When last we left off, I was on my way to my third sushi meal in a row, this time at famed Sushi Saito located across the street from the American embassy in Tokyo. Tucked away in a back corridor of a non-descript office building, it’s a tiny, modest-looking place that nevertheless serves some great sushi. On the day I went with Jessica, we had a lunch of about fifteen pieces, all beautifully presented, all delicious. A few selections…
It’s interesting to note the difference between the various sushi-ya’s, say the recently visited Sawada and this place. At Sawada, lunch was a three hour feast, much more varied but at roughly three times the price. Saito’s set lunch was, thankfully – as I couldn’t handle another marathon session – much more restrained but very good all the same. However, I did notice a couple of differences in the preparation of the nigiri. Sawada’s rice was markedly saltier (Stefan wasn’t a fan) while Saito’s chef was a little more heavy-handed with the wasabi.
After lunch, Jessica surprised me with a little macaron-off. As most of you know, I’m a huge fan of macarons (they’re the highly of any trip to Tokyo) and, especially, Pierre Herme macarons. Well, Jessica decided to test my palate by purchasing five chocolate macarons and five pistachio macarons from five different patisseries. She mixed them up, then presented them to me for a little taste test. We found a nice secluded park bench and got to it. She took the first bite, I finished it off, then we marked down our impressions. Once we were done, we compared notes, chose our favorites, and, finally, checked the results.
So? Did by professed love for Pierre Herme macarons bare out? Well, for starters, I was surprised by the similarities in our respective takes, right down to our likes and dislikes lining up in terms of tastes and textures. As a result, we were in agreement on both the cellar dwellers AND our top picks. The verdict? Our favorites: Pierre Herme and Henri Charpentier (who, according to Stefan who spent time in Paris, doesn’t exist in France and is, in all probability, a Japanese product with a fancy French name – but a pretty damn good product nevertheless).
Following the macaron-off (and I have to say, it was incredibly sweet of Jessica to go through the trouble), I headed back to the hotel where I decompressed, then caught a cab to my final big Tokyo dining destination: Yamada Chikara. The taxi driver dropped me off at a corner and pointed me toward a building before motoring off. Sound familiar? I walked inside, looked around, and found no sign of the restaurant. After ten minutes of wandering the neighborhood, I finally found the place thanks to the help of an elderly convenience store owner who pointed me in the right direction. The restaurant, it turned out, was located on the next block and just around the corner.
I walked in, took my shoes off, and took a seat at the tatami table. Then, after some consideration, decided I had best wait outside for my dinner date, Tomomi, lest she experience as much trouble as I did. Unfortunately, by the time I got back to the vestibule, my shoes were gone. Either a staff member had put them away for me or someone had liked them enough to make off with them. I was standing there in my socks, considering my next option, when the front door slid open and in walked Tomomi. I decided to file away the shoe issue for the time being and we grabbed our seats.
It was a magnificent meal. The chef spent two years in Spain working at El Bulli, the epicenter of global molecular cuisine, and his experience there was certainly displayed in the menu items. “So, foam and spoons?”asked Stefan the following day. Well, yes and no. Yes to both but no to the intimation that it was little more than smoke and mirrors because, the inventiveness of the dishes aside, the food was very good.
We kicked things off with a selection that would normally conclude the traditional Japanese meal: rice and miso soup, with some oyster. Then followed with a cocktail called a Fir Tree that, not surprisingly, possessed a striking fir flavor. After that, a beautiful sashimi assortment – tuna, prawn, ankimo, abalone, salmon roe – that Tomomi particularly praised.
After that came their version of the traditional Chawan-Mushi (containing uni and assorted other surprises), then a Spanish Omelet served in a cocktail glass (the foam to accompany the earlier spoons). We enjoyed some wonderful taro gnocchi, then –
At this point, I was fading fast. Tomomi requested the kitchen scale back the portions for the rest of our meal and they were happy to oblige. We had an incredible anago (sea eel), then moved on to the mains – beef for her, chicken for me – both excellent. We followed with a bowl of udon, then ended the meal with a refreshing sorbet and fruit. As we sat back and enjoyed our tea, the head chef, Yamada Chikara, paid us a visit. And I was shocked. He’d been serving us the occasional dish throughout the evening and I’d assumed him to be a part of the staff. We chatted for a while, him in Spanish, me in Italian, and I thanked him for a fantastic dinner.
It was a little past ten p.m. but I had to head back to the hotel to finish packing. But not before receiving a little something from Tomomi…
The cab ride back to the hotel was an interesting one. My driver clearly relished the opportunity to impress me with his command of the English language and, while he was admittedly quite good, he sounded like he had learned to speak the language from listening to those automated operator messages. His speech was punctuated by weird pauses, murmurs, and exclamations: “I hope you…LIKED…Tokyo…it IS a very GOOD country…I…LEARNED…to speak English in…UNIVERSITY!”
Another sleepless night (I never sleep well the night before I fly) and then it was off to my last lunch. I cancelled my reservation at a high-end sushi-ya for something a little more laid-back with friends:barbecue!
After lunch, I headed back to the hotel where I checked out and boarded the shuttle bus to the airport. I looked out the window as the bus started to pull away and felt a lump in my throat at the sight of many familiar faces – part of my extended Tokyo family – standing outside waving goodbye: the head concierge, the cute bellhop, the older gentleman who used to stand by the entrance and greet me every morning.
The flight back was uneventful and, as expected, I slept approximately 9 of the 10 hours in the air.
For all the wonderful food I enjoyed on this trip, I look forward to finally settling back to a diet of blander, simpler fare.
Starting tomorrow. Tonight, I’m off to check out the newly rebranded Fuel: ReFuel!