Back in Business

There is something about coming back to Japan that resets my clock. Backwards. In a good way.

Each time I arrive here I have the same feeling I’d get as a child when I’d go to NYC. On high alert,  senses stimulated, fatigue banished.

I quickly transform from a place of “been there, done that” to a place of discovery.  My brain cells get scrambled just enough so that I recover my sense of wonder, exhilaration  and inspiration.

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The Mother of all sushi bars.

A sushi bar dinner becomes an exalted dining experience under the capable hands of highly trained sushi chefs who are dedicated to letting us know where each piece of fish is from as well as which part of the fish we are eating?  Feeling full?  Let me present you with a smaller size of sea urchin.   Continue reading “Back in Business”

Just Another Day in Tokyo

I usually judge my “amazement” temperature by the number of photos I’m inspired to take.  A trip to Japan usually means hundreds and hundreds of snapshots.  Thank God for digital.

 The wonders of this remarkable city began appearing soon after we left our hotel.  In looking over my stash of photos from the day, I thought it might be best to do a chronological rerun of our day in Tokyo, beginning at the reasonable hour of 10:30 AM when the National Art Center opened its doors.  No pictures taken of my 4:30 AM awakening.

A Day in the Life of a Tokyo Visitor

10:45 Yayoi  Kusama retrospective, My Eternal Soul, at the National ArtCenter.  Just a short walk from our hotel to arrive at this display of fabulousness in this large architectural gallery displaying the investment in the arts that Japan understands as essential!  Weather: sunny but windy.  Spirits:  high.

The approach to the building features trees whose trunks are wrapped for the show, setting the mood perfectly. Continue reading “Just Another Day in Tokyo”

sushi fest

When my husband looks for restaurants for us to try while in Japan, he leaves no stone unturned.  So why was I so surprised by the reservations he managed to secure at three unbelievable sushi restaurants in Kanazawa?

Some back story.  Sushi is best consumed and celebrated when you’re near the large bodies of water the fish have been taken from.  Get away from the coasts of Japan and there’s not a lot of sushi. At least that you’d want to write home about. Kanazawa is on the Sea of Japan and is known for its fine sushi restaurants.  Just how fine we learned in three consecutive nights of an over-the-top sushi-fest.

The resemblance to anything we’ve known before begins and stops with the word sushi. It doesn’t really prepare you for the experience that awaits you in Kanazawa. It’s like suddenly jumping from elementary school to a PhD degree, or going from rhinestones to diamonds, or from a crappy but useable car to the perfection of a new Mercedes, from a neighborhood church to the Vatican, or from a small town theatre to Broadway.

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 At the third and final night of sushi-fest, we find The Sushi Master is a slight man, dressed all in white.  He spends  two hours feeding seven of us seated at his broad, light wood, impeccable counter. No fish is displayed here.  There are no stains on the wooden counter. He tells us that he spends two hours each night scrubbing down the counter. No music plays in the background.  The atmosphere is serene, with no distractions. It’s about fish.  This is prime time, baby.IMG_6680

The only items on display are the gleaming knives, sharp as samurai swords! The freshness of the fish is indisputable.  The chef travels each day to the Noto Penninsula to buy his fish, 65 miles each way.  The standards here are as high as they get.  We know immediately we’re in the hands of an expert whose hands have the grace and fluidity of an Indonesian temple dancer.  We learn he’s been a sushi chef for 26 years.  Respect.

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 Leave any squeamishness at the door. Choose a fine Kanazawa sake and let the evening begin.

These are the notes I took so that I could remember some of our many courses, since no pictures were allowed, although we did get a few before the edict was spoken. We received specific eating instructions from the chef before each course, such as which sauce to use, when to salt, or when not to add anything.

Three Japanese women sat next to us at the counter.  As each course was presented, they collectively made a distinctly Japanese sound of appreciation, which to an American ear sounds like eeeeuuuhhhh, starting low,tone rises just a bit by the end of the sound.  I think you have to be native born to carry that sound off with any authenticity.  I’d never attempt it.

Fugu gonad.  Yes, gonad. What size was the fish, I wonder?

gonad

Steamed abalone. 6 hours of steaming. 

steamed abalone

Boiled abalone . 2 days worth of boiling.

Steamed oyster in broth in elegant black laquer bowl.

Sea cucumber egg sack.  Yes, egg sack. 

Whelk in beautiful shell.

Salt grilled fish, with salt from the Noto Penninsula.

Needle fish, sliced thin as a needle.

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Giant Shrimp, head cooked, body eaten raw.

giant shrimp

Sea cucumber egg. Very salty. Traditional.

Grated fresh wasabi, with each course, when appropriate.

wasabi

Sea urchin.  Never used to eat, now enjoy.

After all this fish we have consumed, I must admit to feeling a bit on the glutted side.  Well, maybe more than a bit.

 It’s been a privilege to sit at the counters of these masters, although I do think I’ve been spoiled for life.

TOKYO=SUSHI

sushi piece

Tokyo=sushi or is it sushi=tokyo? Tokyo is the epicenter of the best sushi in the world.  Tokyo is the place that launched sushi into the modern age and propelled it around the world. You can buy sushi here at 7-11, pick it off a conveyor belt, eat it as a snack, or enjoy a high-class dining experience at a high-class establishment.   Eating out last night in Tokyo at an upscale sushi restaurant proved to me that nobody does it better.

Can we just focus on the atmosphere for a moment?

Picture a cinnabar red lacquered counter at least 50′ long.

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Add half a dozen hair shorn sushi chefs, the equivalent of modern-day samurai, wielding knives with the skill of a surgeon.The atmosphere is serious but decidedly cordial.

Orders are shouted and relayed from chef to chef in deep baritone voices that all concerned take heed of.

The straw basket pictured below contained the sushi rice. Each chef had one by his side. All implements, dishes and sauces  were within reach of each master chef.IMG_4327

There is NO music playing in this restaurant.  REPEAT!!  There is NO music playing. It would be a distraction in this most mindful of settings.  The banter between the clients and the chefs provide the perfect soundtrack.

Very few sushi items placed on our plates required soy sauce.  They’d been seasoned individually.  We were explicitly told not to add soy sauce.

When a sushi chef retreated to the kitchen, they faced their customers as a sign of respect, before walking backwards into the   noren curtains.  Nice touch.noren

R E S P E C T!  You did not come here to eat a California roll, but to eat the freshest , most meticulously prepared fish that the world has to offer.IMG_4330