Monday, December 2, 2013

Sushi Shou Keiji Nakazawa

There are literally more than a hundred sushi-ya in Tokyo alone and more than 30 of them can be considered very good. Hence, choosing a couple of sushi places is not actually that easy. Michelin guide and Tabelog website are good ways to begin the research. As I was doing my "homework", Sushi Shou attracted my attention. The idea of aging fishes and seasoned them to optimize their flavors was very new and intriguing. Later, I learned that Keiji Nakazawa, the chef-owner of Sushi Shou, is one of several chefs in Japan who rejected the red guide book but loved by many sushi mavens and recommended by Alain Ducasse. Early reservation was necessary and by September we managed to secure seats for dinner's 2nd seating at 8:45 PM. Sushi Shou is hidden on a side street behind (junior) high school building, near Yotsuya metro station. We reached there about 20 min. earlier than scheduled and escorted to the small private room while waiting. I was happy when I knew that we're seated near the entrance of the counter - it meant that we would be in front of Nakazawa-san himself and he, not his assistance, would create and serve the nigiri sushi for us. In order to fully taste and appreciate the flavors, I don't usually order any alcohol when eating sushi even though I regretted when I know later that Chef Nakazawa is a qualified sake sommelier. Below is the list of stuffs in my omakase meal. I didn't notice any particular order or pattern (white fish, red fish, shell fishes etc.) on when certain dishes were served.        

Wakame and Umi budo - the seaweed is subtly sweet while the sea grapes gave tiny splash
Hamaguri with wasabi and yuzu - decent clam, a good way to tease one's palate
Kinme with konbu and Ara - Snapper (soft) and ara (pure and fresh) sashimi
Ika stuffed with rice - Pretty squid that's barely warm; a traditional dish with balance flavor. 

Saba duo - Tender and a bit 'oily' Mackerel sashimi: left one with ginger wagarashi (hot mustard) and right one with chives
Sawara - The creamy and a bit sweet of young Spanish Mackerel is served with vinegared warm rice
Katsuo with tamanegi - The meaty but tender Bonito fish is garnished with onions
Keiji - One of the best nigiri sushi of the night. This infant salmon (clean and elegant flavor) from Rausu is more oily but lighter in texture than the regular salmon. Like Toro, it's 'melt in your mouth'; I felt lucky to have tried this scarce delicacy    

Tako with wasabi and shio - The boiled octopus is succulent and somewhat chewy
Kisu - The Kiss fish/Japanese Whiting is soft and pretty interesting. It's commonly used in tempura.
Ebi with Oboro and red rice - The cooked prawn is sweet with firmer texture while the vinegared eggs (smart addition) enhance the prawn's umami flavor. Here, the red rice worked well with this 'full body' crustacean; a great piece of nigiri sushi
Shirako with shichimi togarashi - The grilled Cod milt (fish sperm sacs) is creamy & delicate with a slight sweetness. For me, the seven spices is necessary to tone down the milt's acquired taste

Chutoro - A delicious medium fatty tuna. The red vinegared rice balance the toro's rich flavor
Tsubukaki - I may get the name wrong. After a successive of flavorful sushi, it's nice to have something clean for the palate such as this baby oyster
1-week aged Buri - This adult and fatty Yellowtail is tender and a bit oily; it's almost taste like a toro
Grilled Sawara with its skin and daikon - The Mackerel skin is fragrant and delightful.   

Botan Ebi aburi - The Hokkaido botan prawn is seasoned with ground 'salt' and Japanese citrus. The perfectly torched prawn is sweet, succulent and oishii. Another favorite piece ..
Grilled botan ebi head - The prawn's head is crunchy, smokey and even more flavorful than its tail
10-day aged Chutoro - The aging process would allow the flavor of this Tuna belly to mature. Not as fatty as the Chutoro I ate earlier, but more complex. A new and wonderful experience
Chopped Toro Ohagi - One of Nakazawa-san's specialty. The chopped tuna is mixed with onion, sesame and scallion; it's integrated with the sweet glutinous rice - oishii indeed

Shime-Iwashi - Marinated Sardine, quite beautifully presented, served with gari, cucumber and nori. A little intense and rich 'maki'
Aburi Kama Toro - The seared tuna cheek is soft with deep umami flavor
Bafun Uni Ikura gunkan sushi - Sweet and creamy Sea urchin is mixed with salty Salmon roe. I always love uni and ikura; the vinegar in the shari is unusually strong here
Ankimo with suika narazuke - Monkfish liver served with 'pickled (baby)' watermelon. An amazing morsel, truly a sheer of delight. The buttery & rich liver is contrasted to the fresh & crunchy watermelon   
Kinmedai with its skin and ginger - The lightly grilled golden eye Snapper is surprisingly creamy and matched well together with warm rice
Anago - A must have in any traditional Edomae sushi-ya. The edge is crispy while the center is tender. The sauce is relatively light, focusing on the Conger Eel's natural taste
Clam soup - A sign that the omakase was about to finish .. A clear & rather sweet broth

Otoro - The fattiest part of Tuna belly with perfect pink and white marbling. As expected, it's very yummy and fabulous!
Kohada with roe 'powder' - The Gizzard Shad, cured with shio, is carefully scored resulting in a smooth fish having nice textures and balanced flavors with its rather acidic shari
Hokkigai - The tip of the Surf Clam turns red after it's lightly simmered. The flesh is still tender with a slight rubbery and it's naturally sweet

Ezo Awabi - A distinct Abalone variety. It's lightly steamed so that this 'baby' awabi texture become gentle and slightly chewy producing deep & unique flavor. The meal was about to end, yet Nakazawa-san kept serving incredible morsel
Iwashi - The 'shiny' Sardine is marinated in vinegar. The fish had no fishy smell, a sign that it's really fresh. The flesh is not too firm and oily in general
Tamago - There are 2 kinds: based on shrimp broth and the other one made with scallop soup    

There seemed to be a lot of food to eat, but the size of the sashimi and non-sushi piece was often smaller than what you will get at other places. According to the menu, I only had 14 nigiri morsels - it literally ended at Anago. However, as I saw my note, there wasn't any Otoro! No way I would leave this place without trying its fatty bluefin tuna belly, that's why I ordered extra pieces. I also requested for Kohada and Tamago, the 2 items that test the sushi master's skills (of course, Keiji-san passed with flying color) and I let Chef Nakazawa decided the other 3 additional nigiri. When the bill came, I was surprised and happy to find out that Sushi Shou did not charge me extra. We're the last diners left when clock showed almost 11:30 PM; my wife felt pity for the sushi-ya's chefs and staffs to stay very late so we skipped the ice cream and returned to our hotel immediately by taxi. Sushi Shou, seated only about 10 people at the counter, offered a fun and informal atmosphere. I encountered interesting scenes: at the first seating, literally all of the seats were filled Japanese who excitedly chatted among themselves as well as with the chefs. Then, come the 2nd seating, all but one customer were actually "gaikokujin": us and a large group coming from Singapore. I felt bad for the Japanese dude sitting next to me as he looked a bit uncomfortable. I had a banter with him using my limited Japanese, his average English and the assistance of a lady waiter who spoke some English. Who would have thought a sushi restaurant that's hardly mentioned in the guide book was actually having many foreigners dining here. Nakazawa-san explained that in the past 3 years, more and more non-Japanese people especially from Asia had been coming to eat at his restaurant.               

Keiji Nakazawa has become a legendary sushi master in Japan. More than a dozen of his former apprentices run their own sushi shop in Tokyo. Chef Nakazawa is a fundamentalist who diligently has followed the classic technique of Edomae style (an era in the 19th century period when refrigeration  still did not exist) and combine it with modern ideas and his unique style. He believes that entirely fresh fish is tasteless. He would age most of his fishes to entice more umami flavor from them. Each seafood morsel will be treated differently with precise aging time. Nakazawa-san's creative skills also come when pairing the fish and rice. The simpler and shorter summary will be (actually it's more complex than this, but due to language barrier the Chef could not completely explain his reasoning): red rice is paired with flavorful seafood/aging fish while white rice is used for delicate and plain (shell) fish. To draw out the most flavor, Keiji-san would control the shari temperature and apply specific vinegar and its intensity. Then, he would cook (grilled/seared/torched) some of the seafood. It's truly a fascinating and eye-opening experience. When I expressed my admiration, he said that he simply did what had been done long time ago; not really something new or innovative. From this, I can conclude that Keiji Nakazawa-san is indeed a fantastic, passionate and (very) knowledgeable sushi chef who remains humble and gracious. It's always memorable whenever I eat dishes with new technique or approach and they happened to be very delicious. By small margin, Sushi Shou is the best sushi-ya I've ever eaten thus far - the comparison would be against Sushi Mizutani, Jiro Ginza and Yoshitake HK.  

For pictures, please click the following: Sushi Shou Autumn 2013

Food: 96 pts

Service: 93 pts

Overall: 95/100

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