Monday, November 19, 2012

Sushi Dai - Greatest Sushi, Longest Wait

I promised you sushi porn and I'm delivering. Here is our story:

Nick and I scoured the internets for the best sushi in Tsukiji market for our Tokyo adventure. We all knew that Jiro's in the Ginza subway stop (exit C6) was the best sushi in Japan, bar none and with three Michelin stars to prove it. However, Jiro's requires a reservation several months in advance and a few hundred dollars; we were looking for something a little more reasonably priced and without a reservation requirement.

According to the world wide web, and a colleague of mine named Osamu, the best sushi can be found at Sushi Dai. Finding Sushi Dai was another matter, when Lonely Planet's Tsukiji market map put it at the wrong location in the entire market. So ignore Lonely Planet's woefully incorrect map and follow the Tsukiji information station's careful instructions and see where the line is... 

Front line for Sushi Dai
Three hours - enough time to see The Hobbit

We (finally) arrived at the line at 9:48am and found what appeared to be three lines. There were two massive lines huddled around two tiny sushi shops next to each other and then a straight line around the corner; the Sushi Dai line actually had two distinct lines with one group of twenty or so people huddled out in front of the shop and then a separate line around that corner on the sidewalk facing the large, private part of the fish market. The other line in front of a shop with orange banners was for Sushi Daiwa, apparently the second best sushi joint in the area. The line was quite orderly and there was a restaurant hosted who served as line guard and kept records of people in line, their party's size and prevented people from cutting in line or jumping in the line by the door, instead of waiting at the true end of the line around the corner. We waited for three (that's right, three) hours before getting to go inside of the restaurant and sit down. We were about to give up when we spent most of the time waiting in the line on the sidewalk barely moving and needing to get snacks just to make it but were ecstatic as soon as we were promoted to the closer line. Waiting in line was painful but we had a lot of time to get to know a couple from L.A. we really liked during those three hours: Colt and Christina with whom we got to share a painful wait and a memorable meal.

Happy sushi chefs
Inside, the restaurant only serves 14 people huddled tightly at the counter in front of three jovial sushi chefs. These guys were absolutely delightful; they spoke English to us and even a little Mandarin to the girls from Taiwan seated to my left and constantly cracked jokes, thanked everyone profusely for waiting in the long line and were generally incredibly welcoming and informative. Above all, they took joy in their craft and their results were delicious. This was the most wonderful, simple and memorable sushi experience I've ever had in my life.

So fresh, it's still moving

It was very apparent that the fish came from the market and had all been caught earlier that morning. We opted for the omakase option because what else would you freaking eat there? The fatty tuna, otoro was displayed right in front of me in the case and had tons of visible marbling. It was soft, rich, buttery and delicious with plenty of flavor and zero fishiness which was a contrast to a lot of tuna in the US which actually a lot leaner and lacks a lot of flavor. Our second piece was a simple piece of balanced tamago.

Borderline illegal-looking uni
The flounder had a swarth of lime juice over it which gave it a lovely bright taste and the yellowtail was sumptuous; our chef told us that the fish was from Hokkaido, a northern island of Japan with icy waters famous for the best fish. Then came the uni, which was unlike any uni I'd ever tasted. It was unctuous, smooth and almost bright tasting with a hint of sweet acidity instead of pungency usually found in uni. It melted in your mouth sweetly. We had a lovely, savory horse mackerel that was dotted with marinated green onions.

A row of red clam
Then, the chefs grabbed large red clams out of a bucket and we could see that the clams were still alive! As the chefs deftly cut them apart, they joked, "See? It's still alive! Be careful or it will bite your face." And they served that piece of nigiri to us on the wooden sushi board, still twitching. I've never eaten sushi that was still moving before or red clam like that before; clam is typically tougher and chewier than what we had.We had tasty red snapper that was redder and smoother than any I'd ever had and then salmon roe. Our chef said roe was usually frozen and is only fresh a few months out of the year but ours was fresh! The roe was softer than what I was used to but still burst and tickle as you bite into them - only juicier and smoother tasting. Nick's favorite was our next piece: Spanish mackerel with green onion which was a complex balance of sweet and savory. We finished the first round with a sauced piece of delicate and rich anago. We got to pick our final piece of nigiri: Nick chose to do a repeat of the Spanish mackerel while I completed my nigiri with fresh and crunchy abalone.

Everything we ate was carefully made and presented to us with a delicious mouthful of perfectly balanced rice and fish. Even the miso soup had bits of fish in it in a broth which hinted of the sea. Japanese people have a pursuit for perfection and craftsmanship that speaks volume to the food they make - part art, part architecture and completely wonderful.

We might have waited in line for an extraordinarily long time but we had a perfect meal, and a fun experience with the two new friends we had made, made better by the congenial and warm sushi chefs.

Best. Sushi. Ever. 
Excited to finally get to sit down for our sushi!
Below are more photographs of our memorable meal:

Our chef hard at work
Miso soup
Red snapper

Horse mackerel art
Red clam - still moving
Yellowtail from Hokkaido
Salmon roe - little surprises
Spanish mackerel
Anago/sea eel
Extra piece of Spanish mackerel
I hope you enjoyed our sushi adventures and here's to hoping you get to experience this sort of careful craftsmanship soon! We'll have ramen and udon blogs to follow.

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