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!
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.)
Chef: Hirochi Shimada
September 17, 2013
I read about this restaurant while browsing around on Eater, and it became a must-try restaurant for me. The chef, Hirochi Shimada, used to be at Azabu Yukimura, a 3-star. He wanted to have his own restaurant and cook high-quality food for much more affordable prices, however. His solution to that was to open up a standing-only restaurant! There’s one main standing bar and a table that seats four.
The restaurant handles up to 14 at a time, and there’s one main standing counter and a table that seats four. There’s only a relatively small sign outside that says Shimada, and it’s a pretty hard-to-find restaurant. I can’t read any Japanese, so I kind of just walked around and opened the door, hoping that it would be the place hahaha. I got lucky, though, and found it on my first try (so maybe it’s not THAT hard to find)!
When I entered the restaurant, I realized that everyone spoke Japanese. They all kind of stared at me when I asked if there were any openings available. I got lucky in that someone there actually spoke English, though! He said that there was room, and I went to go stand next to him. His name was Jun, and he ended up helping me order for my entire meal. We ended up talking a lot during the meal, and we even shared a bunch of dishes. He even bought me dinner at the end (saying that it’s Japanese custom for the host to pay), and I have definitely got to buy him dinner next time!