Review: Ivy Inn

23 December 2018

I took a quick trip out of town just before Christmas, deciding to run down to Charlottesville overnight. I had a few places I wanted to visit, and I also wanted to grab a case of wine en route from Barboursville Winery. Traffic on the Sunday before Christmas was worse than I imagined, not helped by back-ups at exits near shopping malls. But once I cleared I-95 things were smooth sailing. A few stops later, including a quick stop at the fabulous Barbeque Exchange in Gordonsville, I got to C-town.

I had a few things to do there, as well as enjoy the excellent BBQ for lunch, so it was a busy afternoon. Eventually I had a chance to relax, as my dinner at the Ivy Inn was quite late — since I made the booking so late as this was essentially an unplanned last-minute trip.

I got to the Ivy Inn and immediately I started to regret this. At least 5 servers walked past me, ignoring me, as I waited at the host station. After a few minutes, one finally asked “have you been helped” and I dead-panned, “NO”… And they seemed annoyed to have to seat me. Sigh…you got a combination of holiday impatience and many of the students have left this college town (meaning many of the servers). This may be a bad sign…

I was seated upstairs and I relaxed. I ordered a negroni to get going, and it took awhile for it to arrive. A bit on the sweet side. And a very, very sad looking amuse that would symbolise the rest of the evening…

0-amuse

Sigh, that had to get me through a bit of waiting as the food certainly took awhile. Eventually it arrived, as well as a lukewarm glass of white…

zz

A dozen oysters from Tangier Island in the Chesapeake. Usually Virginia oysters are good, but these are ridiculously bland. If you close your eyes you may not know they’re oysters, that’s how bad they were. Were they frozen? And with the now rather warm wine, this is not a good start at all…

The service, although friendly, was certainly not efficient. And things are slooooow… I had another glass of the same wine, hoping they had chilled it more…no they didn’t. So I switched to yet another when my main course arrived, the Rag Mountain brook trout.

2-trout

Ugh…this was pretty bad. The flesh was ridiculously overcooked to a point it was like mush. And the tail was bone-inclusive, which is pretty weird. And of course, the body, which was de-boned, had bones everywhere. That’s all forgivable if the flesh was edible! MUSH!

I had enough. I asked for the bill and told my server about this. They took it off the bill to my protest, but they said it was policy. I guess this happens a lot? Not a good sign at all.

3-dessert

They comped me a dessert, but I took a few small bites and just left. Clearly eveyone else in this building right now is aching to leave themselves.

Sigh…not a great night at all…

Ivy Inn
2244 Old Ivy Road
Charlottesville, Virginia

* At least I managed to have a nice morning hike at Monticello…and hope it didn’t mean something negative. Last time I started a day with a morning hike at a presidential estate just happened to be Mount Vernon on Election Day 2016…and we all know what happened…

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I’ve Had Better Tempura in North America… (Review: Ten-Masa)

11 December 2018

I headed out to dinner this evening very melancholic. Today was completely non-productive, throw in a so-so lunch at Oryori Tsuji and it makes for a sad final full day here in Tokyo. I was tired too, and getting too grumpy.

Tonight’s dinner was at Ten-Masa, which is a bit of a hike to Naka-Meguro thanks to the headachy train changes whichever way I chose to go. I decided to get there via Roppongi, which was stupid as it’s the worst interchange…oh well… I got to Ten-Masa on-time and they provided me with an English menu also. A bit of sake, and we got going pretty soon. The final dinner…

This place is a tempura specialty place that has morphed into a kaiseki style restaurant, and somehow earned a Michelin star. I didn’t even notice that when I booked this place, as I thought the Michelin was for the tempura place of the same name (and not this place). In any case, it starts with kitchen items and the first up is a seafood dish.

01-hotate ikura

A nice combination of hotate (scallop) and ikura, a very Hokkaido-ish dish, all with jelly and lots of nice veggies from mountain yams to mushrooms. A pretty good start. A bit more sake and we have the soup dish.

02-soup crab

Lovely broth here, and the crab is good — but I am SO GLAD this is the last bit of crab I’ll have to eat for months. I can go for a long time without crab at this stage… Plus the vegetables, especially mushrooms, were top notch. And excellent dashi once again, it’s good to be back in Tokyo…

Things were moving at a good pace, which is surprising as this was a large counter with a big table, and it’s full, and everyone is off-synch. Next up is the sashimi dish…

03a-sashimi

One of the rare times I’ll say meh to a sashimi dish. The hirame (fluke) was so-so, the saba (mackerel) boring, and the marinated meguro (tuna) also boring. Sigh…perhaps they should stick to tempura? In any case, I saw them put together the larger dish and was very happy to see it in front of me. Quite an interesting selection here…

04a-big dish

Well, it was perhaps more visual than anything. There were some misses, like the ankimo (monkfish liver) which was very weak and the roast beef, which was pretty mediocre. However, some of it was excellent, like the karasumi (bottarga) and the shiokara (salted squid innards) — all condusive to more drinking, which I certainly did. Not bad, but perhaps it was more of a visual treat, like the so-so oyster and roe bowl and the uni and jelly bowl. But it did its job.

Now we get the reason why this set-up may not work, as every other diner is out of synch in a busy night. Chef didn’t seem ready to deal with things, and the large tables were taking up most of his time. Very poor kitchen management here, which should not be the case with a Michelin-starred restaurant. If I thought it was bad in places like Gion Kida in Kyoto and at Nishitenma Nakamura in Osaka, this was far, far worse…

In fact, there was a truly annoying 45-minute gap of nothing before the tempura series began. Ridiculous… And I obliged the long wait by NOT drinking, so they can’t cash in on their failings… I did a bit of a visual protest by just eating my grated daikon, and I think it registered… Eventually it began…

05-ebi

And I waited this long for this? A very poor ebi (shrimp) was presented, one of the worst pieces of shrimp tempura I’ve had — and that’s counting horrible stuff in the US. This was piss poor, I was beyond shocked…

06-ebi head

Then the head, which was far better, but still pretty poor. How can you claim a Michelin star as a tempura-centric place and FUCK UP THE SHRIMP? Sigh…another sign that the Michelin guide is a total joke, even in Japan… Then I think they noticed I was losing my patience, so the next few pieces came out relatively quickly.

07-haze

You have the haze (goby fish), not bad, much better than the shrimp disaster. Then lotus root…

08-lotus

Poorly done, the batter didn’t work here and it was sorely undercooked as the root took awhile to chew through as it was basically raw inside. That chewing took a bit longer than I thought…sigh… Then megochi (bigeye flathead)…

09-meguchi

Good piece, he seems to be doing thin fish very well, but anything more solid is a mess. Then things slow down a little again and we have shiitake…

10-shiitake

These are breaded with some ebi, and it was pretty good — though burning hot. Finally something that impressed me. Then kisu (whiting).

11-kisu

Again, the flat whitefish he does very well. Then we have leeks…

12-leek

Meh, nothing special, again should have either cooked it tad longer or sliced something thinner. The texture was messed up compared to the breading. Then finally the uni

13-uni

Well, it didn’t work. I’ll leave it at that. It did not work. Not at all. Oh, what a lame tempura segment, I’ve had better in the US — and that’s a hell of an indictment on this place…

Frankly I just wanted to get out of here, so angry this could be my last dinner in Japan and it being so rubbish. Then we have an a sesame tofu and abalone dish.

14-tofu awabi

Meh, poorly done. The sesame tofu was helped on by the sauce, but the awabi was utterly overcooked and lost all its flavour. Just piss poor stuff here… I just wanted to get the fuck out of here, but I know I need to finish this. They had asked which rice ending dish I wanted and I went with the tenchazuke (with broth)…

15a-tenchazuke

Nothing special, again it’s something I can get almost anywhere. I added more broth and finished it as soon as I could. Then the dessert…

16-dessert

One of the better items, pear and persimmon. But I’m done. I settled up quickly and just wanted to get out of here. What a shitty night to end this trip. Terrible kitchen management, and some piss poor items — including the ebi tempura. How can you fuck that up? Sigh…

This night just felt like Michelin was giving me the middle finger as I leave Japan.

Sigh…I’m done. I headed back to my hotel utterly frustrated. I can’t believe my final night is gonna end so shitty. Perhaps it’s for the best…the desire to return is far less with this crap experience. Oh well. Time to go…

Ten-Masa [天雅]
B1F, 3-16-13 Kamimeguro, Meguro-ku
Tokyo, Japan

* At least I had a wonderful nitecap at my “local” eating chicken skewers and drinking seaweed shochu until way past midnight…

** And, as tradition dictates, the next day my final meal in Japan is always at Zen in the basement floor adjacent to my hotel, and a nicely grilled mackereltok. At least the memory of my last meal will be good, especially compared to that cluster the night before…

Review: Oryori Tsuji

11 December 2018

I woke up this morning melancholic, as it is my final full day in Tokyo and Japan. With my future travel plans very uncertain, I just hope this isn’t my final full day in Japan forever, but that bleak thought stayed with me all day.

As it was the last full day, I had to get some last-minute stuff done. Lucky I have the memory of that wonderful dinner last night at Ichi — my “happy place” — to keep me fuelled for this busy final day…

Did a few things in the morning before I headed to lunch at Oryori Tsuji, a well-regarded kaiseki shop in Azabu-juban that has earned a Michelin star. I made it there and was seated at the counter. I relaxed with a drink and played around with one of the fluffiest hand towels I’ve ever seen…lol.

Soon the food started, first up was chawanmushi

01-chawanmushi

Oh this was excellent, perhaps the best chawanmushi of the trip. Lovely fish here, working so well with the delicate egg. Egg-celent! Sorry, that was uncalled for…perhaps due to the rather long wait for the next dish, which was an unpleasant surprise…

02-crab daikon soup

A nice soup dish here with crab and daikon. Lovely broth, and the daikon was excellent. I’ve just had about enough crab that I won’t touch the stuff for months after I get home, but it was good. Then after another long-ish pause, which is odd for a lunch course, we have the sashimi set…

03a-sashimi

Well, was it worth the wait? The main sashimi was mixed, from some so-so grilled sawara (Spanish mackerel) to good fugu to some fabulous meguro (tuna). The liver dish was quite good, but the pickle dish was a miss. The tuna was worth the wait but beyond that…

I am guessing this place runs on a slower pace, a huge contrast to how quickly I finished yesterday’s lunch at Totoya Uoshin. The next item is the grilled fish, and today it is tachiuo (scabbard fish).

04-tachiuo

I love this fish, and this was an excellent piece. I enjoyed this, but we’re now into our second hour — very slow for a lunch. I may have to alter my afternoon schedule because of this pace… Next up is a large selection of treats…

05-big plate

Some very delicious stuff here, the sardine with roe being the best alongside the karasumi (bottarga) and assorted vegetables. The namako (sea cucumber) wasn’t as good as usual. But overall quite a nice selection for sure, especially for lunch. I relaxed and suddenly remembered they were essentially doing the dinner course here, which is why things are moving slowly. Ah…oops. Next up, soba.

06-soba

I’m not a soba fan, as those who follow my Japan travels know. I generally do not like noodles unless they are Mediterranean, and I have a hatred for ramen, so this is probably lost on me. But generally not bad. Then next up, daikon.

07-daikon

The irony of this daikon is that it’s one of the best I’ve had all trip, about even as good as the one at Rikichi in Kyoto. Lovely and clean, beautiful texture. I guess it had a good trip from Kyoto! Then next up is another of my favourite items, buri (wild yellowtail).

08-buri

Meh, truly meh, what happened? It’s got no flavour. Perhaps the odd cooking of it caused it, but it really had none of the rich goodness buri usually has. What a letdown… Then next up is another dish that should be fabulous…

09-tongue

Well, it could have been… The starchy broth was fantastic, as was the burdock. However, the main ingredient, the wagyu tongue, was too rendered frankly, and it’s lost most of its flavour and unique texture. You may as well have some inferior meat instead. It all went into the starchy broth perhaps, but too bad as it was a missed opportunity. Sigh…

I was getting full, ad things were taking too long. I know I can’t make it out to Odaiba today now, damn… So as I waited to tried to figure out what else I can get done in my limited mid-afternoon as the final rice dish appeared.

10a-rice set

Nothing too special, the rice had something in it I couldn’t quite tell…is that cod roe? But it was so-so, nothing special. But it did signify the lunch was near an end. Apparently they had made more rice, and they asked if I wanted to take it with me, so I did.

11-rice cake

Then we have a 2-part dessert, first off a delicious sweet rice cake…

12-fruit

Then some fruits with a jelly sauce. Very nice. I always like to end with some fresh fruits. I thanked the staff, got my takeaway, and headed out the door. This was a pretty good lunch, with some highlights, but it took way too long (perhaps my fault for asking for the full dinner course) and scuppered my afternoon plans. Too many mediocre dishes tho, so can’t really recommend this place.

I headed out, realising I have way less time than I thought, so just decided to do some shopping nearby instead before I headed back to my hotel to pack up…

Oryori Tsuji [御料理 辻]
B1F, 3-3-9 Higashi-azabu, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan

Review #6: Ichi

10 December 2018

What I thought was gonna be a very busy afternoon heading to the south part of Tokyo didn’t happen, nor did the trek out to Odaiba. A few unexpected messages showed up right after lunch at Totoya Uoshin, and that had to be dealt with first. A curveball. So after sorting part of that mess out, with what little free time I had left I went to do some shopping.

I headed back to my hotel mid-afternoon to continue to deal with this headache of a curveball, but at least it was sorted out — for the time being. Good, as I was headed to dinner at my “happy place” in Tokyo, one of my favourite restaurants in the world, Ichi.

This eatery in Roppongi I’ve totally fallen in love with it. Chef Yuichi Tanaka is one of the best kaiseki chefs in Tokyo, but keeps flying under the radar for his humble approach to food. With the hospitality led by Takayo Noguchi, probably the friendliest server on the planet, this is truly my happy place. Last time I was here it was beyond spectacular

I was happy to say hi to everyone and returned to my now-usual counter seat. So comfortable…and that zen-ish music that keeps repeating in a Frippian loop… I’m back… I relaxed as the first of a many sake is brought out for me this evening

I was pleasantly surprised as they were getting busy very early tonight, with most of their table area full. I always tell people this place is so unheralded but deserves so much more attention, I’m glad they’re getting it. They retained their Michelin star, but I really think they deserve a second one. But after that Koryu disaster in Osaka, who knows how insane (or corrupt) the local Michelin assessment team is…

In any case, the dinner began with what’s a common winter dish — winter parsley from Chef Tanaka’s parents’ garden…

01a-winter parsley

I’ve become addicted to these things, they are so good. Because of how they freeze and thaw, they are extremely tender and delicious with bonito flakes. Just delicious. Next up, a tofu dish…

02a-tofu

The tofu is actually made with addition of shirako! Delicious and creamy, and all topped by a nice jelly made of bonito and vinegar. Excellent. I relaxed and had more sake as we move to the next dish, which is always the interesting large plate from Chef Tanaka…

03b-big dish

There’s so much on this plate it’s hard to describe. You have an amazing monkfish aspic, together with its liver (ankimo) that is just spectacular… Then you have a selection of veggies from eggplant to sweet potato to arrowhead root. Even a persimmon and sake lees roll with home-made cream cheese. And a beautiful smoked kasube (stingray) wing that is just fantastic…

Had a rare conversation with Chef Tanaka about the smoking of the ray wing, I think I caught most of it. Then we have the sashimi dish…

04a-sashimi

Lovely selection once again. The saba (mackerel) with mustard was excellent, the kuromutsu (black gnomefish) was delicious, the kinmedai (goldeneye snapper) quite good, the fugu quite nice, and the aori-ika (big-fin squid) fabulous. Fresh and lovely stuff! Loving this dinner as usual!

The place is now booming, I’ve never seen this place so busy before. That’s excellent, though everyone is now working flat out. With more sake, next up was some grilled sawara (Spanish mackerel).

05a-sawara

A few versions of this all trip, and this was the best. Chef Tanaka chose not to use miso like some of the other excellent versions, and this one was the most true. You get the essence of the rich fish so nicely in this clean method. Awesome. Then we have a shirako-filled roll…

06b-harumaki

This harumaki (spring roll) is excellent, fried to perfection, filled with delicious shirako and even some apple and shiso leaves. Delicious, will make you think twice about that dodgy egg roll you eat for lunch… Next up they start setting up the shabu set, and I know what’s coming.

One of chef’s specialties is kue (longtooth grouper) shabu, and I reckon we have it again…

07b-kue

The fish is just lovely, quickly cooked in the lovely soup…

07d-soup

Eventually after all the wonderful kue is consumed, we get to enjoy the broth…mmm… At this point I know we’re approaching the end, and that’s a bit sad as I’m loving this evening again. But I also know what’s coming.

Those of you who have read my earlier reviews of Ichi knows that I’m always raving about Chef Tanaka’s burnt rice. He does it perfectly, so it’s crunchy and delicious and full of flavour — without ruining the rice. The burnt parts work as a wonderful extra treat. And for today’s rice? Nodoguro!

Yep, the black-throat perch, my favourite fish in the world. So good…just look at this rice…

08b-rice

So tasty, I kept eating until the entire bowl was done, 3 happy helpings… So good, I can keep eating it.

08a-rice

That oily nodoguro infused itself into the rice to create this amazing flavour…oh my… So happy!

With a bit more booze, we then have the dessert…

09a-dessert

A delicious almond milk jelly with pear sauce, alongside some persimmons. Excellent, the kind of dessert I like. Such a lovely end to a wonderful dinner. This evening once again re-affirms why Ichi is one of my favourite restaurants in the entire world. There’s nowhere else that I feel so good in Japan, from the comfortable and wonderful hospitality by Ms Noguchi and the fabulous and solid cooking of Chef Tanaka. So good…

Unfortunately I was in a bit of a rush as I had to get to the other side of Roppongi to meet a friend for some drinks, so I thanked them all and headed out — hoping to be able to come back again. I know if I manage to get back to Tokyo again I will for sure return to this place as a priority!

As always, heavily recommended!

Ichi [いち]
7-10-30 Roppongi, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan

* A good evening drinking and chatting with a friend at Cask Strength closed off what is an excellent evening…too few of these nights these days…

Review #2: Totoya Uoshin

10 December 2018

Into my third week on this trip, I am indeed tired. And I’m suddenly not sleeping well, like I’m getting hit with a second jetlag. I’m grumpy and tired, I’m actually glad to be heading home in a few days… Last night’s dinner at Sushisho Masa was excellent, but still I feel weary.

I had a few things to do in the morning before I headed to lunch, this day at one of my favourite kaiseki places — Totoya Uoshin. I’ve been here several times before (albeit reviewed only once), and I really like this shop. Solid cooking and good ingredients, not sure why it’s not more popular.

Never done lunch here before, but when I showed up they gave me my now-usual seat at the right end of the counter and I think chef recognised me. I happily chose the longer lunch course and relaxed with a sake before the opener arrived…

01a-salad set

A nice salad and some nibbles, notably a rather kawaii baby daikon and a tasty karasumi (bottarga). Good start, though that karasumi made me drink my sake a bit faster than usual for lunch. Next up was some sashimi, which I know is always good here.

02-sashimi

I think coming at 11.30am was a little early as they may still be getting ready. They could have started to prep the fish a little earlier as it was tad cold. The hirame (fluke) was okay, but the engawa (fin) was lovely. The kinmedai (goldeneye snapper) was good, as was the meguro (tuna). Solid, but I wish it was just a tad warmer… Then we have the soup, which is definitely warm…

03a-soup

A delicious broth with a tasty meatball. Again, this made me think, why were so many of the broths in Osaka and Kyoto so weak? The meatball was a treat, as was the shiitake. Nice stuff. Then next up, buri (wild yellowtail).

04-buri

Oh my this is delicious. I love buri in any case, but this grilled version was spectacular. Perfect texture, none of the oily goodness is lost here. Flavour intense yet mellow, hard to describe. Awesome. I had more sake and then we have the stewed dish.

05-stewed dish

Well, today’s version is cold, which is interesting. The daikon was good, as was the tofu skin and eggplant. The dashi was excellent, but I still find it odd that it’s cold. A twist, that’s for sure. But as this was lunch, the course was coming to an end, and we have the rice set.

zz

Or is it just rice? Yeah…it’s plain rice with pickles. A bit anti-climactic, but it is lunch and the price reflects a simple lunch. I just wish there was a little something since the rice is very moist and it really needed something more than the pickles (which works well with drier rice). Plus there wasn’t enough of the pickles, oh well… Then dessert…

07a-dessert

Black bean pudding, quite nice. A solid lunch I’ll say. I thanked the staff and headed out the door. Not one of the better meals here, but that’s because it’s lunch. Next time (I hope there’s a next time) I’ll come back again for dinner. Always recommended.

Now to get going on a very busy afternoon…

Totoya Uoshin [とゝや 魚新]
5-1-34 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan

Review #4: Sushisho Masa

9 December 2018

I needed a chilled out afternoon, after getting back to Tokyo from Matsuyama earlier. Rushed to lunch at Ginza Katsukami, which wasn’t bad at all. Dealt with various trip-related issues as this long East Asia trip is drawing to a close now in its third week…

I broke Tokyo up into two parts, as usual, and tonight my dinner destination is one of my favourite sushi-ya in town, one that I visit nearly every trip, Sushisho Masa. I’ve had so many good nights here over the years, the last one just in March was rather memorable. I’m hoping for another wonderful evening, as this the last sushi meal for this trip — and likely the last sushi meal I’ll have for a long, long while…

I got there and they were surprised, because my hotel apparently made my booking without my full name — so they were happy to see a familiar face back (albeit at first confused because of the thick beard I now sport). I sat in the cramped counter space and as everyone was there for the 6pm seating, we got started immediately with some tako (octopus).

01-tako

Hmmm, not as good as usual, very bland. Texture fine, but just tasted very boring. Then we have kawahagi (thread-sail filefish) — and then its liver wrapped around the body.

02c-kawahagi set

Fabulous, this is why I come to Sushisho Masa because of how they show off not just the finest cuts of the fish, but many different aspects of the same creature. Excellent. Sorry for the bad photo, I was trying to do it too quick this evening… Then next up, engawa (fin).

03-engawa

A nice treat, I always like this cut of a fish. Then we move into the clams, first with akagai (surf clam).

04-akagai

Delicious, I can’t get this in the US, this version is so tender with the way Chef Masa prepares it. Then a dual tasting of mirugai (geoduck).

05a-mirugai

Fabulous again, a very tender sashimi and then grilled. I love this contrast in texture and taste, again a key reason I keep visiting this shop. Then some ebi (shrimp)…

06-amaebi

A touch of its roe to bring the raw shrimp out, excellent. Then we have tsubugai (whelk).

07-tsubugai

Excellent, few places do this right. It’s not too soft, not too hard, very meaty. Excellent stuff once again. Then we have some saba (mackerel) from Aomori…

08-saba

Oh this is just lovely, amazing flavours here. I love mackerel to death, and this was just about perfect. so far things are fabulous once again. Then we revisit tsubugai, but it’s liver…

09-tsubugai kimo

Excellent, I love how they bring out the innards of the fish, it’s mouth-to-tail eating ocean-style that’s for sure. Tasty treat. Then we have shirako

10-tako shirako

It’s actually from octopus! Excellent stuff, tho a bit on the salty side…careless seasoning here. At this point I also noticed Chef Masa seems to be in a foul mood this evening, a little less chatty, a bit angry towards some of his staff. Hmmm. In any case, the rice comes out and the nigiri segment is starting. first up, a duo of sawara (Spanish mackerel).

11a-sawara

Not one of the better pieces, pretty mild, perhaps this is one of those things I just like better grilled – like the belly, which was far better. But still missed. Odd. Then we have uni.

12-uni

Excellent, lovely and creamy. Then we have some roe from the karei (flounder).

13-karei roe

Not bad, but not as good as the one from yesterday at Shiki. Then next up, ankimo

14-ankimo

Oh dear this was fantastic…so good. Even better than the one from Sushi Ino the other day, amazing stuff. Would happily give up foie if I can keep eating this… Fabulous… Then we have some cod shirako.

15-shirako

A nice portion, pretty good. Consistent, which is something I’ve seen problems with all trip with the grilling. Next up, kodai (snapper).

16a-kodai

Not bad, not one of my favourite fish in this family, but not bad, especially the second piece with its innards. Then kuromutsu (black gnomefish) grilled…

17-kuromutsu

Delicious, don’t see this too often, so I enjoy it when I get it. Then shiro-ika (cuttlefish) and its tentacle…

18a-shiro-ika

Nice, the body is sashimi and the tentacle is lightly grilled. Then one of the apprentices brings out tairagai (pen-shell clam) wrapped in a nori. I’m not gonna show the photo here because 90% of the pix is of my hand. But it was again on the salty side. Whoever is back grilling things is over-seasoning things…maybe a good reason for Chef Masa to be cross all evening? Then we have sayori (halfbeak).

20-sayuri

Okay, nothing too special, about as good as the one at Sushi Ino the other night in Matsuyama. Then we have the brain of amaebi (prawn)…

21-amaebi brain

I always love this, so good… Then more crab…

22-crab

I may have seen too much crab on this trip, but if it all looked like this I’ll take it. Lovely flesh, roe, innards. Just excellent. Then we have a tasting of buri (wild yellowtail).

23a-buri inner

Proper yellowtail, not like the farmed hamachi you usually get. The first piece is from the inner part of the buri, and it’s bloody good. The second piece is from the outer part, and is wrapped. Fabulous. The third is from that “bloody” part you get from the slices, grilled. Fabulous. An excellent trio for sure. Then we have a surprise…

24-abura bozu

I thought I heard them say abura bozu, which can’t be right because that’s the dreaded escolar — and this doesn’t look (nor taste) like escolar. But the Swedish apprentice said grouper, so is it hata? I cannot figure this out… But it certainly doesn’t taste like escolar…

In any case, we have another duo here, this time katsuo (bonito)…

25a-katsuo

The smoked one is quite nice, it’s the most smoked fish in Japan for sure. Then the same fish but raw. Again, a wonderful contrast in texture and flavour. Nice. Then a total surprise, akamanbo (moonfish)…

26-akamanbo

I was confused at first until I figured out it’s opah! So good, nicely grilled. Haven’t had good opah in years… One of the rare ones that I didn’t know the English nor the Japanese name — but cleared up once I heard the Hawaiʻian name! Love this stuff… Then we go back to earth with kohada (gizzard shad).

27-kohada

It always seems obligatory — does anyone *really* like kohada? In any case, it usually follows the tuna segment, but not here, as Chef Masa never emphasises the tuna here. Anyway, next up, which helps my sake consumption, is karasumi (bottarga).

28-karasumi

Nice, not too mild, but not too strong. Helps with the drinking as I said. This leads into the tuna segment, first up chu-toro

29-chutoro

Not bad, though I don’t come here for the tuna. Next up, o-toro

30-otoro

Surprised, not always you get this here, but I’m not a big fan of how it’s sliced here. Doesn’t let us get the full taste of it. Then some tzuke akami (marinated lean)…

31-tzuke

Good piece, but again I’m not here for the tuna. Next we return to the akamanbo with a raw piece.

32-akamanbo

Nice stuff, I do miss eating opah so much… so ʻono… Then we have grilled kamasu (barracuda).

33-kamasu

Excellent, I love this fish when it’s grilled like this. Made me remember how I was “cheated” out of it at that horrible Michelin rip-off joint Koryu in Osaka… Excellent piece. Then we have amaebi (prawn).

34-amaebi

Not bad. We had its brain earlier, which was the treat. Then we return to katsuo (bonito) from earlier and have the belly.

35-katsuo belly

Since the bonito is closely related to tuna, the belly was certainly a treat. We so seldomly get it, so good. Then my favourite fish in the world, nodoguro (black throated perch).

36-nodoguro

Seared, darn good. I love this fish, so rich and good. It’s one of those I can eat forever… Then we have the (brainless) head of the earlier prawn…

37-ebi head

Mmm… Good stuff. Then I smell eel, so I guess we are nearing an end. Goodness this is running long too, as it was past 8.30pm. It was a little more chaotic than normal today, adding a moody chef. The eel then appears…

38-eel

As usual, one with sauce and one with sea salt. Both excellent. Then they made 2 sets of maki…

39a-maki

I guess these are good at filling you up, but not sure why they came. In any case, I was quite full, we’ve had a lot — I mean a LOT — of food. And you can see them trying to reset for the 9pm seating at this point, but brought out a little more food. First, a surprise — nishin (herring).

40-nishin

I guess the Swedish apprentice, who I always enjoy chatting with, has left an influence on Chef Masa. Excellent, so rarely served, I love it. And finally, we return to nearly the beginning with kawahagi (thread-sail filefish) topped with its innards…

41-kawahagi

They were clearly running low on time, so unless we asked they didn’t give us the usual tamago — but gave us this instead…

42-ikura

A nice ikura bowl, a nice final item. A bit of a mad rush to get everyone settled up and out, as they had less than 10 minutes to clean up and prep for the next seating. So I obliged and headed out quickly. So nice to feel that cold air outside as it’s usually quite warm inside…especially after eating 50+ pieces of sushi…

Of all my trips here, this may have been the weakest evening. Some mediocre pieces, whoever was doing the grilling in the back was over-seasoning things, and Chef Masa wasn’t in his happiest mood, especially in chewing out some of his staff in full view (which you don’t see often in Japan). In fact, he wasn’t very pleasant at all… But even on a weak night, Sushisho Masa is one of the best sushi-ya in Tokyo and thus the world. The variety is always mind-blowing, the volume is always extremely high, the quality always excellent, and you get that amazing contrast with different pieces that makes you think about each of the creatues you consume.

I took the slow public bus back towards my hotel, a nice relaxing way to go back. I enjoyed this evening as always, and this will always be one of my favourite sushi shops in the world. Saying this after a relatively weak night tells you something.

So darn recommended…

Sushisho Masa [すし匠 まさ]
B1F, 4-1-15 Nishi-azabu, Minato-ku
Tokyo, Japan

* And again, to show how fucking ridiculous Koryu was, this whole dinner, with 50+ pieces, cost just more than HALF of that joke in Osaka

Review: Ginza Katsukami

9 December 2018

My Matsuyama stay was too short, but I had to rush back to Tokyo. Still remembering that amazing dinner at Shiki…what a surprise! An uneventful flight which involved being at the airport too early again (90min…it is a domestic flight), I got back to hectic Haneda on a busy Sunday and fought my way on the trains to my home-away-from-home, the Park Hotel Tokyo and the unmistakeable view

After checking in and sorting out a few things quickly, I headed out the door as I had a late lunch booking in nearby Ginza. I walked out there through the sea of people, having forgotten that the main Ginza Road is pedestrianised for the day. Evading Chinese tourists (who flood Ginza) is an art, and I soon arrived at my lunch destination, Ginza Katsukami.

Ever since I had that terrible lunch at my previous devotedly-visited temple of porcine goodness Butagumi, my soul had yearned for more pork goodness. Of course the grilled items in Osaka at Tayutatu was excellent, but I miss the amazing katsu. I was on a search to replace Butagumi, so I tried a new katsu place for the first time, and this place is a bit higher class…

I got a counter seat and relaxed with a beer. A bit stiff, and I noticed most of the customers were Chinese today. The Ginza effect… In any case, I chose the larger course, and it soon started with a twist.

cabbage

Cabbage is usual for the tonkatsu meal, but this oddly had dressing. I kind of like my cabbage traditional… And some pickles with the rice. It was a little while before things started moving, as this was a course meal style lunch, and I’ve seen what has come out for other folks, so I was kind of excited. Soon the chef turned his attention to me and we started…

01-tenderloin

First up 2 slices of hire (tenderloin). Cooked perfectly, excellent juicy pork. But I got far more excited with the second duo…

02-fatty rosu

Oh this fatty rosu (loin) was so good…almost old Butagumi good… Just melts in your mouth goodness here, I so miss this! But it was also here I so wish we had unadulterated cabbage…so I ate more rice than usual… Next up another beauty…

03-shoulder loin

This is a shoulder loin cut, very similar to what we got at Butagumi. Another excellent serving here. I’m really liking this lunch so far! Then we have the edge piece…

04-edge

Oh delicious, this is so rich and nice! Have I found a replacement for Butagumi? Perhaps not, as the next item — which chef bruskly said was the last — was a total miss…

05-mince

Minced pork patty…sigh. I heard some places specialise in this type of tonkatsu but this is a total miss for me. Total miss. And the course is done… A little anti-climactic end to what could have been excellent.

Anyway, the feel of this place is a little weird. I almost wish I was at Butagumi again, and having a fabulous set or two — before they turned into a tourist trap… But at least we got a nice dessert…

06-shaved ice

Shaved ice, and we got to pick the flavour. I went with milk tea. Delicious. I settled up and thanked them as I headed out into the streets of Ginza again. A so-so lunch, with some amazing pieces, but also a big dud at the end. Portion wasn’t as big as a full tonkatsu order, partly due to that big piece of mince at the end. And it was stiff and awkward.

Oh well, the search continues…

Ginza Katsukami [銀座かつかみ]
5F, 5-6-10 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan