At the crack of dawn on Friday morning, we raced to the most popular sushi restaurant at the Tsukiji fish market. I can't really tell you what it's called because as you can see on the picture, the name is in Japanese. (Edit: The restaurant's name is Sushi-Dai.) But if you ever go to Tsukiji, it's the rightmost restaurant on sushi row. You'll know which one it is because there's always a line, with people waiting for up to two and half hours if you get there after dawn. We arrived in front of the store front at exactly 4:26AM and there were already two people waiting in line. Within the first two minutes that we were standing there, the line swelled to this size:
What a difference a few minutes made! The sushi restaurant only seats 12 people so we were soooo glad we made into the first seating. You do not want to be that guy who almost but didn't quite make it in, and therefore had to spend at least another hour staring into the window longingly at the people enjoying their ultra-fresh sushi. So glad we came early! Tsukiji has an electric atmosphere at the crack of dawn, with guys in small vehicles zipping around delivering cartons of ultra-fresh sushi to waiting trucks and restaurants. You gotta keep your wits about you if you don't want to end up getting sideswiped.
After what seemed like the longest 30 minutes ever, the doors finally swung open and we were seated. My eyes gaped and stomach grumbled at the sight of the piles and piles of otoro on the counter. This is the freshest and undoubtedly the best sushi you can get in Tokyo. I never used to give much thought to tamago, the Japanese omelette that's made into sushi and commonly served at restaurants. Everywhere I've been outside of Tokyo, it's pretty nondescript. But apparently, a sushi restaurant's expertise can be measured by how it makes its tamago. In fact, it's considered rude to order tamago first when you're at a sushi restaurant because it's like telling the sushi chef that you're measuring him up right away. It was just one more sign that we were in for a treat when we saw this massive slab of fresh, steaming tamago laid on the counter. Oh sweet Jesus ...
We ordered the Omakase, which mean's chef's choice. I strongly recommend you do the same. The first thing that landed in front of us were these slices of octopus. It was cleaned extremely well so that there isn't a trace of sliminess to it, and was so fresh that we just crunched through every bite. Next we were given this seemingly innocuous bowl that just blew our minds. I can't tell you exactly what this is (lost in translation as we are) but it sounded to me like this is called sharaku. In any case, our friend Mikki compared this to foie gras and that's a pretty close approximation of what it tastes like. The texture is creamy and silky, and the taste really quite similar to my favorite treat. Incredible. (Edit: This dish is called Shirako, which means white child, and is actually cod testis! Yes I am aware of how gross that sounds. Thank god I didn't know because I might not have tried it if I did and this was way too good to miss!)
Next, a succulent piece of oyster that has quite possibly ruined me forever. I may never enjoy another oyster again after having had this wonderfully juicy piece with scarcely the taste of brine. And then, the awaited tamago,which was of course hearty, pleasantly sweet, and completely comforting. After asserting their superiority with the fabulous tamago, the much awaited o-toro was laid in front of us.
Isn't that just a beauty? Otoro comes from the fattiest part of the tuna belly and is the most prized part of the tuna. The sushi chefs serve the otoro already seasoned with soy sauce and wasabi so that all you have to do is pop it into your mouth and marvel at how the beautifully marbled meat just melts in your mouth. We were in heaven after that piece.
This next plate was not part of the Omakase but we spied it at the party seated next to us and just had to give it a try. I'd hazard the guess that it's monkfish liver inside a sliver of hamachi. Whatever it was, it was just brilliant. I strongly recommend being a copycat at this joint. Then came some more excellent sushi: some ultra-fresh yellow tail and a truly satisfying piece of maguro.
After those two very yummy but staid pieces of sushi, the chef laid a shocker on us. This piece of squid was, I kid you not, still moving. Seriously. Mika was talking to his sushi, saying, "Hey, stop moving so I can eat you!" Mine literally squirmed in my mouth. Not for the faint of heart, but if you're an adventurous soul, it is delicious.
Next was a succulent piece of striped jack sushi. It was amazing. Mika was trying to convince me I didn't want it. Uh, yeah, in your dreams buddy. And then, a piece I had been waiting for with bated breath: the uni! It was velvety and succulent, so fresh and devoid of that fishy taste. Oh heaven ... Mika had one and declared that he still did not like uni. Blasphemy! Afterward, a piece of horse mackerel that rocked my world. I had eaten mackerel sushi before but it never tasted remotely close to this. It was so fresh that the flesh was still deliciously oily and tender. Mackerel tends to spoil quickly and so it is usually cured, and can have an off-putting fishy smell. But not this fresh-off-the-boat baby here. Oh it was just utter perfection.
Then some white shrimp sushi. Photogenic? No. Delicious? Hell yes. That was followed by what I guess was some hamachi, then some amazing salmon roe, and incredibly delicious fresh water eel. The mere thought of the sweet, meaty eel is making me salivate right now. At the end of the meal, the chef asks you what your favorite was and they'll give it to you to cap off the meal. We picked otoro of course. Oh it is just so good ...
While we were eating, our friend Mikki told the sushi chefs that Mika just won back-to-back US Open 9-ball tournaments and is in Japan to defend his Japan Open 9-ball championship from last year. They were quite impressed so before we left, Mika took the sponsor patches from his shirt and gave them to the chefs as souvenirs. By the time we got out it was around 6AM and the line was long. But if there's one meal worth waiting for, it is definitely this. Dreaming of my next visit to Tsukiji already!