31 January 2014,
When this unexpected trip to Asia was being planned, I thought…hmm, why not drop in on the former sushi master of NYC, Naomichi Yasuda, in his new digs. After all, I had a horrible experience at his former restaurant Sushi Yasuda in late December that swore me off what was my favourite sushi haunt…
I made a booking before I left the US and looked forward to reuniting with Yasuda. It’s been over 5 years since I was at his station in the aforementioned NYC restaurant. I had gotten to the area by train a little early so dropped into a small Spanish winebar and enjoyed myself before getting to Sushi Bar Yasuda. The place was in the basement of an office building, much like many of the top sushi places in Tokyo.
I walked down into the small, 8-seat restaurant and saw Yasuda already hard at work with his customers, joking happily. He looked tremendously happy to be working by himself behind the counter and laughing with his guests — which were all foreign. His English, he tells me, is both a plus and minus; he gets plenty of foreign guests (especially from NYC and after a recent Anthony Bourdain programme), but he is shunned by most Japanese (for the English language signs and so forth).
Not sure if Yasuda remembered me, it’s been awhile, but when I mentioned my favourite item from his previous menu, I saw a little glimmer… It wasn’t available, but he said he’d do something good for my sushi omakase. And he was bloody right about that…
The opening piece was buri, or wild yellowtail. Rich, unlike the farmed stuff we all usually get, proclaimed Yasuda. BTW be forewarned, I have photographed all 20+ pieces of this omakase…
The rich buri was followed by a smooth piece of bluefin, hon-maguro, excellent counterbalance to the previous. Yasuda was also telling the customers as he made different items for different parties, about the fish, the sourcing, and more. He is really enjoying his role as story-teller, much more chatty than before. Maybe it was just how relaxed he looked and how me seems to enjoy this place?
Next was a “chilly” trout…no idea what this is in Japanese, but it’s a specialty and quite hard to get. It was indeed rich and nice, not overwhelming. The balance has been good so far.
Fourth up was a sweet piece of Hokkaido scallop. Fresh, fabulous taste. Nothing like fresh Hokkaido scallop when you’re just one island away…
Next was a nice piece of mackerel, one of my favourites. Yasuda knows I love saba and this was a solid and rich piece of the oily fish. Mmm… Balances well with the previous sweet shellfish.
Sixth was a beautiful piece of o-toro, not extreme, but fancifully fatty. Rich and luscious, I actually prefer o-toro to chu-toro. Excellent.
Lucky number seven remains with the oily fishes as he moved to a lesser-used sushi item, the sardine. This piece of iwashi was rich as well, just what I liked. He knows what types of fish I enjoy!
Then we move onto the halfbeak, or sayori, another fish you don’t get too often outside of Japan. Cool, smooth tasting. Yasuda was on fine form laughing and telling stories, now moving onto one about Bourdain when some guests from Singapore asked about it. He really is loving the banter!
Next was one of my favourites, anago. Yasuda was one of the first in NYC to not use eel sauce and just simple sea salt, and I love it like that. You taste the good eel, not the sauce hiding cheap eel. Mmm…
The follow-on switches gears a bit as he starts challenging me with pairs of different types of same items. First was a brilliant oyster. I wish I had taken down the names of these types of oysters, but this one was slightly briny but very plump. Excellent stuff.
Then it was the first of two uni. This one was rich, much like we were used to. Then he gave me the other:
Wow. This one, sourced further north (not sure if it was still Japan or into Russia), was more deep and sharp, less creamy but far more complex in a different way. Blown away here…
Then back to another oyster. This one was really plump, with a bit more brininess about it, but also rich as anything. Mmm…loving this meal!
By now, over half-way done, we were having fun. The sake was flowing quickly for me, Yasuda was very chatty. I won’t reveal what he said about NYC especially after what I told him about my last experience at his former abode, but I came out of this smiling and lauging, knowing there’s no need to go back to that place in Midtown again…
Next up was the bream. I think it was the red bream, but I am not sure. I’m not good with breams. Usually not one of my favourites, but this was a flavourful and strong piece that I really enjoyed.
Following this was a departure. Yasuda was telling us about the very rare nori he acquired, usually not used for sushi because of its quality, so he wanted to show it off. This is a ikura handroll. He cures the roe himself so it’s not crazy salty, and I told him it was his old place that I fell in love with ikura again because of the salting. The nori was, indeed, fantastic.
Next was the white shrimp. A hint of sweetness, but it carried itself very well. I am not an ebi eater usually for sushi as so often you get inferior ones (even fully raw), but this was quite fresh and excellent.
Following this soft item was something with a harsher texture, squid tentacles. A beautiful presentation, this is always one of my favourite items on the menu when I can get it. Solid stuff!
We move next to the spider crab, which is quite nice. Always wonderful to taste the fresh and richness from these creatures. And by now we are moving to the ending of the meal…sadly…
Yasuda brought out these brilliant tuna scallion rolls to focus on the fantastic nori and his excellent rice (sourced from his brother-in-law). I’m not a roll guy as my readers know, but these were a nice ending…or was it?
Yasuda was still on top form as the place emptied out a bit towards the end of service. I was still having fun and had plenty of sake left, so teased a few more out of him at this point…
We revisited the buri and the bream here, excellent juxtaposition of different ends of the sushi fish spectrum. Nice. And as Yasuda began the cleaning up process, he made me my final parting gift:
Mmm…a battle of clams. I love the differences in these bivalves, the texture and the flavour deep inside. Mmm, Yasuda knows what I like! He was nearly done cleaning the main sushi area, and I was done with the sake, so it was pretty much time to take my leave.
Shockingly this dinner was less expensive than a similar one in his old NYC place. It would have been doubled. Yasuda here charges a very reasonable price for his omakase, almost too reasonable. I’ve had lunches as expensive at his old haunt…
I headed out into the cool night very happy, having seen an old friend and master at work again (never thought I’d see him again), enjoying a spectacular omakase with excellent seafood. Oh, it’s nights like this that makes me fall in love with Tokyo…
Sushi Bar Yasuda Omakase:
1. wild yellowtail (buri)
2. bluefin (hon-maguro)
3. “chilly” trout (masu)
4. Hokkaido scallop (hotate)
5. mackerel (saba)
7. sardine (iwashi)
8. halfbeak (sayori)
9. eel (anago)
10. oyster #1 (kaki)
11. uni #1
12. uni #2
13. oyster #2
14. bream, red? (madai?)
15. ikura roll
16. white shrimp (ebi)
17. squid tentacles (geso)
18. hairy crab (kani)
19. tuna scallion roll
*20. wild yellowtail
*22. red clam (akagai)
*23. giant clam (mirugai)
Sushi Bar Yasuda
4 Chome-2-6 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku