It amazes me the amount of restaurants that exist within Tokyo, and even more-so in Japan, is staggering. What’s even more surprising is that most, if not all restaurants I’ve had the pleasure of dining at in Japan have been above average at the very minimum. I will boldly say that I’ve never had a bad meal in Japan. I chalk this up to the immaculate care given to food and the usage of quality ingredients. The Japanese culture seems to be a one which emphasizes the importance of perfection due to their attention to detail. If you’ve been to Japan, you would notice the very detailed fake food displays; most times, the food will look exactly as it is represented outside of the restaurant. In addition to the importance of serving only the best, some restaurants even go further than that as to limit the amount of dishes that will be served for the day to keep their quality control in order.
Sushi Sho is one of those restaurants; that is to say, only at lunch time and only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dinner prices hover around the average 20,000 to 30,000 Yen range ($200-$300) respectively for Omakase which is typical pricing of higher tier Sushi-ya’s. However, the lunch at this hidden gem is an absolute steal. The Bara-Chirashi Don can be had for 1500 Yen ($15) and contains the same ingredients, albeit in smaller diced pieces on a bed of rice. The most interesting part of this is the fact that there are only 20 available Bara-Chirashi Don’s made for lunch on the days it is available. This means that due to the seating arrangement of the restaurant, only the first two seatings at lunch time are able to order it.
Moving on, what might be even more interesting however, is the fact that Sushi Sho is headed by the famous (in Japanese regards) Keiji Nakazawa. Many of his apprentices went on to open their own restaurants as well; most of which seem to keep intact the Sushi Sho name (Sushi Sho Masa, Sushi Sho Shingo and Sushi Sho Saito come to mind) while ones like Sushiko decided to forego the similar naming scheme. If you’ve never heard of him, he was the competitor on Iron Chef Japan who faced off against Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in Battle Sushi. In addition to that, he was highly touted by the very famous Japanese actor Naoto Takenaka at his appearance on Kitchen Stadium. Nakazawa-san’s traditional Edomae Style Zushi was put to the test against Morimoto’s most famed, fusion influenced cooking. In the end, Morimoto took the crown. I didn’t find this decision particularly fair as trying to compare traditional and non-tradional style Sushi doesn’t provide a clear basis of judgement. Nakazawa-san stuck to his own agenda and stayed true to what he knows well and what hasn’t changed much since the Edo period, traditonal Edomae Style; Morimoto on the other hand, was able to get creative in his own interpretation of Sushi which brought together elements from American and French influences. Not a fair battle frankly but I’m sure Nakazawa-san has no hard feelings after all these years.
Keiji Nakazawa apprenticed at the famous Kyubei (1 Michelin Star) in Ginza before opening up his own shop Sushi Sho (Sho being his sons first name) in Yotsuya. Sushi Sho seems to have noteriety in other ways as well. Shinji Nohara (also known by the nick name, the Tokyo Fixer) noted in his interview with CNN that Keiji Nakazawa kicked out Michelin researchers when they visited because they lacked knowledge and were rude. Au at Chubby Hubby seems to have got the true story from Nakazawa-san however. It seems that after dining at Sushi Sho, a Michelin inspector introduced himself with the intent of including Sushi Sho in the Michelin guide. However, over the course of four visits, Nakazawa-san grew more and more annoyed by this fellow fueled by his utter ignorance and eventually told him that he knew nothing about Sushi despite working for the Michelin guide. Ever since then, the Michelin inspector and the guide has since snubbed Sushi Sho by not including them in the yearly guide.
Like most restaurants in Tokyo, whether cheap or expensive, Sushi Sho is located off in a non-descript street with no real signage so you will need to look carefully if you plan to find it. Sushi Sho opens for lunch at 11am but if you want to be guaranteed one of the twenty available Bara Chirashi Don’s of the day, I’d suggest coming earlier.
I came at 10:30am expecting noone else in the line but was surprised to see two older women already lining up. As it reached 11am, the lineup of three included myself became a lineup of 10 with a mix of older ladies, salarymen, University students and myself, the lone foreigner. At exactly 11am, one of the apprentices appeared from behind the doors and ushered the ladies in first. After a few seconds, he came back out. At this moment, I was a bit worried the people in the lineup had reservations. Knowing this, I discreetly told the man that I had no reservations and whether it would be fine. He nodded with confidence saying that reservations weren’t required and welcomed me inside.
Once inside, the bright lights and immaculate setting of counter were mezmorizing sight; from the perfectly aligned table settings to the spotless table, everything was elegant. Behind the counter, stood six itamae’s overlooking the bar while all quietly preparing for the lunch service in quiet unison with the stone-faced Nakazawa-san hard at work beside all of them. Promptly before sitting down, my jacket was taken and hung; this was definitely a surprise to me as this was the first restaurant in Japan I’ve been to, no-less a Sushi-ya, that has ever taken my jacket. This in turn spoke a lot about Sushi Sho’s service.
The environment in itself, was very serious but a delight to observe. The finesse and intense concentration exibited by Nakazawa-san and his crew made me appreciate food that much more. Though Nakazawa-san was all business during the lunch service, he loosened up and seemed especially approachable when the final Chirashi went out. He seemed happy to share his knowledge of aging to the salaryman sitting next to me when he inquired about the Saba contained within the Bara-Chirashi Don.
Moving on to the bar, there sat immaculately transparent fish boxes where the seafood being used for the day were stored; everything from the Ikura to the aged Maguro sitting underneath carefully placed pieces of wax paper could be seen with uninhibited detail.
There was no menu to speak of at lunch time nor at dinner time and there was obviously no need for one. The only choice at lunch is the limited Bara-Chirashi Don which I waited patiently for with delightful intent.
The Tsukemono that came before the meal was excellent as well. The Takuan was nice and crunchy while the Gari was fresh.
Accompanying the Bara-Chirashi Don was the Asari Misoshiru which was excellent.
The Bara-Chirashi Don was excellent and had a wide variety of seafood and vegetables included within it. The Saba, Maguro and Ikura were the stars of the dish which were beautifully complemented by the fluffy slices of Tamago. Nakazawa-san is known for his use of aging (most notably in his Maguro). Another surprise came from the very soft Tako. Often, Tako isn’t properly prepared or leading to it being very chewy and sometimes, retaining too much water. Seeing Umi Budo in a Chirashi was also interesting; being a natively Okinawan ingredient, I’ve yet to see it in most of the Sushi-ya’s I’ve visited. Moving on-to the rice, it was a perfect lukewarm temperature and was just the right consistency. Overall, this was by far, worth the short wait. This was the best Chirashi I’ve ever had and the limited nature of it, makes it that much more special.
Though I wasn’t able to dine at Sushi Sho for dinner, the lunch is an extremely good value for someone that is money conscious. Aside from that, the level of service here, even at lunch, is simply amazing for a Sushi-ya. Nakazawa-san does all the right things at Sushi Sho; combine this with the excellent and carefully prepared ingredients, Sushi Sho just might be one of the best lunches I’ve ever had. I just hope to one day experience Sushi Sho’s exquisite dinner which is reportly a two hour affair with 30+ pieces that contains a wide variety of Sushi and atypical Sushi-ya fare. If you decide to give Sushi Sho a try, the only advice I can give you is to make reservations or get there early.