Kaika (Tokyo, Japan)

Kaika
Kojun Building 4F
6-8-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Dining date: 11/13/12

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Teppanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine centered around an iron griddle, where chefs prepare a number of courses right in front of the diner. It’s not exactly a style steeped in tradition (it began in the 20th century), often incorporating a number of Western ingredients into the cooking. The most famous teppanyaki restaurant in America has to be Benihana, which introduced the style; as a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve been to a teppanyaki meal outside of Benihana. Well, until now.

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Often nicknamed “Japanese steakhouses,” a teppanyaki restaurant was an ideal place for me to get my hands on some wagyu – Japanese beef. The super-marbled breed of beef has been almost impossible to get in America, given it was banned from U.S. imports almost three years ago (though the ban was recently lifted!). I’ve only had true Japanese wagyu a handful of times (the most memorable being at CUT on my college graduation day), and it’s unmistakable richness really differentiates it from high-grade USDA Prime or even cross-bred American wagyu beef.

Kaika was selected by a few Tokyo locals for a dinner in Ginza. Expectantly, a meal centered around this type of beef wasn’t cheap with set menus ranging from ¥12,600 to ¥25,200. I would’ve been content with some steaks and a bowl of rice, though the prix-fixe menus didn’t really allow that. I went on the low-end of the range and elected to upgrade my beef option to the highest one available – a sirloin from Kagoshima.

madai (red snapper) sashimi

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The first course was a sashimi course of red snapper marinated in kombu (kelp). It had a very mild flavor, complemented by seaweed and the earthiness and texture of small kernels of popcorn, still on the stem.

At this point, the raw beef came out to be displayed at the counter. It was quite a sight, displaying the rich veins of marbling characteristic of the breed. Even the filet (on the right) had fantastic marbling.

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sweet potato puree

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A sweet and creamy sweet potato soup arrived next, nicely displaying the in-season root vegetable.

A seafood course was next.

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tiger prawn in brain sauce; suzuki (sea bass) with tomato and couscous

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I enjoyed the prawn with the crunchy head, though found the brain sauce to not be as flavorful as expected. The dense, meaty sea bass was cooked pretty well, and I enjoyed the tomatoes and what I think was Israeli couscous that came along with it.

onion chawanmushi

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The delicate sweetness of the onion came through in the light custard.

Awaiting the next course, we could see the meat being cooked on the teppan.

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salad of cherry tomato, burdock root, lotus root

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Refreshing cherry tomatoes, romanesco and some root vegetables came with a sesame dressing, plain and simple.

wagyu sirloin with sauteed vegetables

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Finally, the pièce de résistance. The meat was as I remembered from years ago, exceedingly fatty and rich though still with a good beefy flavor. It was kind of ridiculous how rich it was; I could only eat this in relatively small portions and definitely not a big steak of it. Marbling-wise, it was truly a step up from New Zealand wagyu or any of the American wagyu found domestically. Texture-wise, it was similar to a seared foie gras in its succulent melt-in-your-mouth richness.

fried rice with fish; japanese pickles

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The final savory course was an under-seasoned fried rice with tiny dried fish served with miso soup.

azuki bean ice cream, black sesame chiffon cake

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Lastly, we enjoyed a pretty solid dessert with a subtle sesame flavor in a light and airy chiffon cake. The ice cream was a little overly icy, but had good red bean flavor. The fruits were pretty tasty too.

I’m glad I was able to experience the over-the-top fatty richness of the beef; food-wise this was one of the highlights of my trip in Japan. The rest of the courses were pretty decent though nothing special (not that I was expecting them to be). Similar to the sushi/kaiseki/tempura meals I had, the counter experience was exciting. It was fun to be able to watch everything in action, and the chef spoke pretty good English allowing us to have some dialogue.

Ginza Toyoda (Tokyo, Japan)

Ginza Toyoda
La Vialle Ginza Bldg 2F
7-5-4 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Dining date: 11/10/12

ginza toyoda

I made it a point to try a few kaiseki meals while in Japan – Ginza Toyoda would be my third experience of the trip. The restaurant came to my attention via the Tokyo Michelin Guide (2 stars) and the fact that it has an English version of its website…often a good indication that some English was spoken.

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The restaurant is located on the second floor of the La Vialle Building on a small, narrow street in Ginza, It was walking distance from my apartment, making it an ideal spot for a lunch meal. Speaking of lunch,  three set menus were available at ¥5,000, ¥7,000 and ¥10,000. I went right in the middle.

Like Ginza Okuda (where I dined the previous week), Ginza Toyoda serves a pretty traditional, ever-changing kaiseki meal following a careful progression of dishes.

sea eel, sea urchin, greens, dashi jelly

sea eel, sea urchin, greens, dashi jelly

The first dish featured a tender, meaty piece of eel with a smooth and cold piece of uni. Slightly bitter greens contrasted the sweet seafood, while a cool dashi jelly added some tasty depth.

meatball, mochi, onion, dashi

meatball, mochi, onion, dashi

The texture of the meatball was interesting…kind of silky (fatty?) and soft in texture, but I liked the flavor. I think it was pork. I liked the sweetness of the onion to go along with it, but didn’t care for the chewy mochi.

red snapper, chutoro, mackerel sashimi

red snapper, chutoro, mackerel sashimi

A beautiful sashimi plate came next. The fish tasted as good as it looked, with the fatty chutoro being my favorite. The red snapper was dipped in ponzu, while the tuna and mackerel came with soy sauce.

baked cod with mayonnaise

baked cod with mayo

A meaty, dense cod was next – I thought it was cooked pretty well leaving pretty moist flesh. The baked on mayonnaise provided just a little more moisture and flavor.

bottarga

bottarga

While I was still working on the cod course, a random slice of cured fish roe found its way onto my plate. No complaints here with its sort of gelatinous texture and delicate salty, fishy flavor.

daikon, scallops, greens, dashi

daikon, scallops, greens, dashi

A tender chunk daikon and slices of scallops sat in a warm dashi broth. I thought one of the scallop pieces was overcooked (the other one was fine), and I’m not sure all of the flavors came together as hoped.

red snapper rice bowl; red miso

red snapper rice bowl

red snapper rice bowl

red miso

Next, a large pot of rice with red snapper was brought to the counter. After being displayed, the contents were mixed and scooped into individual (ended up being three) servings. I thought this was pretty tasty, with tender chunks of the snapper perfuming the rice and thinly sliced scallions providing a little sweetness. A hearty, earthy red miso was a traditional accompaniment.

grape jelly

grape jelly

Lastly, dessert was in the form of this in-season grape jelly. I really liked the texture – soft but yet almost chewy – and the grape was pretty tasty too.

I liked this kaiseki lunch moreso than the one at Ginza Okuda, especially considering it was half the price. However, similar to that meal, I wasn’t overly impressed here. We had some good dishes but nothing particularly memorable…and some just seemed overly simple (maybe I just didn’t understand them). While not quite as traditional, RyuGin remained a clear-cut favorite for kaiseki dining.

Some of the main streets in Ginza are closed to vehicular traffic on the weekend, making it an ideal place for an after-lunch stroll.

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Pierre Gagnaire (Tokyo, Japan)

Pierre Gagnaire
ANA InterContinental Hotel Tokyo
1-12-33 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-0052
Dining date: 11/11/12

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My third main foray into Western cuisine in Japan was my first time to a Pierre Gagnaire restaurant. I’ve heard some mixed reviews about Gagnaire’s lone U.S. restaurant Twist in Las Vegas, but still felt like I had to try his food for myself. A lot Japanese restaurants close on Sundays, especially for lunch, so a number of my French meals filled this gap.

The Michelin two-star restaurant is Pierre Gagnaire’s lone restaurant in Japan, situated on the 36th floor of the ANA InterContinental Hotel. Of course, great views are offered…just not so much on this cloudy, rainy day.

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I thought the lunch menu was reasonably-priced with a weekdays-only prix-fixe ¥4,500 menu and a longer ¥8,000 menu offered everyday. We ordered the “four-course” tasting menu, the only tasting offered on the weekend. A la carte was also available, but the pricing seemed to really favor the tasting. This menu was actually cheaper than dining at Gagnaire’s Twist in Las Vegas, which isn’t open for lunch.

The first thing out of the kitchen was the amuse bouche, a collection of 5 separate bites; the broad variety of just the amuse would foreshadow the courses to come.

(left to right)
Chestnut cream with truffle oil and hazelnut
Sesame chip
Dark beer glazed popcorn
Ginger cookie with almond
Cucumber with mascarpone cheese

amuse bouche

Overall, I thought these were fun bites to begin with. My favorite was the ginger cookie with almond; the texture and balance of ginger and almond tones won me over.

Country bread, milk bread, and a dried fruit bread were served with a very creamy butter imported from France.

bread

Just like the amuse bouche, the “first course” was a five-parter. Each one stood on its own with separate flavors so this really was kind of like five courses in one. The plates covered the table in a pretty impressive presentation.

Champagne sorbet with grapes

Champagne sorbet with grapes

The sorbet was cool and refreshing, while I thought the grapes provided a nice fresh, sweet flavor.

Chestnut soup, chantilly cream with rum and orange juice

Chestnut soup, chantilly cream with rum and orange juice

A warm and earthy chestnut soup was accompanied by a dollop of chantilly cream, which provided much of the richness. A hint of citrus balanced everything out.

Just sizzling sanma fish, red pepper pulp and mizuna leaves

Just sizzling sanma fish, red pepper pulp and mizuna leaves

The fish was warm and crisp, cooked quite well, while a red pepper puree provided a very nice sweetness. Lightly dressed mizuna leaves lended some acidity to my favorite of the first courses.

Slices of smoked quail, sour lotus with saffron, gingerbread powder

Slices of smoked quail, sour lotus with saffron, gingerbread powder

The quail was warm and smoky, countered by a crisp, tart lotus root. This dish didn’t have the same depth that I found in the others, though I really enjoyed the quail.

Sauerkraut salad, pig ears and seaweed flakes

Sauerkraut salad, pig ears and seaweed flakes

Tart sauerkraut and chewy pig ears were complemented by a bit of seaweed flavor. Not my favorite as the flavors didn’t really all come together for me.

Upon completion of the first course(s), the lone entree (appetizer) came next.

Taraba crab meat, wild mushrooms fricassee with autumn fruits, bouillon of sauternes

Taraba crab meat, wild mushrooms fricasse with autumn fruits, bouillon of sauternes

Taraba crab meat, wild mushrooms fricasse with autumn fruits, bouillon of sauternes

The mushrooms were sautéed until tender, exuding an umami-packed earthiness. I’m not really sure how the broth was prepared but it was delicious…showing off a ton of depth. The cool, sweet crab was delicious as well, completing the sea-earth flavor combination. Really an excellent dish.

Challans duck cube roasted with cumin, slice of foie gras pan-fried and marmalade of cabbage with black olive, amaranth leaves

Challans duck cube roasted with cumin, slice of foie gras pan-fried and marmalade of cabbage with black olive, amaranth leaves

For the main course, pieces of duck breast, leg and enlarged liver were all prepared pretty well with a strong cumin seasoning. I thought the duck was delicious, countered by the cabbage and greens. A rich pan sauce provided more savory depth to the dish.

For the first sweets course, we went back to the multi-component presentation.

(left to right) Egg white meringue and black bean lemon cake, banana apricot jelly, strawberry marshmallow, arugula cake, grapefruit almond tart, salted caramel ice cream (center)

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It was pretty simple, but I thought the salted caramel ice cream was pretty tasty. The arugula cake was another favorite, with a sweetness taking over the characteristic peppery notes.

The dessert “course” itself was a trio of dishes all presented at once:

Apple jelly with apple chocolate

Apple jelly with apple chocolate

Apple jelly with apple chocolate

I loved the presentation of this dish with its chocolate mousse and jelly shaped into a green apple. It was actually rather light, with crisp apples providing texture and tartness to balance the creamy chocolate.

Cinnamon ice cream, green tea ice cream, fresh fruit rice cake

Cinnamon ice cream, green tea ice cream, fresh fruit rice cake

The wrapper had an interesting sort of al dente texture with a fruit filling. Cinnamon ice cream went pretty well with the fruits inside, while a mini green tea ice cream cake was tasty though somewhat out of place.

Chocolate with berry sauce and hot chocolate

Chocolate with berry sauce and hot chocolate

A chocolate mousse was accompanied with tart berries and a rich warm chocolate sauce on top. The chocolate and berry flavors showcased in this dessert seemed kind of conservative given the previous desserts, though I can’t say there were any complaints with the execution of it.

As if we hadn’t reached a sugar-overload by this point in the meal, we were served brown sugar cookies and chocolate truffles to close out the meal.

brown sugar cookies and chocolate truffles

Not unlike Joel Robuchon and Paul Bocuse, Pierre Gagnaire also has his own bakery separate from his restaurant. I purchased breakfast for the next few days here.

bakery2

bakery

I thoroughly enjoyed this lunch. While presented as 4 courses on the menu, we had about 15 separately plated dishes outside of the mignardises. For less than half the price, I thought I got far more variety and depth of flavors here than at Beige Alain Ducasse. More importantly, I thought the creativity here was much stronger too…the most of all of the French meals I had in Tokyo. And that crab dish with the mushroom fricassee – that’ll be one of the dishes I remember most from all of the food I ate in Japan.

Third Anniversary: Top 5 Meals of the Blog Year

11/28/12

Today marks the third year anniversary of this blog. Who knew it would last this long? Honestly, I had no expectations when I started this so I can’t say I did. Each year has brought something new and different, chronicling where I’ve been and much of what I’ve eaten.

As with all of my other anniversary posts, I’ll recount here the top 5 meals of the last 366 days.

This past third year brought about an unexpected international flavor, having spent almost two of the past twelve months abroad. This included short stays in India and England, with the most significant (6 weeks) being in Japan. This was definitely the highlight for me – I love Japanese food. The opportunity to pig out on bowls of udon, soba, and ramen, plates of  curry rice, tonkatsu, tempura, yakitori, and multiple sushi, kaiseki and French meals (adding up to a cumulative 32 Michelin stars) was something I’ll never forget. Not surprisingly, my stay in Japan is well-reflected in this list.

5. Joel Robuchon (Tokyo, Japan) – 11/18/12

foie gras risotto
Foie Gras with Parmesan Risotto

This was the best Western meal I had in Japan and perhaps the best service I’d seen in Tokyo (and therefore, ever). The lunch was highlighted by perfect execution from a meltingly rich foie gras atop risotto to a really nicely textured amadai (tilefish), cooked with its scales on. The bread cart, just like at the Las Vegas outpost, never ceases to amaze me.

4. Umi (Tokyo, Japan) – 10/29/12

otoro
Toro

I had a number of sushi meals in Tokyo but this one stood apart in its variety (of course, quality too). Trying 30-or-so different cuts of fish was by far the most of any single meal and it was amazing to be able to sample so much (most from the chef’s native region Hokkaido). Getting to dine here with a native Japanese speaker was a huge plus, too.

3. Sushi Yoshitake (Tokyo, Japan) – 11/12/12

kohada
Kohada

The best all-around sushi I had in Japan and probably the best sushi meal I’ve ever had. The sashimi to start off with was exquisite, highlighted by tender abalone in its own liver sauce, monkfish liver with yuzu, and a smoked bonito. The sushi courses that followed maintained the high notes, yielding one of my best meals in Japan.

2. RyuGin (Tokyo, Japan) – 10/20/12

Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in Lace Wrapping Deep Fried Rare with Edamame Beans Paste
Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in Lace Wrapping Deep Fried Rare with Edamame Beans Paste

This was an excellent meal from start to finish. Chef Yamamoto presented a modern kaiseki menu highlighting the ingredients (and seasons) of Japan with flawless execution. Highlights for me included an awesome fried uni, excellent unagi and surprisingly the best soba I had during my stay. I still think about the crispy, juicy unagi; I’ve never had anything quite like it.

1. The Fat Duck (Bray, UK) – 5/25/12

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich
MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch

This wasn’t a clear-cut decision, but there was something about the whimsical, playful nature of this meal that set it apart. There was a sense of anticipation and excitement that came with each dish, keeping us all on the edge of our seats for hours. Combined with the fact that the ‘entertainment’ value of the dishes did not outshine the flavors, this was a wildly successful meal…and a whole lot of fun.

I’d like to extend a big THANK YOU to those whom I’ve had the pleasure of dining with, and to all who have stopped by this blog in the past year (especially multiple times)!

Honorable mention (in chronological order):
Commonwealth (San Francisco, CA) – 11/26/11 Another previous year’s meal showed up on last year’s list and I had another great meal here. For me, it’s a ‘must’ on any extended dining visit to San Francisco.
The French Laundry (Yountville, CA) – 11/27/11 Celebrating my grandmother and aunt’s birthday in one of my favorite restaurants in California is a sure-fire way to make this list.
Saison (San Francisco, CA) – 12/17/11 Truly an excellent meal and one of the best I’ve ever had in San Francisco.
5×5 Chefs Collaborative @ Melisse (Santa Monica, CA) – 4/29/12 The lone entrant from LA was the best of the 5×5 dinners I attended. The all-star cast put together a very strong meal.
Pierre Gagnaire (Tokyo, Japan) – 11/11/12 Honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect at Gagnaire’s Tokyo outpost, but I was surprised (in a good way) and thoroughly satisfied with the creativity balanced with flavor.

Previous Anniversary Posts:
First Anniversary | Second Anniversary

Thanksgiving 2012

Dining date: 11/22/12

As expected, Thanksgiving is a food-filled holiday in this household. Technically though, none of the food is consumed in our own household; we do lunch at my aunt’s (mother’s side) and dinner at my grandmother’s side (father’s). Each year the food served remains largely the same with a few new entrants – just the way it should be, I suppose. The food is probably what I would call Chinese-American, a mixture of two different cultures coming together for one (or two!) big feast.

country potatoes

country potatoes

yams with marshmallows

yams

green beans with sliced almonds

green beans

chicken pot pie

chicken pot pie

linguine pasta salad

pasta salad

chow mein

chow mein

chinese sticky rice

chinese sticky rice

stir-fried shanghai noodles

shanghai noodles

turkey

turkey

egg rolls

egg rolls

fried shrimp wontons

wontons

shrimp toasts

shrimp toasts

beef tri-tip

tri-tip

BBQ pork ribs

pork ribs

lumberjack cake and mango pudding

pies

ice cream cake (neapolitan & cookies and cream)

ice cream cake

ice cream cake

coffee crunch cake

coffee crunch cake

My grandmother handles the majority of dinner duties, though my aunt prepared the turkey and turducken.

roasted new york strip

roast beef

roast beef

lobster tails

lobster tails

turducken

turducken

turkey

turkey

stuffing

stuffing

vegetables

vegetables

mashed potatoes

mashed potatoes

gravy

gravy

chinese sticky rice

chinese sticky rice

yams

yams

dream cake

dream cake

Another Thanksgiving is in the books. As always the food is good but the company is the most memorable part. Living in Los Angeles, there are limited times to spend with the extended family so each one of these holidays is special.

Sushi Yoshitake (Tokyo, Japan)

Sushi Yoshitake
Suzuryu Building 3F
8-7-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Dining date: 11/12/12

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One of my food goals in Japan has been to find the best sushi I could possibly get my hands on. Sukiyabashi Jiro was initially what I had my sights on to satisfy this quest, but that didn’t work out; in hindsight, I think I would’ve been disappointed in that meal. I’ve had some great sushi at Sushi Kanesaka, Umi and the Roppongi branch of Sukiyabashi Jiro, but Sushi Yoshitake was the best of them all.

Chef Masahiro Yoshitake is the man behind the restaurant, a new entrant (and three-star awardee) to the 2012 Michelin Guide. His success has spawned another branch in Hong Kong, but this remains the flagship. Like all the rest of the sushiyas I’ve been to, the decor is spartan but intimate. The bar seats seven and the chef does much of the work including finishing all of the dishes and making the sushi. Of course, the view is a part of the experience and I was lucky enough to get a seat front and center!

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There is no menu; food is omakase-only at ¥21,000. As is typical for other sushiyas, the first few courses are small plates/sashimi with the rest all sushi.

crab with roe, dashi jelly

crab with roe, dashi jelly

Cool, sweet crab was complemented with additional umami from the dashi. I liked having the roe which added a little bit of texture and depth of crabby flavor.

hirame/fluke sashimi

hirame sashimi

The hirame was served slightly warm, which I found kind of odd. The texture was tender and silky, and I thought the sudachi-soy dipping sauce was an ideal accompaniment.

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octopus sashimi

octopus sashimi

I think this was braised for a long time since it was extremely tender. Or maybe it was just very good octopus? I loved the texture though I found the molasses-like sweet sauce to be a little too sweet.

abalone with liver sauce

abalone with liver sauce

abalone with liver sauce

A couple of tender, sweet chunks of abalone arrived next. A separate dish contained a mysterious green sauce; turns out, it was made from the abalone liver. Awesome! The sauce lended an extra richness and depth of flavor that really set this dish apart.

sushi rice with liver sauce

sushi rice with liver sauce

A refill of the abalone liver sauce came next with a dollop of sushi rice. I was excited to have another helping of the unique sauce and really liked how it coated the lightly seasoned rice.

monkfish liver with yuzu

monkfish liver with yuzu

This was an exceptionally creamy example of monkfish with a hint of soy and citrusy yuzu. The flavor was clean and bright; I thought this was one of the best monkfish livers I’ve ever tasted.

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smoked bonito sashimi

smoked bonito sashimi

The last course before sushi was this one. I’ve been seeing smoked bonito sashimi/sushi quite a bit in Tokyo and wonder why I don’t see it that much in the US. The smoky perfume goes so well with the rich tuna that it’s hard to go wrong. In this example, the skin was seared gently, giving each bite a little bit of an added smoky charred flavor. Delish.

The sashimi courses were very strong, so I was excited for the next stage: sushi!

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Why do sushi bars seem to have the best green tea?

squid

ika

madai/red sea bream

madai/red seabream snapper

rockfish

rockfish

akami

akami

chutoro

chutoro

otoro

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otoro

kohada

kohada

barracuda roll

barracuda roll

mirugai/geoduck

mirugai

uni

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uni

kurumaebi/shrimp

kurumaebi

miso soup

miso

anago/sea eel

anago

tamago

tamago

This was some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. There was a fine balance of fish to rice, and I found the rice seasoning to be present but not overbearing. Highlights for me included a squid with a very nice texture, as well as a trio of excellent tuna preparations. I really enjoyed the rich flavor of the kohada, as well as amazing uni and anago. While Sushi Yoshitake didn’t quite offer the impressive variety of Umi, this was bite-for-bite my best sushi experience of the trip (and one of the best overall).

Service was top-notch. Just as I got up to leave, the sushi chef walked out the back. I hesitated a moment since I wanted to say thank you one more time. Silly me – I should know by now. The chef ran out the back to get the elevator for me and say thank you one last time. Incredible.

Christmas-time in Japan starts in early November.

ginza christmas

ginza christmas

ginza christmas

ginza christmas

ginza night

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