men Oh Tokushima (Los Angeles, CA)

The gyoza had a delicate skin and a good balance of pork and cabbage. I would’ve liked more of a crusty sear on the pan-fried side though, and the fact that the gyoza rested in small puddles of its own oil resulted in some greasy, soggy dumplings if not eaten quickly.

KARAAGE japanese-style fried chicken

8073405576 ac36eeef6a Men Oh Tokushima (Los Angeles, CA)

The karaage came out piping hot with a great crust and moist thigh meat. They did a good job of trimming the skin and fat, leaving an ideal ratio of meat to fat. An addicting sweet/salty sauce of soy, sesame and scallions completed one of the best examples of chicken karaage that I’ve had.

TOKUSHIMA RAMEN house-made noodles in rich pork bone and soy sauce-based soup topped with Chashu Pork (simmered pork), Butabara (stir-fried pork belly), Menma (bamboo shoots), Negi (green onions), Raw Egg

8073403258 e938f65bbf Men Oh Tokushima (Los Angeles, CA)

The Tokushima ramen tasted, as advertised, like a rich hybrid of shoyu and tonkotsu broths. The milky pork broth was there, but the sweet soy depth was also present making something pretty unique for me. I enjoyed it (though I may like pure tonkotsu broths better), and the toppings were tasty too between the two different types of pork. I liked the noodles but thought they could’ve been just a tad more al dente, they were a bit soft for me…particularly as I finished the bowl.

TONKOTSU RAMEN house-made noodles in pork bone-based, salt-seasoned soup topped with Chashu Pork (simmered pork), Seasoned Boiled Egg, Menma (bamboo shoots), Kikurage Mushroom, Negi (green onions), Nori (seaweed)

8073409077 8b74c5fa2e Men Oh Tokushima (Los Angeles, CA)

I also wanted to try the pure tonkotsu, something more familiar and comparable in LA. I thought this one felt lighter in flavor than what I was expecting, though still with a nice fatty sheen on top. Bamboo shoots, scallions and mushrooms made things a little more interesting, but this broth lacked the depth that the Tokushima offered. Noodle-wise, I had a similar opinion with the texture, though I preferred them over the straight Hakata-style variety.

I thought Men Oh put together a pretty good meal. Their Tokushima ramen is something rather unique so it’s hard to directly compare, but I probably like the tonkotsu bowls at Daikokuaya and Shin-Sen-Gumi better (though I definitely prefer their tonkotsu over Men Oh’s tonkotsu). Having said that, Men Oh is something different and quite tasty on its own, so I’d say its worth a try (maybe for the chicken karaage alone). At the very least, I’m glad to have found another viable ramen shop in my neighborhood.