Tsukiji Fish Market
5-2-1 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0045
Dining date: 11/21/12
I’d heard much about Sushi Dai well before coming to Japan, the super-popular sushi shop at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market. The stories are almost legendary, talking about the early mornings, long lines and exceptionally fresh fish mere yards away from the fish auction itself. I attempted to eat at Sushi Dai in each of my first two days of the trip; on the first we opted for Sushi Daiwa’s much shorter wait and on the second, I gave up on waiting the estimated four hours for a seat. The third time was a charm – I had the opportunity to dine here on my last day in Japan.
Three of us woke up at 5am on a Wednesday for a short cab ride through the still-dark Tokyo streets to Tsukiji. We were still met with a line, albeit a relatively short one, and braved the cold.
Now, there’s two parts to the line at Sushi Dai. The first 20-25 people wait outside the restaurant, herded like sheep into about 4 neat rows (SO uncomfortable…especially in the frigid weather). The line then breaks (to make room for traffic through the market), and re-forms at the end of the street, where the rest of the line can stretch dozens deep. With our early-morning timing, we found ourselves at the front of the ‘second’ line. The total wait ended up being about 80 minutes.
The sushi bar is small…very small. It probably seats about a dozen and there’s a narrow walkway from the front to the back of the restaurant. That’s it. As for menu options, I suspect most go for the omakase at ¥3,900 which includes about 11 pieces (as well as miso soup and tamago) and a final “diner’s choice” piece. A la carte is also available, from a very English-friendly menu (not surprisingly, most of the patrons on this day were foreigners…though there were some Japanese-speakers).
The omakase began with a bang – toro. I thought there was kind of an odd flavor upfront, but it was fatty, silky and pretty tasty going down. This piece had a sort of tail on it…not that I minded at all.
Red Sea Bream
Topped with rock salt, this piece of fish was very tender.
This piece of snapper had a nice chew to it with a clean flavor.
The flavor of the uni was sweet and clean, though it didn’t have the same bright flavor as other uni I’d had on the trip. This one was kind of heavy on the rice:fish ratio too.
Aji had a little bit of chew with some added brightness of chopped scallions.
I liked this version of tamago, more savory and less sweet than other versions I’d had. Served hot, it was very comforting on this early morning.
Arctic Surf Clam
The hokkigai on this visit was a little bit fishy and not as sweet as expected.
I found the akami to be a little chewier and slightly sinewy, but had good flavor.
Similar to the uni, I found the ikura to be a little muddled in flavor, not the clean sea flavor I expected.
Tuna and Cucumber with Cod Roe Maki Rolls
These rolls were slightly unmemorable, except for the sloppy assembling on the tuna roll.
Ginger and scallion complemented the tender mackerel.
Warm and soft, the sea eel was a comforting piece, though not quite as flavorful as other examples.
For my “diner’s choice,” I opted for something new rather than another piece of toro (which is what the rest of our party did).
Sweet, slightly spongy in texture.
Finally, I ordered three more pieces a la carte to supplement the omakase.
The raw abalone was very chewy with a flavor of the sea.
The kohada was presented beautifully with a rich, oily flavor.
My last piece was chutoro; the generous slice of fish wasn’t quite as rich, fatty and silky as I’d seen before, but it did the job.
I enjoyed the sushi here and definitely found it a step above Sushi Daiwa. It was neither cheap nor expensive for Japanese standards, coming out to ¥5,265/~$66 for everything. I thought some cuts were actually very good and some kind of mediocre. There was definitely a difference between the higher-end Michelin-starred establishments in terms of variety, quality and craftsmanship; but at a fraction of the cost, Sushi Dai presented a lot of value. Plus, it’s all part of the Tokyo tourist experience! Would I do it again? Maybe. Waking up super early and waiting like sardines in that annoying line was a serious pain in the ass.