Monday, June 25, 2012

Lunch at Sushi Kanesaka

One final review before this writer shuts the hell up about Japan and goes back to writing about New England (especially since it's summer now and there are good things like sea spray, fresh seafood, sunshine, and veggies abound). But as you've been reading about all the delicious things we've been devouring in Japan, I'm sure you can sympathize. It's kind of not fair. There's delicious food everywhere there. Even in the down the block convenience store, there's all sorts of real food to eat. Not just chips and chocolate (which they have an incredibly diverse selection from the weird to the wonderful to the weirdly wonderful), but all sorts of items that were cooked that day, and have, like, nutritious ingredients and shit. ::sigh::
So as every great food trip deserves a sort of exclamation point at the end, we had ours in the form of a lunch at Sushi Kanesaka (鮨かねさか). Everybody who goes to Japan knows the following: everything you get just by walking into a joint off the street is pretty good, kaiten-zushi (回転寿司) is something you should do at least once, and the really good sushi places that get accolades like Michelin Stars are so good that you should damn well feel unworthy. Well, maybe that's a little harsh. For the prices that the really good restaurants charge, you are getting what you deserve. But for sushi connoisseurs for which the local sushi take out joint is so bad that it disappoints you even when at your most desperate hour, there is always a feeling when going to a great sushi restaurant that you want to just soak it all in, making sure to preserve those delicious memories of rice, seafood, and other delicacies so that when you are at another grim hour, you can at least remember why it's worth the wait to next time. Aha moments, closed eyes, squeals of glee, and proclamations that there is a God. That's good sushi.
If you are at this point in your life where you want the best sushi, but do have financial limitations, I feel for you. There are some work arounds we've found. One is to buy a Michelin Guide, and look for the sushi restaurants with stars that have a more affordable lunch option. You may have to book well in advance, but it's always worth planning, and if you're staying at a good hotel, you can ask them to make the reservation for you. We had great luck when asking our hotel to book a lunch reservation at Sushi Kanesaka.
View from across the street when
standing in front of the restaurant
Sushi Kanesaka's
red noren curtain
Locating the restaurant does take a tiny bit of effort. You're not going to have to bribe someone to bring you there and sell you a password or anything quite so drastic, but leave yourself about a half hour, just in case you have difficulty finding the place. Once you find the street, there will be a sort of parking garage, and then you can look for a red noren (curtain) inside of the garage. If unsure of whether you've found the place, here's a little help. If you see the same view on the other side of the street as is shown in the photo, you're on the right track and then can just start looking for the noren identifying the little sushi restaurant.
The sushi bar
On walking through the curtain, we went down a flight of stairs and entered the main dining room, which is basically a long sushi bar divided into two separate areas for two sushi chefs. We confirmed our reservation for lunch and were seated next to a nice Japanese couple who were very kind to speak to us and also try to help translate when we were clearly having some difficulty. 
Chef Sanpei
Our chef was named Sanpei and while we had long heard about the stereotypical stoic sushi chef, Sanpei was quite animated and friendly. He spoke with us in both English and Japanese, and was happy to discuss the origin of the ingredients, as well as where we were from, where he was from (which happened to be a town neighboring that of my mother's hometown in Ibaraki) and where else we had been while traveling in Japan.
And so the meal started. Brace yourself. It was outstanding.
Wakame and myoga salad
Wakame and myoga salad: A simple starter, Sanpei prepared little portions of wakame and shredded myoga, adding a vinegar soy dressing and a few sesame seeds. This fresh, zesty little salad left us with clean palates, ready to experience the big show.
Hirame nigiri: The sushi course began with this wonderful slice of white-fleshed flat fish. The chef molded the sushi rice into one hand, and then of course, tenderly but firmly pressed the shiny white hirame onto the the mound of rice. The way in which he sculpted the nigiri would be consistent throughout the meal. While he had firmly molded the mound of rice, it wasn't pressed together like a rock, but perfectly formed to fall apart in ones mouth. The outside of the rice was tightly packed, while the inside was more sparse, thereby making the perfect nigiri. The meat itself was clean tasting, moist and lightly fishy, like the freshest flat fish is supposed to taste. These delicious morsels also come pre-seasoned, so be prepared to see that shiny soy-based sauce dressing coating each bite we enjoyed. A delicious, delicate first bite of sushi.
Shimaji nigiri: Shimaji is the Japanese term for Stripe Jack. This was another delicate white fish. The meat was firm, but also tender, and played wonderfully with the slightly more al dente texture of the sushi rice that they use at this restaurant. I would call this another refreshing and delicate course... perfect leading up to the more flavorful fishes that were coming up.
Maguro nigiri: We started out with a leaner cut of ruby red tuna sushi. I'm not sure that I've ever had a slice of tuna that was so elegantly sliced, or flavorful. I find that with the leaner cuts of maguro, there isn't quite a special flavor to them back at home. They taste somewhat bland, and therefore you find yourself reaching into your pocket for an order of the fattier chutoro or toro. But this was not the case with the lean maguro we were served. It was rich with the flavor of a rare, dark red beef, slightly minerally and still so lean to be both tender and satisfying to chew.
Toro nigiri: The fatty piece of tuna that we graduated to next was so different than the lean. While the meaty flavor was still there, the fattiness of the fish added an amazing textural element. Tasting the sushi comes in stages... first the meaty flavor of the tuna, then a first chew and a mingling with the delicate vinegar flavor of the rice and the touch of salt from the soy sauce. But then the protein melts away and melds with your rice, releasing additional rich, savory flavor with each chew. Toro is undoubtedly a treat, and in a world of bad days, if I had a choice between a good glass of wine or a piece of fatty tuna belly, I would choose the toro each and every time. Amazing.
Slicing the ika
Ika nigiri
Ika nigiri: And now for a technique I had never seen before. Sanpei called to his fellow sushi chefs, as he had done throughout the meal so far, requesting fresh batches of sushi rice, or other ingredients. He now called for ika, as he did not have any at his station. There was a brief discussion with another of the sushi chefs, and then a large, long rectangular portion of ika was produced. it was perhaps three inches wide by a foot long, and about a quater of an inch think. Sanpei stretched out the squid onto his board, and began slicing through the minuscule quarter of an inch, lengthwise... not once, but multiple times. When he was finished, he cut the entire stretch of ika into thin little noodles. I was astonished at the knife skills it must require to be able to thinly slice this squid. The chef explained that he chose this technique because the tenderness of this squid was not quite up to his standards for serving it in the traditional nigiri form. Sanpei then took his ika noodles and pressed them delicately onto a mound of rice to produce one of the most interesting pieces of sushi I have ever seen. He dressed it with the same soy-based sauce and precisely placed it onto our plates. The ika was fatty. It was sliced in a way so that it was not chewy or harsh, and the longer you had it in your mouth, the more the flavor coated every inner surface. Lightly fishy, but more just buttery in flavor, I don't know if I've ever enjoyed ika so much.
Prawn with tiny baby shrimp
paste on the inside
Ebi nigiri: I'm pretty sure these were Tiger Prawns, though please correct me if I'm wrong. At any rate, these lovely orange-striped, huge shrimp were among the most beautiful specimens I've ever laid eyes on. They had been cooked previously until just tender, and Sanpei began his preparation by spreading a sort of baby shrimp paste onto the inside of each prawn. He then added mounds of rice and a touch of wasabi to each large piece of seafood, only at the end cutting the large nigiri into two pieces, a head piece and a tail piece for each diner. The tender, sweet shrimp was satisfying to chew, and the shrimp flavor was only intensified by the strategic use of that sweet baby shrimp paste. The tail piece was my first bite, and completely satisfying. The head side came with an additional surprise. In addition to the wonderful flavor experienced in the tail piece, the head piece also had a good dose of that fantastic, unctuous head fat still hidden between the meat of the shrimp and the vinegared sushi rice. A sweet piece of delectable shrimp suddenly had a richness, a liveriness with the care that came with preserving a bit of that head fat. Fantastic.
Kisu nigiri: I've completely failed at finding the English translation for this little succulent fish. From the shade of the skin as the chef had removed it, I would say it might be related to mackerel or a smelt, but this is 100% a guess on my end. The flesh of the fish was clean tasting, while perhaps a little bit more fishy than the other varieties that we had tried that afternoon. It was evident that we were switching into stronger flavored fishes for the rest of the meal.
Tai nigiri: Sanpei let us know that this piece of snapper nigiri had come from Kyushu, which was exciting because we had received so much delicious food from that area of the country only days earlier. The snapper was the sweetest, brightest flavor of the day. I couldn't tell you how unexpectedly sweet this sort of flaky flesh was. I think this was the revelation of the meal, demonstrating first hand why Japanese people hold this fish in such high esteem. Aside from being delicious, the color of the sushi was dazzling. So beautiful.
Aji nigiri: The horse mackerel sushi, perhaps even more so than the maguro, was the most distinctly fishy piece of nigiri that we had enjoyed during this meal. It had the scent of the ocean, and a bit of an oilier texture compared to our other courses. It was nice to see this progression of stronger flavored fishes continue and come to a sort of exclamation point of seafood flavor.
Katsuo nigiri: The rosy colored bonito sushi that Sanpei had set aside and skillfully carved for us was another highlight of the meal. I believe that this fish is a touch more briny than the leaner maguro, but perhaps these two fish were the closest in flavor. It was downright meaty, and the best piece of bonito I had ever enjoyed, particularly again with the bright vinegar kiss of the rice that fell apart in my mouth.
Clam miso soup
Clam miso soup: At this point, a nice young server, the only woman I had seen in the restaurant, arrived with a small serving of what appeared to be miso soup with three or four tiny little clams floating in the sandy colored soup. On the first sip, you would expect the classic flavor of miso to shine through, but I had been delighted to taste the strong flavor of briny, salty and livery clams shine through in the broth. The little clams themselves added to this burst of seafood flavor, something that made me very keen to eat steamers again when back at home. A little bit of murkiness at first bite, and then the flesh becomes more tender and sweet with every chew. What a great miso-based soup.
Surf clam
Surf clam nigiri: Venturing deeper into an interesting array of seafood, Sanpei retrieved a shellfish from his selection of seafood. He began carving it out, and soon I knew we were in for hokkigai or surf clam. The surf clams that we'd enjoyed time and time again as sushi and sashimi back home have always been lightly cooked. They have a distinct flamboyant pink shade near the tips that give them away. These clams, however, were still alive. The shine from the flesh as he pressed each piece against the rice mound did not reflect the typical pink, but they shimmered with a deep black. When he slapped them, they moved on their own, and I couldn't believe how fresh this would be. On devouring the clam, they were chewy, but only satisfyingly so. They were cool, and briny, and growing sweeter with every second. I'm not sure when I'll again be able to eat a raw surf clam as I did at Sushi Kanesaka, but it was sweet and another example of how to enjoy the essence of the sea, the fruit of the sea, only enhanced again by that wonderful rice. A smile on Sanpei's face showed that he knew that we now knew.
Hotategai (baby scallops)
Hotategai nigiri: When the chef mentioned that we would be having scallops, I half expected a huge diver scallop would appear on top of the nigiri. But again, Sanpei wanted to do something different for us. Tiny, baby, day boat sized scallops, sweet and drizzled with the soy sauce, were presented in a little boat-style sushi, similar to what we've seen with ikura, tobiko, or uni back home. These little, raw baby scallops were the softest, most buttery and delightfully sweet that I've eaten. Who knew that little scallops could be so special.
Uni nigiri: Just as we had not expected the scallops to arrive in the boat-style nigiri, we did not expect the presentation that Sanpei chose for the uni. He placed a little mound of rice, perfectly formed, just as he had done with the other courses, but this time into a little bowl. He then lovingly draped, piece after piece after piece of sea urchin from Hokkaido on top, giving a quick brush of the sauce at the end. I absolutely adore uni. I think it has a strong sweet, creamy, and perhaps touch minerally flavor at the end. The texture is soft, but the roe should pop a touch in ones mouth, like little bubbles that dissolve on your tongue. This was a great way to enjoy fresh, perfect pieces of uni.
Anago nigiri: Earlier in the week, we had been like heat seeking missiles in our passion for all things eel. We had enjoyed our barbecued unagi in Kyoto, and now would have the opportunity to enjoy fresh water eel at Sushi Kanesaka. Now, I don't know how they had simmered the eel to have such a subtle, fresh, clean, and sweet flavor. I couldn't tell you where it was from. But I can tell you that it was melt in your mouth delicious. Sweet and not overpowered by any sauces, only complimented by a dab of sweet/salty sauce on the top, this was almost like a way to calm down ones palate as the meal neared its end. Couple more treats to go though.
Sweet egg omelet
Egg omelet: When the egg omelet, a perfect rectangular slice, and a mellow yellow shade throughout arrived, the Bigger Half was the first to sink his teeth in. His eyes closed and smile widened. Though he was almost full, the custardy texture of this sweet egg omelet was the dessert-like course that he was waiting for. I have no idea how they get it to be borderline cake completely devoid of bubbles, and still lighter than air.
Maguro maki
Maguro maki: The meal was now just about through. A final three little pieces of maki, made from a diced piece of the maguro that we had enjoyed near the beginning of the meal, seemed to bring us full circle. A final crunch of nori and the last experience of the rice, and then that clean, meaty flavor of the delicious lean maguro.
ごちそうさまでした! An amazing meal. A feast if ever there was one, and clearly the best sushi experience of my life. From the revelation of sweet tai to the lean maguro to the live surf clam to the sweet egg omelet and back again. I think that this sushi lunch at Sushi Kanesaka, at the hand of the skilled Chef Sanpei, and the gracious service of the other chefs contributing to the meal, was one of the finest meals I've ever eaten. I believe that it was worth every penny, and covered a diverse set of the freshest, expertly prepared fish available in Japan. I thank everyone for the meal, and highly recommend that if you are looking for one place to go to make the commitment and get a reservation at Sushi Kanesaka.

Japan, Tokyo, Chuo, Ginza, 8−10−3 銀座三鈴ビル B1F


  1. The food looks wonderful. Which course did you get? The 10000¥ or the 15000¥? Do you remember how long it took for you to finish the whole meal? I plan on going to Kanesaka but am a little tight on the schedule

    1. Hi Julia. The food was wonderful! I believe we went for the 10000 yen option, and honestly I think the entire lunch lasted slightly less than an hour, without feeling rushed. I hope you get to go!

  2. How long to get reservation in advance? Did you book by phone?


    1. Hi! We actually booked about a month in advance with our hotel in Tokyo. We asked the concierge if they could get us a lunch reservation and gave them two options for days. It was the easiest way to do it. Good luck!!!