Sushi Royalty: Eating at Japan’s Best Sushi Spots

Eating at Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi, Kanesaka, Mizutani, and Sawada and living to tell the story

Our contributor takes the sushi tour of a lifetime.

In a number of ways, Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi offers the least jolting of an environment relative to the Westernized sushi experience. The room is slightly larger and less cramped (relatively speaking) than many of the other sushi-ya and there is a bit more color in the various accoutrement. It is the only establishment in the group where the sushi bar itself is not wood. Meanwhile, Takashi-san, who is the younger of Jiro Ono’s two sons, may not be entirely comfortable with English, but his underling certainly was. Should you speak Japanese, Takashi-san will willingly engage you in conversation, particularly if the topic is sushi etiquette. The fish at Jiro has a noticeably familiar tonality and is certainly top-flight. The uni is spectacularly brilliant and the shari bathed in vinegar (which is a point of contention in sushi circles).

Whether you prefer this style or not might be the ultimate determination of your enjoyment. But beyond the vinegar levels employed, perhaps the most distinctive aspect to the Jiro experience was the cutting of the fish. Takashi-san’s hands move swiftly and with meticulous precision and what he produces is easily some of the most elongated pieces of nigiri, at times approaching an index finger’s length. Still, with no detail unturned, the platform for the fish gold is high enough up that getting underneath the nigiri is not a problem.

The experience at Sushi Kanesaka might be best defined by the surroundings. That’s not to say that the sushi itself is not exquisite. The quality is on par with the best bites offered by anyone in the court. While the rice is a bit more firm and the vinegar imparted upon it is akazu-based, a divergence from what’s to be found elsewhere, the quality of the fish combined with the balance of the composition creates a series of wonderful bites. It helps that Sanpei-san, the lead itamae, shares Shinji-san’s renowned affability and is amazingly adroit with a sashimi hocho.

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Yet even more intriguing is the industry of it all. Shinji Kanesaka has had to build a system that can perform in his absence. The 14-seat restaurant is easily the most cramped of those visited. The sushi bar actually wraps a giant wood box, ensconced in the center as if to imply there’s some treasure hidden within its walls. That’s not far from the truth, as the kitchen is stashed there. As several servers slink through the narrow chasm, claustrophobia seems inevitable but is nowhere to be found. The mean level of English spoken at Kanesaka is higher than any of the other sushi-yas; although, fluent conversation is still a bit unrealistic. For those unfamiliar in the ways of the sushi-ya, this alone might give Kanesaka the most appeal.