How can you miss a true traditional Edomae style sushi when visiting Japan? Reserving a spot at a popular sushi joint was quite a hassle for us newbies. Jiro, the one that got onto the big screen in the United States was one of our options. Unfortunately it's not a very tourist friendly place when I found out that they prefer someone local or someone that speaks fluent Japanese in the dinner party. Tourists with no connections might even have to pay for someone local to attend the dinner together..don't even mention the average price per person at Jiro can go up to $300 US or more.
That leads to our second option, Sushi Saito. Saito is especially well-known for its bargained lunch set at ¥5,500 yen. Dinner starts at about ¥15,000 yen, just like other one Michelin starred sushi restaurants. It was a hassle for our friend in Japan to call in for a reservation since the phone line is always busy. So our third option goes to Sushi Aoki. Happily, we got our spots at Sushi Aoki on a Thursday night at 5:30 p.m.
If you ever want to book a high end sushi meal in Japan and there's no one that can help you to make the phone calls - ask your hotel. Generally speaking, these sushi places require a credit card number to hold the seats and a cancellation fee will be applied if the reservation needs to be cancelled. Only closer friends might do such a favor for you and that's why visitors can always seek help from their hotels.
Most hotels provide restaurant booking service for their guests. However, since my entire budget went to food and hot spring hotel in Hakone, the hotel in Tokyo that I stayed at was not so glamorous, perhaps explains why they never replied my emails requesting for assistance in dinner reservation. Either way, you get the points: book early (preferable at least one month in advance), keep calling, and credit card number handy.
Sushi Aoki has been receiving the honor of one Michelin star for 4 consecutive years, but most importantly, they seem pretty nice to tourists. Located on the second floor of Takahashi Building, the chefs welcomed us and our hot towels followed shortly.
5:30 p.m. is pretty early for such formal dining experience. Other guests didn't show up until about an hour later, which gave me an opportunity to quickly snap a shot of the seating area.
I did asked the chef before I bust out my iPhone 5S to take pictures. Flash light and silent mode course. In addition, I didn't even bring my huge Canon thinking it might look too intruding to other customers. Consideration is key and I'd rather be safe than sorry.
Edomae 江戶前 sushi (edomae-zushi) typically can be seen as a more traditional styled sushi. You won't find other ingredients such as caviar or even a gold leaf being used. The true flavors of the ingredients are the key emphasis here with occasionally light seasonings from homemade soy sauce based dressing and salt. Keeping it fresh and simple, in other words, let the seafood speaks for themselves.
The opening, little crab box -
Lightly seasoned with miso, perhaps a little bit of sake and mirin too. Underneath the neat looking crab legs are even more crab meat mixed with crab roes.
Sake arrived -
We asked the chef to pick the one he likes the most. It was crisp and clean, ideal for our light seafood feast coming ahead.
Sashimi, but I think what interests me the most is the use of thinly sliced shiso leaves mixed with radish strips -
The aroma from the shiso leaves is not overpowering, but in the other hand bright enough to showcase the crisp and light characteristics of the sashimi selection.
One of the clam selections of the night -
At least half of our meal consists of some type of clams/shellfish, mainly because they're in season now. If I get to choose, I would love to have more fish than shellfish. However, this dining experience sort of changed my perception on shellfish. I never realized they can be so buttery and some even melts in my mouth just like a very fatty fish.
This one was crisp and crunchy with a slightly sweet taste in the end.
My sake is almost gone, switching gear to water in order to stay fully awake throughout this dining experience.
They literally just glided down my throat. Slightly chilled with a wee bit buttery taste. The flavor remains clean even when I tried to bite into the oysters. For such high quality oysters, making them into dishes like the common oyster shooter back in the states would be such a waste.
Chef brought the octopus in front of me and asked if I would like to take a picture first. Yes, of course, thank you!
Prep work -
Chef brushed the octopus with Aoki's homemade soy sauce based seasoning -
Tender but not mushy since it still has a biting little resistance in the end. This dish might seem easy, but in fact, the octopus requires hours of massage by hands in order for the tentacles to reach a perfect texture.
Shellfish skewer -
Lightly barbecued so the sweetness is even more intense here. There's also a hint of smokiness, which makes a good contrast with the light and crisp shellfish.
New hot hand towel -
Pickled ginger -
To die for. A little bit crunchy and not fibrous at all. All you get is a touch of sourness and a juicy bite bursting in your mouth. Hands down my favorite pickled ginger ever had. How much I wish I can bring a big jar home and enjoy it with all other Asian dishes. It'll be awesome with curry and pork chop rice, it's just that versatile!
Nigiri time -
Chutoro and Otoro maguro/tuna nigiri -
Despite their difference in fat content, both of them just melt in my mouth. Especially the otoro, the fat literally starts melting the moment it touches my tongue.
Kohada/gizzard shad nigiri -
Sayori/needle fish nigiri -
Kampachi nigiri -
Ika/squid nigiri -
I put up a nigiri-making video on my Instagram (foodmakesmehappy). You can click on the image below, which should take you directly to the link that showcases how the nigiri was created -
Mirugai/geoduck nigiri -
Usually you would expect mirugai to be on a chewier side. In fact, it was more on the crunchy texture. I'm glad I gave my first mirugai sushi experience to Aoki especially I was never too fond of how it looks like.
Hokkaido uni/sea urchin nigiri -
Uni on top of uni on top of uni! The gooey texture and intense miso-like sweet aroma overflowed in my mouth, even all the way to my throat. Unbelievable.
Kuruma ebi/prawn nigiri -
Anago/salt water eel nigiri -
Don't get confused between anago and unagi. They might both translated into eels in English but the texture of anago is far more delicate and refined compared to the more common fresh water unagi.
Tamago/eggs nigiri -
Always nice to end a sushi meal with elegantly seasoned tamago. Its light sweetness taste serves just like dessert for my palate.
Thank you chef for such an amazing dining experience!
Our total bill rounds up about $220 US per person, that includes two omakase meals, 1 small bottle of sake, 2 bottles of beer, and 1 bottle of water. Price is about right especially dining in Ginza.
As for my next trip to Japan, perhaps I'll try rotating sushi instead just for the fun of it and allocate the high-end dining budget to a French restaurant. French food in Japan? Yes you heard me right. You'll be surprised that Japanese can prepare a mind blowing French cuisine comparable to some of the renowned chefs in the world, or perhaps even better?
Sushi Aoki 鮨 青木 (Ginza)
7-4, Ginza 6-Chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Takahashi Building, 2nd Floor
*Courtesy of Sushi Aoki
Lunch: 12 noon - 2 p.m.
Dinner: 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.