Tokyo: Ginza Kyubey (Sep. 2013)
Owner: Yosuke Imada
Date: September 18, 2013
A day after eating at Yasuda’s Tokyo restaurant, we were ready to eat our first high-end sushi meal in Tokyo! My friend made reservations at Kyubey’s honten (main branch) in Ginza a while back in anticipation for this trip, and all of us were pretty excited to try this out. People generally seem to have a list of five to six top sushi places in Tokyo, and Ginza Kyubey gets mentioned quite a few times. It seems to be a Japanese institution, given its history.
There are several different Kyubey branches around Tokyo, and they’re all supposed to be similar to each other. (Of course, we chose the main branch because we figured that, if there were a difference after all, the main branch would be the best.) Kyubey is supposed to be the easiest of the top sushi places to get a reservation at—it’s very foreigner-friendly, and the restaurants are big enough so that they don’t run out of room as quickly as the others.
When we entered, the owner, Yosuke Imada, greeted us with a smile. Apparently, he is famous for greeting every customer, even chatting with each for a while. The first thing I noticed about the restaurant was how big it seemed to be. There was an elevator to direct people to different floors. I learned that the restaurant consists of five floors, and each floor has one or two sushi bars. The restaurant was filled when we went for good reason—the food was excellent. We were seated on the fifth floor and given the menus.
There’s the normal omakase option and four types of set courses, from Shigaraki (around 15,750 JPY) to Rosanjin (around 31,500 JPY). We ordered the Rosanjin, as we wanted to try a good variety of what they had to offer. (This would actually prove to not be enough food for us—we ended up ordering more pieces of sushi after, and I’m glad we did. Rosanjin only came with eight pieces of sushi, and we wanted to try more!
Ikura (salmon roe).
Chūtoro (medium-fatty tuna).
Karei (flatfish / righteye flounder).
Kurumaebi (tiger prawn).
Fried anago (fried saltwater eel).
I actually didn’t like this all that much. It was warm and crispy, but the flavors of the anago didn’t really shine through. I personally felt like they weren’t doing the anago justice by making this.
Anago liver (saltwater eel liver).
This was my first time having anago liver. I’m having a hard time explaining how it tasted like. It was just as soft and creamy as, say, ankimo (monkfish liver) can be, but it didn’t quite taste the same… Hm.
Grilled kurumaebi (tiger prawn) head.
This was the softest abalone I’ve ever had—it was even tenderer than Yoshitake’s abalone!
Zuke maguro (marinated tuna) with scallion sprouts.
This was EXCELLENT. The tuna was extremely creamy and melted in your mouth. There was the right amount of marinade to enhance but not overpower the tuna, which was the star of the show—and it was delicious. The scallion sprouts added some bite/crunch to the tuna, which pretty much melted in your mouth haha; they also helped to refresh the palate because the tuna was so rich.
I think eating the abalone and this made ordering the set menu (and not just omakase) worth it hahaha.
Hot soup in earthenware pot.
Ingredients: ebi (shrimp), matsutake mushrooms, fish, bean sprouts, carrot, and ginkgo nuts.
1. Chūtoro (medium-fatty tuna).
2. Uni (sea urchin) from Hokkaido.
3. Ōtoro (fatty tuna).
The ōtoro was excellent and melted in my mouth, but I was also left wondering why we started with three very rich pieces. Hm. This did not seem like the best order to eat the pieces in…
4. Mirugai (giant clam)
5. Akami (lean tuna).
6. Aji (jack mackerel / horse mackerel).
7. Anago (saltwater eel) without sauce.
8. Anago (saltwater eel) with sauce.
This was amazing. I forgot how good anago can be around summertime. (The peak season for anago is summer, but I figured mid-September would be close enough to allow us to enjoy anago; I think I was right!) The anago was slightly warm, and eating the plain anago right before this one allowed us to appreciate just how much more delicious the sauce made the anago taste—it also allowed us to realize that the anago itself was also excellent and that it wasn’t just the sauce!
9. Madai (red snapper).
10. Hamachi (yellowtail).
11. Hokkigai (surf clam).
12. Tako (octopus).
This was one of our favorite pieces. It was probably the best octopus nigiri I’ve ever had. The texture was excellent as it was extremely tender with just the right amount of chewiness. The octopus itself had great flavor, and the temperatures of both the fish and the rice were perfect, too.
13. Kohada (gizzard shad).
14. Shako (mantis shrimp) with sweet sauce.
I loooooove getting shako with sweet sauce. There’s something about it that complements the shrimp very well. It added a touch of sweetness to the shako while still allowing the flavor of the shako to shine through. Nothing was overpowering; they worked together very well. The shako was very chewy
15. Hotategai (sea scallop).
16. Sayori (halfbeak).
17. Eggplant (not sushi).
I can’t really say much about this at all. Maybe I’m missing something, but I thought this detracted from the meal.
18. Tamago (egg).
This wasn’t quite like a dashimaki-style or kasutera-style tamago. I’m kind of struggling as to how I should describe it. It was a little warm, and the texture was very soft, kind of like an egg custard. The outside layer was a little crisp, while the inside was very moist. The air pockets were extremely small. I also wonder how many layers they used… While it had a different texture than the other two types of tamago that I’m used to, it was still excellent.
Front: Toro (fatty tuna) and scallion maki.
Middle: Cucumber maki.
Last: Pickle maki.
This continued my love of Japanese fruits. The papaya was exactly what you’d expect—very fresh, sweet, and ready to be devoured! (I guess we were supposed to eat it somewhat elegantly because we were in such a high-end restaurant hahaha.) Ahh, the Japanese have such amazing fruits!
The abalone and marinated tuna were mind-blowing appetizers, and eating just those two things may have made the meal worth it for me. The sushi was also excellent; the anago, tako, and shako were our favorite pieces. The tako might have been the most notable; everything was perfect about it. They had a pretty great variety of fish, and I can see why they’re listed as among the top places.
At the same time, while the sushi was noticeably better compared to other places that I like in the US, like 15 East or Urasawa, the sushi here didn’t taste like it was “miles ahead”. I could tell that it was better, but I think what this meal did was make me think about was how top sushiya in the US compare to top sushiya in Japan. I’ve had friends say that high-end sushi in Japan is “miles ahead” of high-end sushi in US, and I’m not sure if I agree with that… Of course, before thinking any further about this, I wanted to try Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi the next day to see how that compared to both Ginza Kyubey and the sushi places I love in the US.
The restaurant is pricey, but it’s a great place for the occasional splurge. I think it’s worth checking out!
Our chef was preparing the abalone appetizer for us here.