Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sukiyabashi Jiro Sushi, Tokyo

May 8, 2014, Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi, JPY 25,900, Japanese Sushi

Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi was operated by the old Jiro’s (the same Jiro from Jiro Dreams of Sushi) son. Jiro in Japanese means the 2nd son. The name plate by the front door indicates this location is a branch of Jiro Sushi. It is located in the ultra-chic section of Roppongi Hills in Tokyo. The listed price is for sushi only. If you like sashimi, you have to order it ahead of time and it will cost you JPY 31,000. I ordered a tasting menu of sushi only. There were a total of 19 courses, including the last course for desert (egg omelet).

 I did some research on Google and found out the station that I should get off at was Roppongi Hills, exit #3. When I got out of the station, I could see that I was inside a complex that was huge and I had no clue in which direction to go. I, therefore, approached two persons who looked like office workers there. Although they have never been to Jiro, they were kind enough to coach me towards the exact location.

I have read some online clamor that the folks at Jiro are wary of non-Japanese and service was rude sometimes. I totally agree. I arrived earlier for fear that I would miss the reservation, resulting in a stiff cancellation penalty. But I was told to come back later. When I went back at the appointment time, I was the last guest to get seated by the counter closest to the kitchen. There were 7 guests for the 1st seating vs. the max capacity of 8 guests. There was a couple from Philadelphia, a couple from Florence (an American man and an Italian woman), a Japanese couple and me. The Italian woman probably was not a sushi fanatic because sometimes she did not eat the sushi in the serving plate. Unfortunately, she sat right in front of Chef Jiro and she often received a verbal admonition as well as a gestural intimidation to eat it. Her companion ended up eating the pieces that she ignored. The Japanese couple was not able to facilitate the translation and Chef Jiro did not have English proficiency, all of which created a tense atmosphere. Who would enjoy seeing a guest in the same dining room getting harassed or intimated while dining out in a Michelin starred restaurant?

Throughout the meal, I noticed the temperature at Jiro was higher than the setting in sushi eateries in the US. The quality of fish was excellent, but the temperature of these sushi pieces was higher than what we have in the US. I later consulted with some Japanese and found out that Japanese believe in serving sushi in a warmer temperature enabling the fish fat to be in a better “melt in your mouth” condition, therefore, rendering a smoother taste. In addition, at warm temperature, rice carried a more distinct flavor of rice vinegar complementing the stronger flavor of the fish.

At Jiro, there are two levels at the counter, the upper one with an individual serving plate in front of each guest and the lower one with a plate for sauce. The server place some pickled ginger in the left hand side of each guest’s individual serving plate on the upper counter and Chef Jiro and his assistant-chef would place each course of sushi in the right hand side of each guest’s individual serving plate. Each guest would then pick it up with fingers or chopsticks and send the sushi to sauce and mouth. Each guest’s individual serving plate was not changed through the whole meal. Since each course had slightly different flavor and some dripping from moving sushi back and forth to the sauce plate, one server occasionally used a piece of white cloth to clean up each guest’s individual serving plate. I notice all these details because I was closest to the kitchen and always was the 1st one to get cleaned up. However, for each round of cleaning the server continued to use the same rag to clean up other guest’s serving plate. I was truly surprised that a Michelin 2-star restaurant practices such an unhygienic act to cut corners and save costs, especially considering the price these Tokyo sushi bars charge. I consider Jiro being the most unhygienic fine dining restaurant that I have ever visited. To start with, I had a tasting menu of 19 courses (18 pieces of sushi + egg omelet).

1st Course – Flounder
A light, flat fish, the flounder offered a dose of fishiness without overpowering the taste buds.

2nd Course – Squid (Sumi-ika)
Its slightly rubbery texture required chewing a bit more in order to spread the flavor around the mouth.

3rd Course – Large scallop
It was the largest sea scallop that I have ever seen. I was very impressed by the quality; it was juicy, sweet and tender. 

4th Course – Lean tuna ((Maguro)
Start the progression of tuna nigiri.

5th Course – Medium fat tuna (Chu-toro)
It was the lightly marbleized medium fatty tuna from upper belly, paired with a bit of wasabi. It simply melted in my mouth. 

6th Course – Most fat tuna (Oo-toro)
With the increasing fat content, the color of fish filet gradually turned lighter. It offered a bit richer taste in the mouth.
7th Course – Kohada (Gizzard shad)
It is a member of the herring family and it has this cute looking of shiny silver and blue-spotted skin. It tasted less fishy than some other types of herring.

 8th Course – Bloody clam (Akagai)
It was a bit chewy, but the taste was pleasant.

 9th Course – Mackerel (Aji)
It was Horse Mackerel, very fresh and tasty.

10th Course – Salmon roe 

11th Course – Cooked shrimp (Kuruma-ebi)
Kuruma is a hearty and meaty prawn, although it was a bit overcooked. It was neatly cut into two pieces - one head, one tail. Chef Jiro’s assistant instructed to eat tail first because head part offered stronger flavor.

12th Course – Geoduck clam (Mirugai)

13th Course – Sea urchin (Uni)
Uni was so fresh and juicy.
 14th Course – Smoked bonito
Chef Jiro made excellent smoked bonito, the flavor was almost as intense as what the Nordic countries’ smoked products. 

15th Course – Hard shell clam
This was another type of clam. It was less chewy than Bloody clam.

16th Course – Mackerel (Saba)
Skinless mackerel was fresh, fishy, moist and succulent.

 17th Course – Sea eel (Anago)
18th Course – Octopus (Tako)
Chef Jiro indicated that the octopus was massaged by his prentice for at least 15 minutes prior to serving. The tako was chewing, refreshing and tasted with a light salt rub (from the massage). Chef Jiro made it clear “no soy sauce”.  

19th Course – Large scallop
I liked this large scallop a lot.

20th Course – Uni
I liked to enjoy this quality uni again.
 21st Course – Fat tuna

22nd Course – Smoked bonito

23rd Course – Hardshell clam 

24th Course – Egg omelet (Tamago)
Its texture is somewhere between sponge cake and omelet.

At the end of 18th course, Chef Jiro’s assistant announced that Chef Jiro would like to make more sushi if any guest felt like to have more. I and the American man requested more. We both forgot to clarify whether this was complimentary or included in the pricing. It turned out the addition 5 pieces (from 19th to 23rd in blue color) were calculated with a la carte price that meant the total tab for the meal was JPY 34,550 not JPY 25,900. Without question, the quality of seafood was excellent and there were some varieties that I have never had anywhere else in the past. However, Jiro Sushi was a sushi bar which doesn’t offer diversified food categories. When you calculate the (satisfaction + value) / dollar spent, Jiro Sushi is the most overvalued Michelin starred restaurant and the most unhygienic one. If you consider the ambiance as one of the elements for evaluating fine dining, it scored even worse. Who would enjoy hearing the other guest being intimidated in the same dining room?

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