Dinner @ Sushi Suzuki 鮨 鈴木 (Tokyo, Japan)

October 12, 2020 in Japanese

For my February 2018 meal at Sushi Suzuki, my hotel concierge assisted to make the reservation in January 2018. And I was pre-informed that the omakase course would cost about ¥30,000. And for my 7pm appointment, I managed to arrive at the restaurant punctually although I was slightly thrown off-guard by Google map. For some odd reason, Google map directed me to the smaller road behind the building when one should really enter the building from the main road.

Seats were pre-arranged. I was led to sit between pairs of men dressed in suit and engaged in some pretty serious conversation (by the tone of their voices). Guessed they must have come for dinner after work. And the ambience at Sushi Suzuki was pretty quiet and solemn. And after taking my drinks order, I commenced my omakase dinner (¥30,000) with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Blow fish.

2) Dish #2 (above) – Grouper with salt, and Japanese spotted prawn (botan-ebi) with wasabi.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Whale with ginger.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Steamed oyster with yuzu.

5) Dish #5 (above) – Blow fish (fugu) milt with caviar. And I was cautioned by chef-owner Takao Suzuki that it was going to be hot.


6) Dish #6 (above) – Steamed abalone. Very tender and nice.

7) Dish #7 (above) – Black throat sea perch (nodoguro).

8) Dish #8 (above) – Saba bozushi (mackerel stick sushi). This was good! Pretty stoked that this was served as 2 pieces too.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Mullet roe (karasumi).

10) Dish #10 (above) – Monkfish liver (ankimo). I was surprised this was a cold dish.

  
  
  
  

  
  
  

11) Dish #11 (above) – Sushi assortment; Flounder (hirame), striped jack (shima aji), tuna (maguro), medium fatty tuna (chutoro), premium fatty tuna (otoro), baby gizzard shad (shinko), needlefish (sayori), sea urchin (uni) rice, squid, ark shell claim (akagai), tiger prawn (kuruma-ebi), clam (hamaguri), sea eel (anago) and rolled egg omelette (tamago).

At this point, head chef Suzuki san asked if I was full. Since I’m one who eats till I’m 120% full rather than 80%, I said “1 more”. He asked me to choose the fish I would like to have, but I asked him to recommend instead. And as I was having my baby snapper nigiri sushi, I watched head chef Suzuki san dish out scallop nigiri sushi for the pair beside me. And it looked so good and tempting. So when head chef Suzuki san followed up and asked if I was full, I couldn’t resist but say “1 more” again. Haha. I really was just being greedy by this point cause I was already 110% full.

  

12) Add-ons (above) – Baby snapper (kasu) and scallop (hotate).

Now, the pair beside me showed no sign of ending their omakase meal yet. I watched them being served giant penshell nigiri sushi. And as with my previous sushi, head chef Suzuki san checked to see if I was full after I finished my (additional) scallop nigiri sushi. But this time round, I nodded instead of letting greed get the better of me. Ha!

With the 2 additional sushi and my green tea, my dinner came up to ¥40,000 (inclusive of tax and service charge). And I have to say this was one expensive dinner. It was even more expensive than some of my sushi dinners at restaurants which had Michelin star. Uh huh. Sushi Suzuki has no Michelin star, though one may argue that it’s ranked Bronze by Tablelog.

So a brief history about Sushi Suzuki… Head chef Suzuki san trained for 12 years at Sushi Aoki (in Ginza, Tokyo) before opening his own restaurant in 2015.

It was pretty amazing watching head chef Suzuki san make his sushi cause he was fast! When I was still chewing (slowly) on my sushi, he was already preparing my next sushi. And that’s even when there were 5 of us! And for his sushi, his sushi rice (shari) was warm. And one could taste the slight distinct sourness of the vinegar used to season the rice. Don’t get me wrong. I actually like my sushi rice that way.

Would I recommend Sushi Suzuki? Well… I honestly enjoyed what he dished out. However the price tag just didn’t seem to justify. It’s way too expensive. I would recommend Sushi Suzuki if my dinner cost 25% lesser. But if one really wants to try head chef Suzuki san’s food, probably make reservation for lunch where I heard it’s cost less than half compared to dinner. Yet still being able to enjoy equally quality sushi. But if price isn’t a factor, Sushi Suzuki is relatively easy to make reservation. Pretty handy if one needs a last-minute (ie, same day) booking.

SUSHI SUZUKI 鮨 鈴木
6-5-15 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 中央区 銀座 6-5-15 銀座能楽堂ビル 5F)
+81 3 5537 6868, Tablelog
Overall: 7
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Tues – Sun : 12:00 – 14:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Tues – Sun : 18:00 – 22:00 (Dinner)
Value: 6
Service: 7
* Closed on Mon

Dinner @ Nishiazabu Taku 西麻布 拓 (Tokyo, Japan)

October 4, 2020 in Japanese

Unlike my Japan trip in 2018 which my sushi planning was based on recommendation from a Japanese foodie instagrammer, my February 2019 trip was planned to my foodie friends’ recommendations. In particular @zachdevours‘. Whom I also nick ‘InstaGram Bottomless Pit’ on my blog. My gosh. It has been a long while since I mentioned IGBP here. Keke.

And like me, IGBP travels to Japan annually. Well okie… Minus 2020 cause of COVID-19. However, while I preferred checking out different places, IGBP and his family would religiously return to their regular sushi-hunts. So I was keen to check out IGBP’s recommendations (Nishiazabu Taku and Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi) and understand the ‘pull factor’.

My hotel concierge assisted to make the reservation at Nishiazabu Taku. Got them to specifically request for head chef Kenji Ishizaka as I read that customers at Nishiazabu Taku would be served by either head chef or sous chef. And it would have been nice too if I managed to match my appointment date with IGBP’s, but somehow our meal schedules just couldn’t align. Boohoo.

The L-shaped counter could sit up to 8 people. And at 6pm, I was the first to arrive at the restaurant. I guessed I must be the only one eating early that evening because once I settled down, head chef Ishizaka san immediately commenced my ¥21,600 omakase dinner with:-

1) Dish #1 (above) – Broad bean. And I was unsure how exactly to eat these when head chef Ishizaka san placed the dish in front me. Seeing my puzzled look, I was told to pick it up with my hands and squeeze the bean out from the skin. Ahhh…

2) Dish #2 (above) – Sea cucumber with jelly.

3) Dish #3 (above) – Flounder.

4) Dish #4 (above) – Grilled flounder fin.

5) Dish #5 (above) – イボダイ. Am able to share the fish’s Japanese name (and in Japanese character) because head chef Ishizaka san made reference to a book while trying to explain the fish that was served. And yup! It’s a small butter fish.

6) Dish #6 (above) – Clam, lightly grilled. And was told to enjoy it with salt.

7) Dish #7 (above) – Baby snapper. And to give me a gauge of how ‘big’ the baby snapper was, head chef Ishizaka san said he could only get 2 such pieces from it.

8) Dish #8 (above) – Ice fish with fresh sea weed.

9) Dish #9 (above) – Needlefish.

10) Dish #10 (above) – Cod milt.

11) Dish #11 (above) – King salmon from Hokkaido.


12) Dish #12 (above) – Short spine sea urchin.

13) Dish #13 (above) – Purple sea urchin.

14) Dish #14 (above) – Shiitake mushroom with ponzu sauce.

15) Dish #15 (above) – King squid, aged for 5 days.

16) Dish #16 (above) – Squid legs, served with a little salt.

17) Dish #17 (above) – Steamed egg (chawanmushi) with clam stock.

18) Dish #18 (above) – Spanish mackerel belly.

19) Dish #19 (above) – Smoked Spanish mackerel. And for this, I was told it’s a cut from the back.

20) Dish #20 (above) – Rock fish. And interestingly, I was told to eat the fish & vegetables separately.

21) Dish #21 (above) – Sandwich of daikon, shiso leaf and Japanese plum (ume).

22) Dish #22 (above) – Baby tuna (meiji maguro).

23) Dish #23 (above) – Swordfish. And instead of serving a (solid) slice of swordfish, he made the topping with swordfish scrape.

24) Dish #24 (above) – Premium fatty tuna (otoro).

25) Dish #25 (above) – Gizzard shad.

26) Dish #26 (above) – Japanese spotted prawn (botan ebi) with wasabi & soya.

27) Dish #27 (above) – And from the same Japanese spotted prawn (from the earlier dish), the remaining portion was grilled and served as a nigiri sushi.

28) Dish #28 (above) – Mackerel and turnip.

And by this point, I couldn’t resist but tell head chef Ishizaka san that I was full. His sushi was like size L, by the way. Very big mouthful! And he replied me by saying “Last one.” Last one? Okie!

29) Dish #29 (above) – Sea eel. And I could tell head chef Ishizaka san used lesser sushi rice for my last piece of my sushi. Keke.

30) Dish #30 (above) – Egg omlette (tamago). And it’s interesting that there’s 2 different textures within the 1 piece; The top half was smooth while the bottom half was like custard cake. Nice!

31) Dish #31 (above) – Miso soup.

32) Dish #32 (above) – Just when I thought I had come to the end of my meal, head chef Ishizaka san asked if I wanted ice cream. Oh my god. But not being able to resist even though I was full, he went on to mention there’s 5 flavours. Unable to choose 1 (since I would want 1 of each), I asked him for his recommendation. To which he said “3?” HAHA! And he must have noticed my eyes widening because he continued by saying “small ones!” Too cute.. And I went with his recommendation of kinako, shouyu and houjicha.

So on the night of my dinner, head chef Ishizaka san attended to 5 (including me) while the other 2 seated at the counter were attended by the sous chef. There was also another group in the private room. And while head chef Ishizaka san didn’t speak much, one could tell he takes a lot of pride in the dishes he put in front of us. He would often gently gaze at me to check my reaction and to make sure I was enjoying myself. He’s pretty chilled (or open-minded?) too because he didn’t mind the pair of (Japanese & non-Japanese) customers conversing loudly. And I noticed he alternate cooked dishes (otsumami) with the sushi-s. A pretty ingenious idea actually to prevent sushi ‘saturation’ especially since his sushi was pretty big.

IGBP who always had head chef Ishizaka san for their previous meals at Nishiazabu Taku suddenly had the sous chef for their 2019 meal. And he shared with me that there’s definitely a difference. So I would say it’s necessary to request for head chef Ishizaka san if one decides to dine at Nishiazabu Taku.

And a little more about head chef Ishizaka san… He didn’t start off being the head chef at Nishiazabu Taku. Kenji Ishizaka san was training at Ginza Kyubey when he crossed path with Takuya Sato san. On the fifth year of opening Nishiazabu Taku (2010), Sato san got Ishizaka san to come onboard as the second chef. And it was in 2016 when Sato san decided to relocate to Hawaii to help a friend (master chef Keiji Nakazawa of Sushi Sho-Tokyo) to open a sushi restaurant (Sushi Sho Honolulu) that Ishizaka san stepped up to become head chef of Nishiazabu Taku.

So do I recommend 1 Michelin starred Nishiazabu Taku? Yes, but it wouldn’t be a restaurant that comes immediately to mind if one asked me for sushi-ya recommendation in Tokyo. How should I better put it… It was a good meal but the dining experience didn’t leave a deep impression. But that’s because rather than trying to impress by taking out slabs of fishes, etc, head chef Ishizaka san allowed his dishes to speak for themselves. And that also meant he had minimal interaction with customers. It was as though he didn’t want to disturb us unnecessarily. So yes, if one is in a big group and would like a place where one could converse freely yet still be able to enjoy safe and good sushi, Nishiazabu Taku is definitely the place to go to.

And the lack of attention on social media meant if one left planning to the very last minute or have extra meal slots for filling, one should be able to get a seat at Nishiazabu Taku pretty easily. But having said that, don’t take the risk by booking a few days ahead only. At least 1.5 weeks notice please!

My meal came up to ¥21,600, including tax and service charge.

NISHIAZABU TAKU 西麻布 拓
1F, 2-11-5 Nishiazabu, Minato City, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 港区 西麻布 2-11-5 カパルア西麻布 1F)
+81 3 5774 4372, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sat : 18:00 – 22:30
Ambience: 7
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun

Lunch @ Tempura Kondo てんぷら 近藤 (Tokyo, Japan)

June 28, 2020 in Japanese

When I did my first (ever) research for tempura restaurants in Tokyo, Michelin-starred Tempura Kondo was one of the few names that came up top in my Google search. But… It took me almost 4 years to eventually dine here. My bad. And for my restaurant reservation, my hotel concierge assisted me with it. I was given the second seating at 1.30pm, and was also informed that Tempura Kondo provided 2 menus (¥6500 and ¥8500) which I was to choose at the restaurant.

And on the day of my lunch, I was really nervous as I made my way to the restaurant. I didn’t realise there were 2 counters at Tempura Kondo, and was praying hard I would be assigned to chef-owner Kondo Fumio’s.

Located on level 9, I stepped out of the lift at 1.25pm to see a group of people had already gathered outside the restaurant. But because we belonged to the second seating, we had to wait for the first seating to finish their meals before we could be seated. As we waited patiently, a staff would regularly step out to check who (else) had arrived. Although I guess if one was anxious, one could also head into the restaurant to inform the staff of one’s arrival. I ain’t sure if seating arrangement was first-come-first-serve, but I noticed the staff indicated a ’5′ beside my name on her reservation list.

Words couldn’t express my relief and excitement when I was led to the main counter. The pair who entered before me was somehow led to the other counter which was located at the back.

And for our bags, there were baskets placed beneath every chair. However, I had trouble putting mine. I was lazy and was trying to place my handbag into the basket by bending over while seated. Haha. I was so focused that I didn’t realise head chef Fumio san noticed my struggle. He got his waiting staff to help me, and only resumed what he was doing after making sure I had settled down comfortably. How did I know? After the staff helped me out, I looked back to the front and locked eyes with head chef Fumio san. He gave me a gentle smile, and that’s when I realised. And honestly… That gesture touched me a lot.

And from the menu (pages 1, 2), I ordered:-

1) Tsubaki course (¥‎8500) comprised of:-

(A) Tempura #1 (above) – Prawn heads.


(B) Tempura #2 (above) – Prawn. Ever since I was taught a perfectly fried prawn tempura is one with a slightly raw centre, I since developed a habit to bite into my prawn tempura and check the centre. Keke. And yes! Perfectly fried prawn tempura by head chef Fumion san. :)


(C) Tempura #3 (above) – Prawn.

(D) Tempura #4 (above) – Asparagus. These didn’t look like it but they were so hot within!

(E) Tempura #5 (above) – Lotus root.

(F) Tempura #6 (above) – Japanese whiting/sillago (kisu) fish.

(G) Tempura #7 (above) – Eggplant.

(H) Tempura #8 (above) – Ice fish wrapped with shisho leaf. This was really interesting. Although it was made with many (fishes), the texture was like that of a thick fish fillet.


(I) Tempura #9 (above) – Sea urchin. And it’s becoming a habit that I would pay extra attention to the preparation of sea urchin tempura. And I noticed head chef Fumio san would ensemble his and dip it entirely into the wet batter before frying.

(J) Tempura #10 (above) – Lily bulb.

(K) Dish #11 (above) – Onion.


(L) Tempura #12 (above) – Sea eel (anago).

  
  

(M) Rice dish (above) – We were given 3 options to choose from; Tendon-sauce dipped, tencha or scallop-prawn tempura served separately from the rice. And I went with tencha.

(N) Roasted tea (above)

(O) Dessert (above) – Strawberry.

2) Sweet potato, ¥2400 (above) – When the staff went round taking our order at the start of our meal, it was specifically mentioned that the course menu do not include sweet potato. And the sweet potato was an item which many highly recommended. So I ordered it as an additional a-la carte item. And I must say, I wasn’t expecting it to be so big! As I was trying to finish it, the waiting staff came up to me and said I could pack the untouched half. Thank goodness! But to be honest… I didn’t really enjoy my sweet potato. It was a little dry in the centre.

3) Oolong tea, ¥400

I was thankful to sit at the length of the L-shaped counter where head chef Fumio san faced. I always appreciate being able to watch chefs in action. And although he had 2 sous chefs, I noticed head chef Fumio san preferred to do almost everything. He would personally fry all the pieces as his sous chefs prepared the various ingredients. And when he was done with the frying, he would put the cooked ingredients onto a common metal tray where his sous chefs would then take over and distribute the various tempura pieces to us. I guess that’s head chef Fumio san’s way of managing the quality of food at Tempura Kondo. Everything at the frying section was personally handled by him. Although he was visibly aged and with a hunchback, the arduous task of changing the oil was also done by him. The only time the sous chef came near to his frying station was to help him top up the dry flour in the bowl.

My lunch came up to ¥12,204 (including tax and service charge). And I liked that it was a very straight-forward dining affair. Head chef Fumio san was very focused with his cooking. The only times he interacted with customers (including his regulars) were before he started cooking and after he finished cooking. I guess it’s also because of that, that Tempura Kondo don’t receive much attention on social media. But head chef Fumio san definitely left an impression on me. I could feel his sincerity through his food, and from our brief interactions; Ready to leave, I bent down to pull my handbag from beneath my chair. And when I looked up, he had positioned himself in front of me behind his counter. He smiled and bowed to me. I bowed and smiled back, and thanked him for the enjoyable lunch.

Will I recommend Tempura Kondo? Yes. But again, one should manage one’s expectation. If one’s after an interactive experience with the chef or to be swept off by fancier food presentation, Tempura Kondo isn’t a place for that. And having said that, one should also order the carrot tempura as an additional item! Head chef Fumio san does his differently where the carrot were shredded before deep fried. And it looked so delicious!

TEMPURA KONDO てんぷら 近藤
9F, Sakaguchi Building, 5-5-13 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo, Japan (東京都 中央区 銀座 5-5-13 坂口ビル 9F)
+81 3 5568 0923, Tablelog
Overall: 8
Opening hours:-
Food/Beverage: 8
Mon – Sat : 12:00 – 15:00 (Lunch)
Ambience: 7
Mon – Sat : 17:00 – 20:30 (Dinner)
Value: 8
Service: 8
* Closed on Sun