Sushi Oono -
Address: 1F, Nanou Building, 7-2-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Date and time of the meal: Saturday November 22, 2014 18:00 (Dinner)
Michelin stars: 1
***Here are the elements that my overall rating will take into account: (1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered (2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping (3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip (4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best).
Sushi Oono was one of the two ultimate (the other one was Sawada) sushi meals of this trip. By then, the other Sushi shops that I have tried have been Sushi Mizutani, Sushi Sawada, Sushi Sho, Sushi Iwa, Sushi Aoki and Daisan Harumi. At Sushi Sho, Sushi Iwa, Sushi Aoki and Daisan Harumi, I was with a tour guide so I spent most of my time talking to the person rather than bothering about reviewing my meals but I’ll still provide my opinion about those meals. I know some people hate comparisons and indeed, comparing is always an exercise of imperfection, but such is the nature of any opinion anyways and at the end of the round, unless the matter does not interest you or you are trying to play the ‘diplomat foodie’, you still have personal preferences. And preference, like it or not, that implies comparison.
Quick recap on the sushi shops visited during this trip:
So, Sushi Mizutani was the benchmark Sushi shop of this trip, Sawada was my preferred Sushi meal (eventhough some aspects of the food did not float my boat, but again food appreciation is subjective/personal so consider that when you peruse my review).
Sushi Sho ages his seafood and I was curious to see how I would appreciate it…alas, my palate got to the conclusion that although some seafood are fine when you age them (tuna, for eg), most could have been more exciting in mouth without the aging method (I know, it’s supposed to be the opposite, but for my palate that theory is at its best on paper), especially for sushis. I was born and raised in a fishermen village of the Indian Ocean and I do have fond memories of people rushing to the shore to avoid missing the freshest pieces of seafood that those fishermen were so proud to have snatched from the ocean floor just moments before and I am trying to imagine myself telling to my fella fishermen ‘hey Buds…take all your time…there is no rush..anyways we’ll age your seafood instead of enjoying it in its freshest state so you may as well let it rest for a while on the boat…”’….. A long time ago, aging seafood was indispensable by necessity, but that does not mean you should age all seafood. You need to know what seafood truely shines when aging it and that is where my problem lies: not ALL seafood are at their best when aged!!! Naturally, fans of the fad of aging fish won’t like to hear this kind of opinion but as loud as they are, we’ll have to agree to disagree whenever they will cross my path.
Daisan Harumi: interesting focus on the historical and educational importance of the sushis as I had fun learning a bit more about virtually everything that was flirting with my palate. Surprisingly, the flavors were not as ‘challenging’ and ‘old fashion’ as I was anticipating (for eg, no overly strong /brutal flavors, etc). When I was in Tokyo, I thought my meal at Sushi Oono was better and I was not that impressed with my meal here, but with time, it’s Daisan Harumi that is winning my heart. Daisan Harumi is not competing with the highly refined sushis of Sawada or Mizutani, it is not even trying to challenge Sushi shops of his rank (for eg, mid range Sushi shops like Sushi Iwa and Sushi Oono), but that does not matter as it is has its unique identity, doing things the way it deems worthy of its very own standards. The freshness of some of the seafood at Daisan Harumi did, at times, brought back memories of my tender childhood growing up on the shores of the Indian Ocean (minus the full-bodied maritime flavor of seafood fished in warm waters, obviously). Therefore, a very special place for very personal reasons.
Sushi Iwa: the most refined sushis of my mid range Sushi shop experiences in Tokyo, for now, and the best of that category, during this trip, for me. Some online accounts argued that it was good but not at the level of the top tier Sushi Shops of Tokyo. Well, that is comparing apples to grapes as Sushi Iwa is a mid range Sushi shop (second tier) establishment.
-Sushi Aoki (Ginza): the tastiest and preferred sushis of my mid range Sushi shop experiences in Tokyo, for now.
The review of Sushi Oono:
Sushi Oono (one of the better rated Sushi shops of Tokyo –with a score of 4.15/5 — on the major local restaurant rating web site Tabelog http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130101/13024790/) came as an alternative to Sukiyabaki Jiro in Ginza + Sushi Saito (impossible to book for the normal diner / by normal diner I mean any anonymous/normal person who calls a restaurant and wants to book a seat without the need of having contacts, or being a regular patron, or having the status of a poster-diner, etc), as well as Sushi Yoshitake (willing to find an availability for me but the schedules did not match).
The food ->
-Sea urchin (uni) is of the tiny type (as so oftently found at most Sushi shops in Tokyo), those I was having being decent (the taste of the sea urchin, dazzling at Sawada, great at Mizutani and sublime at the other Mid level Sushi Shops I tried in Tokyo….were muted, here), no more. A top Sushi shop in Montreal, on a good day, can surprise with far better uni, trust me. 6/10
-Squid – Tenderized enoughly for palatable comfort, while allowing enough chew to remind ourselves that this is squid, not a mousse (friendly reminder: be careful when you assess the texture/consistency of seafood….as tenderness or firmness does not mean the seafood is better or not…knowing how your seafood tastes/feels/smells like in its natural state will help avoiding many inaccuracies). For this level, Good 7/10
-Tuna: there was no otoro (fatty), but just akami (lean) –picture that’s on the left — and chutoro (medium-fat) tuna on the day of my visit…the lean tuna was great,but it was easy to find great akami everywhere else. Chutoro featured decent texture, the quality fine enough. 7/10
Mackerel- Fish of good quality for the standing of its Sushi shop. The Chef keeping it fresh and almost unaltered , no obvious extended work of the flavor apart a subtle flavor intensity coming from the GENTLE curing of the fish. Newer generations of diners seeking excitement might call this ordinary, but Sushi is not a show, it’s fish that you either source well or not, slice well or not, season well or not, nothing less, nothing more. Was that exceptional sourcing? No. Exceptional sourcing was what I have enjoyed at Sawada. Was that good sourcing? YES. For those who are curious about the subject, this meal was just slighly superior to a Good Sushi shop in the US/ Very good Sushi shop in Canada, certainly not vastly better ( I do not understand some of the online suggestions that the mid and some of the lower range Sushi shops of Tokyo are far better than anything found outside of Japan…well, I would not systematically bet on that) 7/10
Sea snail had limited flavor, its typical natural chew kept unaltered . I prefer sea snail with more maritime flavor, but such feature depends heavily on the natural habitat of the seafood. This was still decent. 6/10
Gizzard shad – Precise with his knife skills, the fish fine in quality. I had spectacular examples of the Gizzard shad during this trip, and this was not one of those, but still….Very good for the standing of this shop (nice sourcing, timely cured) 7/10
Octopus – Same principle as with the squid, they have tenderized it not too much so that enough of the natural chew of the octopus remains present. Not bad, tasty enough,just not as dazzling as at other places I have tried during this trip 6/10
-Cod milt was ordinary, not the best, not bad neither but I had creamier, tastier ones in Tokyo during this trip (to my Canadian fellas who might find this too exotic, not to worry…cod milt is not disgusting at all, it can be very enjoyable actually…not akin to foie gras as some have suggested…more like scrambled tofu). 6/10
Abalone – Good, rather than excellent, timely steamed to a consistency balancing between the firm and enough tenderness for proper chew.7/10
-Plum soup egg custard: balanced flavors, the custard executed properly. Good rather than delicious / exciting (some versions of this, tried right here in Tokyo, at lesser eateries, were far more delicious) 7/10
Miso soup was of the fine sort, with balanced seasoning (not too salty) and tasting good. Having had my share of misosoups in Tokyo, most of the finer kind, you realize that food is just a question of perception, often times, as people whoclaim they have tried miso soups in Japan, then in Montreal, would add that those in Montreal get nowhere close to those in Japan. Well, that is wrong. A great bowl of Miso soup in Montreal is as good and taste as authentic as the good bowls I have just enjoyed here in Tokyo. Anyways, a really good bowl, this one at Sushi Oono 7/10
PROS: his pickled vegetable items were very enjoyable (there were plenty of those in between their sushi servings). I found the pickled items to have been the strong point of this meal.
CONS:it is the same problem as everywhere else in Tokyo…..it is hard for the mid level Sushi shops to find the finer produce that a top tier Sushi Shop like Sawada or Mizutani can get.
It would be flawed to compare Sushi Oono, a 1 star Michelin and mid-range Sushi shop to top range Mizutani and Sawada, alas …even within the mid -range shops, I found my meal at Sushi Oono a bit too safe /clean / linear. If there is one thing I dislike it’s a performance that errs on the side of caution (no bold seasoning, no spectacular marination, no outstanding curing technique, etc). I appreciate that Sushi Oono is doing well enough for a mid-range sushi shop in Tokyo, but I am not exactly enamoured with such overall non risk-taking experience.
(1)How great the quality of the chosen rice stood against what the other sushi shops of this trip have offered – The work of the rice at those high-end sushi shops of Tokyo is serious, but no more,meaning the sourcing is good, the rice cooking achieved with care but none of those sushi rice standing as spectacular as what some of the raves may suggest. So at Sushi Oono, there was no exception to that rule: he would flavor most of his shari with a blend of white based vinegar, one of last sushi had its rice flavored with red vinegar on this evening, the consistency more hard than soft, but pleasant in mouth. No bold seasoning of the rice. The rice is of course of good quality, but its flavor very discrete so that the fish pairs well with the rice (2)How harmonious or spectacularly bold the work of the seasoning of the rice is achieved while remaining complementary of its topping – No bold seasoning here. Nothing spectacular neither. Just good sushi rice that does not taste strong (3)How delicious and how perfected (temperature/precision of the knife skills/work of the textures) were the sushis compared to the other sushis of this trip- great knife skills for a Sushi shop of its standing. Work of textures and control of temperatures were flawless during this meal, the sushi enjoyed at proper body temp (4)How far the sourcing was pushed and how far it revealed a profound understanding of the subtleties of the produce (it is one thing to have top ingredients, it is a different story to pick that precise ingredient from that specific region which on a given point in time will allow your craft to express itself at its best). Sourcing was decent, not a highlight as it was oftently the case at most Sushi shops of the 2nd tier level.
Verdict: 6/10 (Categories: Second tier Sushi Shop in Tokyo, Mid range Sushi Shop in Tokyo): At Sushi Oono, I was extremely lucky on the dining experience front as the other patrons were super friendly, the Chef humble and the overall experience highly enjoyable. It is on the aspect of the food that I felt I needed to get a bit more for my money , especially in light of the reputation of the house (in the top 10 Sushi Shops of Japan, etc). Virtually everything was fine (decent quality of the tuna, decent work of the rice), but no more (no outstanding work of the flavor of the mackerel, no outstanding quality of the produce, etc) . That said, it’s not a reproach to Sushi Oono at all as in general, I found that the Sushi-shop ‘system’, in Tokyo, regulates itself by clearly allowing the 1st tier Sushi Shops to have access to fish that the second tier will have to fight really hard for. Kinda logic/expected, indeed.