Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sushi Hashiguchi, Akasaka (はしぐち)

Hmmm, here we go - Victorious came to Japan for his first ever visit, and this was the first time in over 10 years that we had spoken in person. What did he want to eat? Sushi, and Kobe, in that order (Americans love to call Japanese beef 'Kobe'; I tried to delve into some of the intricacies of wagyu with him, for a start why saying Kobe all the time is silly, but it didn't seem to have much impact). I went for the sushi leg by booking us a table at Hashiguchi. Actually just a section of counter - 1/3 of it, to be precise, because there are only 6 seats. When I called, and this was the third top-class sushi place that I called, the mama said they were full 'at that time'...but when I asked she allowed as how it would be fine if we came 30 minutes later. Quirky, yes. Welcome, also very yes. I've since read stories of people being turned down weeks in advance to go to these top places. 
Of course, I say 'these top places' like I have any idea, but there's a certain set that's popular. They all get high ratings on the Tabelogs. And then there's this place, which is sometimes at the very top of the constantly-shifting rankings (currently #9 out of 165 THOUSAND restaurant listings in Tokyo), but no one ever mentions it. Perhaps because they have a strict no-photo policy? When I say strict, I mean it - it's incredible for a restaurant at the very top of Japan's crowd-sourced ratings heap to have no pictures in its review except a few blurry phone-camera snaps of the noren. Personally I took it as a night off from the worry of photographing and just enjoyed the food. 

Let's assume that the chef is Hashiguchi san. He's about as good a sushi man as you could ask for. There could be different molds of this - some people probably want a guy who will talk to them a lot, making jokes and keeping the evening moving. For Victorious and I, with a gap of 10+ years, 2 marriages, 3 divorces, 4 trans/inter-continental relocations and 50 pounds of hard-won food-driven fat between us, there was no lack of stuff to talk about. Hashiguchi san was into this, just cutting in once in a while to ask what we wanted next. And this was surprising in itself - I thought all these places were chef's-choice only, so having the chef greet us with "So, what'll it be?" was a shock. I didn't really know what to say. He was like that all night too - we could have started on nigiri and gotten exactly what we wanted, or maybe tried that poor food tourist's wet dream of just ordering one egg sushi.

So with Victorious proclaiming cost as no object, we started with sashimi. V actually broke the foreigner stereotype by saying the silver fish in the case looked very good, and I asked for one white fish as well. The aji namerou was outstanding - I can safely say I've never had an aji with a texture quite like that, and I've had them fresh from the tank and still breathing, the works - and the flounder was right up there too - a depth of flavor that you just don't get...anywhere. When we saw someone else ordering tuna, we got all excited. Theirs turned out to be grilled ohtoro, but we just asked for it raw. Have you had the bad experiences where sushi masters push things on you? I know I'm dwelling on this, but I couldn't believe how he cut off some little pieces and said "Like that? OK?". I guess he's aging the fishes to get them to taste like that. A delicate game.

Of the nigiri, two stay in my mind. One was the sea urchin. It was from the last of the one-month season in Nagasaki, and had a pale, dirty yellow color that's very different from the sea urchin I'm used to (usually it's Hokkaido, where I think the fancy sea urchins are the 'Purple' or 'Horseshit' varieties (really). If any Hokkaido natives are reading, corrections and amplifications are more than welcome.). The lightness, creaminess and sweetness all surpassed anything I've had. The other memorable nigiri was the shrimp, or more correctly the shrimp's fore-abdomen. It's rare for cold, steamed shrimp to be juicy, but the piece that he cut off the top end of the tail, with a bit of 'miso' lining the inside (miso is polite for 'guts', like the stuff you'd get if you sucked on the head), was juicy, sweet, and awesome.

Some people say it's these simple meals that stick in your mind the most, and I find that the few really profound things I ate tonight have stayed with me - the aji, the flounder, the sea urchin, . But your best bet is to be a regular here, like the parents next to us who laughed indulgently every time their 10-year old daughter ordered another round of tuna, or sea urchin, or whatever. That girl could put it away, and she knew what she liked. I can safely say this would be sushi you would like. You'll notice there's no discussion of price here, and so I'll close by saying you might as well not ask - you already know if you can afford it or not, and if you have to save up, expecting the meal of your life, you'll be let down. What you need to do is start a company, or become a partner at a law firm, and come back in 10 years as a regular. 
I bet Hashiguchi will be waiting.


  1. I like your precise translation of "Bafun uni". Here in US, we have two major kinds of uni; one is from Main (similar to "horse s-t", darker, firmer and a bit gamey) and the other is from California (similar to "murasaki", bright orange in color, creamer and sweeter). I found the best uni I ever had is from California but only sure way to get the freshest is getting it from the source. We gave up ordering it in sushi bars around here.

    Math question; how is it possible when there were 2 marriages and 3 divorces?

  2. So whats the story with the new header photo. Its kind of creepy

  3. I enjoy precise translations. It goes along with the overall precision and high-mindedness of my blog.
    One marriage took place before we met each other.
    Just a scarecrow that I saw out in Yamanashi a couple years ago.