Tokyo: Sushi Bar Yasuda (Sep. 2013)
Chef: Naomichi Yasuda
Date: September 17, 2013
After Shimada, I started to crave some sushi. I was going to get some really good sushi for dinner on the 18th and 19th, so it was probably silly of me to get sushi on the 17th haha. (Oh well, I’m pretty impatient.) I wanted sushi right that day, so I called Yasuda that day and made same-day reservations.
Sushi Yasuda has a reputation of being the best sushi restaurant in NYC (outside of Masa), and the sushi has generally been pretty great the few times I’ve been there. The environment there always feels rushed, though, as sometimes they will limit your dinner to maybe an hour or an hour and a half. The chefs in that restaurant also feel less friendly compared to some of my favorite sushi-ya in NYC (such as 15 East).
Sushi Bar Yasuda, his new restaurant in Tokyo, has a very different environment from the NYC restaurant. It’s a lot more intimate, as it’s a sushi bar with only eight seats. In contrast to the NYC restaurant, where several sushi chefs make the food for the sushi bar and several tables, Chef Yasuda is the only one preparing the food here, and his wife handles the drinks and bills. There’s also no rush at all in this restaurant. Yasuda would mention several times that the NYC restaurant would often give customers a time limit for their meal and that there would be no such restriction here—we were free to take as long as we wanted.
It’s a really small operation, and it feels like he’s just running a restaurant as a hobby instead of to make money. His NYC restaurant was wildly successful (and continues to be), so he can afford to do this as a “retirement” gig haha. He seems to largely cater to foreigners now, as he mentioned that the majority of his customers are foreigners who have heard of him.
(If you’re curious about why Chef Yasuda left for Japan, the blog “Do You Even Eat” does a pretty good job of giving an explanation in this post.)
Anyway, let’s discuss the sushi! The sushi here is considered to be mid-level in terms of prices. 12 pieces of sushi cost 3,800 JPY (about $39 USD), and the price is adjusted if you ask for more pieces (most people tend to do that). That price ratio is NOT expensive at all by Japanese standards, and the result is that the quality of the fish simply won’t be as good as some of the top sushi-ya in Tokyo.
He still goes to Tsukiji Market every day to select his fish (though not at auction hours), and I think he feels some pride in the fact that he handles all the food himself. (He chooses the fish, cooks his rice, and prepares the sushi for you. He’s able to exercise more culinary freedom now in ways that he couldn’t back in NYC.)
1. Bluefin yellowtail snapper.
This has the WEIRDEST name, but that’s what he called it. It’s some type of yellowtail snapper, but I’m not sure of any more details than that…
2. Ocean trout.
3. Kanpachi (amberjack) from Hokkaido.
4. Sanma (mackerel pike).
5. Sumi ika (squid).
6. Bluefin akami (lean tuna) from Hokkaido.
7. Hotate (sea scallop).
8. Akaebi (red shrimp).
9. Ikura (salmon roe).
10. Dashimaki-style tamago (egg).
11. Scallion sprouts.
This didn’t have the pure bliss that normal nigiri can give you, but it was enjoyable to see a deviation from the normal sushi types—also, it was surprisingly delicious. The sprouts were chewy and had a little crunch to them, and they were also a little sweet.
12. Anago (saltwater eel).
13. Uni (sea urchin) from San Francisco, CA.
14. Uni (sea urchin) from Hokkaido.
15. Magaki oyster (Pacific oyster) from Hokkaido.
The oyster was VERY rich and creamy, much more than other oysters I’ve had.
16. Bluefin ōtoro (fatty tuna belly) from Hokkaido.
Apparently, the tuna comes from Hokkaido but ends up in the Aomori Prefecture.
17. Bluefin head toro (fatty tuna) from Hokkaido.
This was one of my three favorite pieces of this meal! This was one of the most delicate types of toro I’ve ever had. The whole piece was just extremely soft and melted quickly—it didn’t feel too fatty, though. Hmm…
18. Shiroebi (white shrimp).
19. Hokkigai (Surf clam).
20. Freshly cooked kurumaebi (tiger prawn) from the Tokyo Bay.
This was one of my three favorite pieces of this meal! It had a surprisingly large amount of flavor for its size. I was tempted to order another just because it was so good, but I wanted to see what else he had for me!
21. Shiromirugai (white giant clam) from Chiba Prefecture.
22. Iwashi (sardines) from Chiba Prefecture.
23. Saba (mackerel).
24. Aji (jack mackerel / horse mackerel).
25. Unagi (freshwater eel).
This was one of my three favorite pieces of this meal! The char gave it a really nice, crispy texture. This was the most unique piece of unagi I’ve ever had. (To be fair, I haven’t really had the chance to try really good unagi yet, I think.)
26. Toro-and-scallion hand roll. The seaweed is from Saga Prefecture.
This is one of Chef Yasuda’s favorites. He would often make this as an end-of-the-meal treat for customers back in NYC.
The sushi was decent, but I think that the fish quality is worse overall than the NYC outpost’s. Of course, the cost there is much higher, which could explain it. However, the rice is very similar; Yasuda’s always had pretty great rice, and that hasn’t changed.
All in all, the meal was decent. You get what you pay for (and you aren’t paying a whole lot here). As the blog I linked mentioned, Chef Yasuda isn’t trying to be one of the top sushi-ya in Japan. If you want some of the best sushi in Tokyo, you’re going to have to pay a few hundred USD. If you just want a good sushi meal for a very affordable price, you can always come here and say hi to Yasuda!
P.S. Any of you who have eaten with him before know that he has huuuuge biceps. He still has those. They’re even bigger now. I cropped myself out, but you can see his guns here!