Sushi Saito, TokyoTweet
Sushi Saito is one of the eleven restaurants in Tokyo to be given three Michelin stars in 2010. Monday Flying’s resident food writer, Jingwen, shares his experience at Sushi Saito and why this unassuming sushi restaurant is, as described by the Michelin guide, “worth a special journey”.
Why is Tokyo-based Sushi Saito a 3 star Michelin restaurant? Monday Flying gives you a complete review.
My friend helps me to place a call from Singapore through to Sushi Saito for a dinner reservation in May. As expected, it is packed months in advance: For the period I will be in Tokyo, Sushi Saito has only one evening slot at 6pm. Of course, I snapped up the available reservation slot.
I’m walking around the Jidousha Kaikan building which Sushi Saito is housed, but I can’t find it! Having already circled the building for about 3 times and asking several people on the street, I really am about to give up since it’s getting late.
Luckily, I manage to grab hold of a helpful policeman who finally gives me the right directions to Sushi Saito.
I finally understand why it was so hard to find. Sushi Saito is not located at the side of the building and cannot be accessed like a normal restaurant: the entrance to the corridor where Sushi Saito is located is halfway up the carpark ramp!
Here is a step by step guide from street side to Sushi Saito’s door step:
Step 1: This is the entrance of the carpark.
Step 2: Make your way through the driveway of the carpark, note the door from which the lady is exiting.
Step 3: When you turn into that doorway, you will see the entrance of Sushi Saito!
For such a quiet location, what is so special about Sushi Saito?
Currently, it is one of the three sushi restaurants that have been awarded 3 Michelin Stars in 2010, the other two being Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten and Sushi Mizutani.
If you take a look inside, you can see that they are not concerned about earning more money. Sushi Saito offers an intimate interior where the chef can focus his attention on each customer to provide the best quality of sushi possible.
In the restaurant, there are only 7 seats. The entire place is probably smaller than an apartment room. This constraint in seating is also why the restaurant is packed on most days, leaving a long wait in terms of reservations for those who are keen on visiting the restaurant.
In the picture above, you can see the wooden counter where the chef will perform his magic. There is a real wasabi root on the left side and you can see his sushi knives prepared. Just in front you can see two black boxes with handles sticking out, that is the soy sauce mixture that the chef will “paint” on the sushi before giving it to you.
Unlike most sushi joints outside of Japan, the top-end sushi chefs here control the way the sushi is eaten, from how much soy sauce they apply to the sushi to how fast you should eat it (usually immediately). Mixing wasabi with the soy sauce is a huge no-no for true sushi eaters. Not to mention that the sauce (nikiri) is actually a special mixture of soy sauce, dashi, sake and mirin. There is really a huge amount of detail going into what seems to be just a simple piece of sushi.
Here you can see the limited space of Sushi Saito, and directly behind me is the wall of the restaurant.
This is my table area, the plate up in front is where the chef will put the sushi for you to eat. The small wooden box with the wet towel is for you to wipe your hands if you’re using them to hold the sushi instead of using chopsticks.
This is the chef himself, Takeshi Saito-san. He looks fairly young and is a very nice guy to chat with as well. It helps that he knows a bit of English to prevent awkwardness while I was dining.
A cup of intense green tea to start the dinner!
Something to note about really top quality sushi is that the rice, also known as shari, is actually more important than the topping, known as neta. This is something most people will not understand simply because a sushi chef spends many years just learning how to perfect the rice before he is even allowed to prepare the topping.
I guess this is really the main reason why I paid so much for this meal. The rice at Sushi Saito is specially prepared with red vinegar, which lends to the rice a subtly stronger taste than normal rice vinegar.
The other outstanding thing about the rice is the warmth of it. Ideally, the sushi should be served at body temperature and also packed such that it collapses easily when placed in the mouth but yet strong enough to be picked up with chopsticks.
It sounds very obsessive but hey, that’s what all those long years of rice molding training and practice were for! When I put the sushi into my mouth, I can actually feel the shari collapsing into individual warm grains, spreading out to the far corners of my mouth. It really is a magical feeling, especially when I’ve been eating cold and dense sushi most of my life.
1st piece: Hirame
Flounder. This fish has a firm texture, more crunchy than chewy. A clean and light taste sets the mood for the rest of the meal.
2nd piece: Tai
Seabream snapper: another fish that has a light flavour and softer texture to follow up the hirame.
3rd piece: Kohada
Gizzard shad: this is similar to the taste of sardine but with a tinge of sweetness to it.
4th piece: Akami
Lean tuna: Beginning of the tuna trio. Despite being from the lean section of the tuna, it is still very tender with a strong flavour.
5th piece: Chutoro
Next piece of tuna is the medium fatty tuna: at the expense of sounding cliche, this is really a mix of the lean and fatty meats. It doesn’t yield too easily but still soft from the fats present.
6th piece: Otoro
Fatty tuna: my favourite piece of sushi, being the fatty and buttery meat that simply melts in your mouth, with all that delectable flavour! This otoro is more of the shimofuri pattern rather than dandara, which means the fats are more distributed evenly rather than in thick bands.
7th piece: Sumi ika
Squid: this sushi is one of the few toppings that most people dislike because they can never imagine eating squid raw. However the raw squid here is not disgusting but instead clean and smooth to the bite. I don’t think you can really get fresh and raw squid prepared like this outside of Japan.
8th piece: Shiro ebi
Baby white shrimp: this is a mass of de-shelled baby shrimps that have a creamy texture and all melds together like a jelly. It has a more unique and raw taste that some may not like but I find it nice.
9th piece: Kuruma ebi
Tiger prawn: This is one really huge (boiled) prawn and probably the best that I’ve ever eaten. So crunchy, warm and full of umami flavour! As a nice bonus, chef Saito left in the prawn’s brains for added kick to the taste.
10th piece: Torigai
Large cockle. It’s difficult to describe this but very close to a mix between a jelly fish and a squid. Crunchy but quite neutral in taste.
11th piece: Aji
Horse mackerel: this is a bit like tai in texture, but with the unmistakable mackerel taste. I really like the presentation of this piece because it is meaty and is topped off with ground perilla leaves, which adds a hint of mint to it.
12th piece: Katsuo
Bonito: As this fish is actually related to the tuna family, the taste is quite similar to that of lean tuna but there is a certain tangy edge to it, which is further lifted by the fresh ground ginger on it.
13th piece: Akagai
Ark shell: also known as “red clam” for its bloody colour, it was perfectly prepared by chef Saito to cup the shari! Similar to the torigai, but it is a bit more crunchy and has a deeper flavour.
14th piece: Ezo-bafun uni
“Short spined” sea urchin: this uni is from Hokkaido and has a rich orange colour. When I put it into my mouth, I can feel that smooth and creamy text texture melting away with a sweet and salty aftertaste. Eating this excellent piece of uni is like eating the essence of the sea itself.
15th piece: Kita-murasaki uni
“Purple” sea urchin: this uni is also from Hokkaido and it has a much paler yellow colour as compared to the ezo-bafun uni. However, it has a firmer texture and the taste is much richer as well, despite the faded look.
16 & 17th piece: Anago (nitsume & shio)
Boiled conger eel: finally, the last 2 pieces of the sushi omakase are here. A piece of anago was split and then prepared in 2 styles: nitsume is a sweet sauce made by reducing anago stock essence with soy sauce while shio is sea salt style. Both styles provide contrasting ways to savour the rougher taste of anago. This is my first time trying anago and I have to say that now I totally prefer it to unagi.
The meal ends and I am sad to leave this little sushi heaven. Still, I’m extremely happy that I have a chance to try sushi at its highest level, even though I had to pay a hefty price for it. No regrets here, now I truly understand just how amazing some fish on some rice can be.
If you call yourself a sushi lover, then this place is a definite must-try so that you can taste what the summit of sushi is like. Sushi Saito is also a much more welcoming place as compared to Mizutani or Jiro where they only speak Japanese exclusively. For those who intend to try this dinner omakase, prices begin at ¥20,000 but if that is too expensive, I will recommend going for the ¥5,000 or ¥10,000 lunch sets.
Sushi Saito (鮨さいとう), Tokyo
1-9-15 Akasaka, Minato-ku, located in the Jidousha Kaikan building
ambienPosted 17 May 2010 at 15:43PM
Love this review…although I don’t think I’d ever try it myself…for nearly SGD300 and 17 pieces, my stomach can’t take that much…heh heh…
StellaPosted 24 May 2010 at 22:26PM
Alternatively, you can try Tsukiji fish market.
DanselPosted 25 May 2010 at 15:07PM
You can also try those sushi joints at Tsukiji fish market.
MoPosted 13 June 2010 at 00:39AM
I’m very interested to visit Sushi Saito after your post, thank you for the information.
LedgerPosted 13 June 2010 at 05:56AM
You should try the standing sushi bars in Tokyo as well, those are quite an experience.
PipPosted 15 June 2010 at 11:35AM
This fuels my desire to visit Tokyo even more.
WadePosted 16 June 2010 at 07:47AM
Came on by from researching for my Tokyo trip – Monday Flying is pretty interesting but I hope you’ll have more recommendations of cool cafes!
ClaudiaPosted 16 June 2010 at 14:40PM
this post makes me hungry.
kirkPosted 17 June 2010 at 02:59AM
WOW. Don’t think I’ll ever get to eat this. O_o
henryPosted 17 June 2010 at 14:55PM
thanks for putting this up, came by surfing for tips for tokyo. seems hard to locate but after your food photos, i really need to get there.
Catrina PotesPosted 2 August 2010 at 13:33PM
Major thanks for the blog article. Thanks Again. Great.
Lionel ForgiePosted 4 December 2010 at 16:46PM
Every now and then I come across gems like this, thank you!
MichaelPosted 31 December 2010 at 20:04PM
Fantastic. I have been to Japan a few times and am a food lover – really must check this out.
Very helpful review with directions on how to find, what to expect – Thanks !
JeanPosted 4 January 2011 at 15:37PM
I visited Sushi Saito in October 2010. It was the best sushi I have ever had. Amazing and can’t wait to go back!
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