Archive for the ‘sushi’ Category

Ichimura (69 Leonard Str, New York, NY 10013, Phone: 212-404-4600, URL: https://www.sushiichimuranyc.com ) is situated in a quiet street of Tribeca. You push open a discrete black frame glass door (the mention ICHIMURA on it), and are greeted with a small waiting area bathed in immaculate white tones. Inside the sushiya,   blonde and  light cream tones as well as a  brown-quartz counter from Brazil dominates the serene room.

Tokyo trained Chef Eiji Ichimura is regarded in NYC as one of their best Sushi Masters. He spent 40 years perfecting his craft.  He was rewarded  with 2 Michelin  stars as well as  3 stars from the New York Times  (In the competitive market  of sushiyas in  NYC, that speaks volume) when he was working  at   Brushstroke, which he left last year to open his own sushiya in early 2017. As in the glorious days of the true artisan Chef, Chef Ichimura is alone behind his counter, crafting his sushi pieces.

Once in the room, you quickly realize that quality is a theme they do not take lightly: the fish is elegantly stored in boxes made of blonde wood. It should be like that at any top sushiya, indeed. But it is not always the case. The dazzling (see my account of that sea urchin, below) sea urchin came straight from a beautiful box with its seal of quality and freshness in evidence. That sea urchin was actually one of the very best Japanese sea urchin I ever had anywhere around the globe, including in Japan (second only to the sea urchin I had the last time I was at Sawada)

The 2 hrs surprise tasting menu (it is the sole menu option) started with:

Baby sea eel in a yuzu sauce- the sea eel had an agreeable texture that you generally obtain from baby sea eels that are either cooked live or shortly after they are dead. A baby sea eel of utter freshness. Mixed with a  yuzu sauce, this  was eventful. 10/10

Japanese egg plant/shiso leaf – The Japanese eggplants were timely cooked till tender and bathed in a delicious jus. 8/10

 

Firefly squid topped with an exquisite yuzu/miso condiment. Superlative ingredients and flavors that would not be out of place at a respectable 2 star Michelin in Tokyo, and this compliment also applies to the baby sea eel in Yuzu sauce. 10/10

Then, the gracious waitstaff (a well trained duo composed of a mild-mannered young man and energetic young woman whose hospitality standards would make any of the best restaurants of this globe very proud ) served a scallop/shitake mushroom chawanmushi (savory egg custard) – superb aromas coming from the superior fresh eggs (when people tell you that an egg is just an egg, just let them continue to talk and save your energy for the enjoyment of eggs of this quality, lol), the quality scallop adding to the great complex flavors on display 7/10

It was the turn of Chef Ichimura to serve us 3 sashimis: Squid, red snapper, bonito with fresh grated root wasabi. The bonito was aged, and partly seared. As with everything served all along this meal, every single ingredient was of top quality  by high end sushi standards in NYC. At times, some of the ingredients would compete with the very best in Tokyo (I will mention it whenever that happens) 8/10

According to the medias, Master Chef Ichimura likes enhancing flavors with his own ways of aging fish. Eventhough his sushis are crafted with respect to the traditional Edo style, they do not feel as “austere” on the palate as some other traditional sushis.

The waitstaff came back with:
Golden eye red snapper/Japanese daikon. The red snapper was timely poached, its broth serving as a reminder of why the way the Japanese make their broths has inspired many Chefs cooking other types of food. Lots of depth  in that broth. Chef Ichimura will appear, to his patrons, as the strong man at the counter, but he also has a skilled kitchen brigade, working in the background. There was  some boiled daikon radish, again, tasting exquisite , topped with a world class condiment made of yuzu and miso. 9/10

Then a “communion” between Master Chef Ichimura and his patrons, a “communion” that came in the form of a series of 14 nigiris, served one nigiri at a time to each of the diners.

To the contrary of sushi Azabu, which rice just “melts” with the fish on your palate (one effect I like), here at Ichimura, you will feel both the grains of rice ( their rice, at Ichimura, is seasoned with a combination of red and white vinegar that is not strong, so that it does not negate the flavor of the fish) and the fish, and yet, they are complementary (which, regardless of the debates over which technique is the best for the combination of sushi rice and fish .. is what you are looking for in a piece of sushi…the fish and the rice of your sushi need to complement each other). During my visit, here, at Ichimura, the preparation of the rice, its temperature, its effect in mouth varied. This was intentional, of course, and showcased how meticulous Chef Ichimura is about the interraction of his sushi rice with the fish. Personally, I like the two methods of the preparation of the sushi rice: serving great quality rice at a temperature and consistency the Master Chef deems optimal to pair with the majority of his fishes (which is, obviously, less time consuming and may appear as less complex as the other method….but that did not stop the sushi experts in Tokyo to consider Mizutani –now, closed — as one of their best sushiyas) or adjusting the texture/temperature of the rice to the fish (naturally, more spectacular…but as with everything aiming at the spectacular, one single “miss” may lead to disaster. When I was in Tokyo, I tried one sushiya of this sort, a highly regarded one, actually, but it was a big disappointment).

Each nigiri is brushed with a well judged quantity of sweet soy sauce, allowing for a nice complexity of enjoyable flavors. To the contrary of some other sushiyas where the flavor comes either from the rice or from the sauce that is used to brush the sushi, here, the flavors came from every single component of each sushi piece, with the very important observation that …they went harmoniously well together!

When the first batch of rice arrived, and the Chef started to serve his nigiris , two scenarios came to mind (I forgot to ask to ask the Chef or the staff) :
-Either the rice is warm and the Chef starts with fishes that are a better match to warmer rice. Then, he adapts his fish offerings to the changing temperatures of his rice.
OR
-his batch of rice has rice of different doneness and / or temperature.

Do not try to think that you are smart enough to second guess anything here! … as the TWO scenarios are POSSIBLE!

A black laquered plate made an appearance on the sushi counter.

The first nigiri to hit that plate was the striped jack – rice is a bit warm, and you feel the grains (the grains he uses are large ones) desintegrating ONLY once in mouth, which is an enjoyable feeling in this particular case. The warm rice lifted the flavor of the fish really well. The consistency of the rice is carefully engineered so that different levels of softness of the rice are on display depending on the fish topping. Whatever the consistency, the rice always sticks together (even world class Mizutani had one or two pieces which rice failed to stick together). The subsequent nigiris had rice which temperatures varied in their progression towards body temperature and the contrast between the rice temperatures and the fish was very enjoyable. Whiting, ocean trout, golden snapper.

-Horse mackerel – Gentle / sweet and sour enjoyable flavor, which is not aged for days, as it is served hours upon they receive it. 8/10

-Spanish mackerel, which, according to the NYT, is aged for 10 days by Chef Ichimura. Quality fish, indeed, but this was the only nigiri, on that particular evening, which rice temperature I did not find ideal for the fish (way too lukewarm) and that affected the enjoyment of that sushi (it was not a pleasant piece on the palate as the temperature of the rice was a distraction, not an enhancement to the topping ) 6/10

-Red tuna – perfect match to the warm rice 8/10

Other nigiris:

 

Gizzard shad – Curing process that is well mastered,  the  moment they chose to serve it was also well judged (once you cure the gizzard shad, you need  to know when to serve it).

 

scallop from Hokkaido – the rice that came with it was almost creamy, in an appetizing way. The proof that they also cook rice to varied doneness depending on the seafood it will be paired with. Another exemplary rice/seafood combination on all accounts (temperature/texture, profound understanding of the sushi rice/seafood synergy

 

botan ebi shrimp (perfect match to its warm rice)

 

a double-decked medium fatty tuna (slightly warm rice going well with the tuna) 8/10

 

Sea urchin nigiri from Hokkaido – rice, a bit warm, matching excitingly well the creamy sea urchin. The cliche goes like this ´sea urchin is sweet and luscious’, but oftently, that is not as evident as the cliche might suggest. Some top quality Japanese sea urchin I had, before, at high end sushiyas in Tokyo, were so tiny that you really had to force your mind into appreciating a fraction of whatever impression of sweetness and lusciousness people kept raving about. Not with this sea urchin I was having at Ichimura: here, evident lusciousness and dazzling natural sweetness were stealing the show at broad day light! This time, the grain did not dissolve in mouth (proof that Ichimura does not only work with doneness and temperatures of his rice…he takes the extra miles into ensuring how and when the grains should dissolve in your mouth…again, this seems to have been the case of many high end sushi Master Chefs …but on paper and in urban legends, only! rarely in reality. Ichimura makes it happen) and that was exactly what was required to match the creamy sea urchin. Fabulous customized design of that rice). 10/10

After that array of great  sushis, the “communion ” deserved a little pause during which the waitstaff reappeared, with this time the serving of the Miso soup – the miso soup had a base of roasted quality nori in it, which led to a taste that’s very earthy. Interesting is how I would describe it,  but  I am afraid I do not have the required palate to properly enjoy this miso soup.

The “communion” resumed, with the ultimate two nigiris: fatty tuna (Otoro) and sea eel (anago). The Chef ensured he had the last words, before retreating to the kitchen:

A piece of double-decked Otoro (fatty tuna belly). It will always be hard to compete with Tokyo’s finest pieces of Otoro, but this Otoro was a piece of joy in mouth and its quality was great 8/10

World class would be the term that a sushi expert would use to describe what they did at Ichimura with the rice of the sea eel (anago) nigiri: a high level technical demonstration of how the perfect consistency of the rice for the anago is that impossibly soft airy rice Ichimura has crafted on that evening, just for that piece of anago. If you have spent some time crafting an anago nigiri, you will realize that it is a real pain. It is is a pain, also, for a Sushi Chef. It takes skills, it is time consuming, and experience will matter. Ichimura’s was as skillfully composed as the one I had at Mizutani. Exact same quality, exact same texture (Master sushi Chefs do have different ways to work the texture of the anago, with both Mizutani and Ichimura offering it in a version that is almost as soft as cotton. At Daisan Harumi  and Sawada in Tokyo, the versions that were served to me were less softened, which I do equally appreciate) with the difference that Ichimura’s had a bit of the soft tiny bones in it (this is not a technical issue as one classic way to prepare the anago is to boil it till the tiny bones become soft. That is exactly what Chef Ichimura did achieve. But yes, indeed, some other Chefs try as hard as they can to make the tiny bones virtually absent, but both ways are legit). The tsume sauce as dazzling as the one I had at Mizutani. Ichimura impressed with one of the trickiest nigiris to craft. 10/10

 

The tamago was a summary of what was on display all along this meal: the technique? Flawless! The taste? Divine! As delicious as the benchmark tamago I had at Mizutani, though more sizeable. The ingredients? Eggs of superb fresh quality. 10/10

Chef Ichimura left the room, to prepare himself for the next seating (they have two seatings per night) : we knew this, because he went back and forth between his kitchen (behind a closed door) and his sushi counter, with, in his hands, the dinnerware he was going to use for the next seating.

The waitstaff appeared and served a dessert of mochi/macha ice cream/ shiratama (the white ball) – delicious flavors, superb chewy shiratama, lovely textures 9/10


The meal came to an end with a serving of Hojicha tea.

Pros: (1)An intimate sushi dining experience of great level, where a respectable experienced Sushi Master is alone, behind his counter, crafting some of the very best sushis of NYC (2)Master sushi Chef Ichimura takes very seriously the importance of associating the right texture and temperature of the rice to the right fish. It’s supposed to be like that, at top tier sushiyas, but even in Tokyo, many sushi Chefs serve their rice at the same temperature, because it is less time consuming…or, in some cases, because they just do not know how to do it properly.
Cons: N/A

Overall food rating (Categ: top tier  sushiya in NYC) 9/10. There was everything you would expect from a first-rate sushiya in a world class foodie city of the caliber of NYC: superior technique, great flavors, quality ingredients. Then, a bit more: plenty of thoughts were put in the rice preparation and that did add a lot to the enjoyment of the pieces of sushis.

Bottom line: Ichimura is, obviously, one of the great Sushi Masters of NYC, his Sushiya, a destination sushiya outside of Japan. NYC has a lot of great sushiyas and we all have our preferred ones. Azabu is currently my preferred sushiya in NYC .My love for Azabu aside, I was fair with Ichimura: it deserved a higher rating because it went to great lengths to make the work of the sushi rice technically complex . It deserved the nice words their cooking and craft gave me no other choice but to use profusely! Just ensure you understand Ichimura’s style: it is Edo style sushi enhanced by Chef Ichimura’s creativity. He bows before the altar of authenticity,  therefore there  is no butane blow torch, no salmon, no gimmicky interpretation of sushi, which is what  I prefer. UPDATE SUMMER  2017: CHEF ICHIMURA IS NOW WORKING AT UCHU‘S SUSHI BAR. 

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This review of restaurant Park (Addr: 378 Victoria Ave, Westmount, QC; Phone:514-750-7534) completes my recent reviews of some of the best —- according to our local foodie experts (major local food journalists, major local foodie websites)  —- sushis of Montreal. The other two sushi spots that are highly regarded by those sources and that I have reviewed are Jun I and Sushi Yumi.
Antonio Park is the most talked about  restaurateur and chef of our local restaurant scene. I discovered his work years ago when he was at Kaizen. At Park, he offers his take on contemporary cosmopolitan cuisine that is influenced by Japan (non traditional sushi, sort of kaiseki)  as well as his Korean/Latin American background (the ingredients he does use, his takes on some korean staples).
I ordered the Omakase, which, on the evening of my visit, did consist of  5 courses (if I’d choose the duck magret) or 6 courses  (option of the sushi instead of the duck magret).
The menu has appetizers such as park style sashimi, nigiri, green salad, asian salad, 2 oz Japanese kobe beef, charcoal grill albacore sashimi, miso soup, edamame. The list of Mains goes like this: park  bowl (either with chicken or salmon), Jap Chae, sashimi moriawase, nigiri moriawase, etc
p1Mushroom shitake broth, ordinary shrimp – Between a glass of water and what I was having, I would opt for the glass of water. There was really nothing going on here, no taste, no depth, nothing. I have been dazzled, in the past, elsewhere by similar broths, and this one was a world away from those. The only pleasant feature being the dinnerware the broth was served in.  0/10
p2Scallops, shiso, kombu / tosaka algae with a tempura made of the mantle of the scallop (braised, then fried) – Fine raw scallop from Boston,  properly cooked tempura, properly done salad . Ok  6/10
p3Nigiris – Usually, I am fonder of the traditional Japanese style sushi, but I knew, coming here, that their sushis are not traditional. Shima aji, akami, yellow tail, tuna, salmon served as toppings to the nigiris. They were seasoned with ecclectic ingredients such as shishito pepper, jalapeno, maple syrup. This was properly done (fish well sliced, the rice and the taste not as great as at, say, a fine sushiya in nearby NYC, but correct for Montreal / the rice not far from body temperature on this visit). When you had tastier sushis of the traditional style, meaning with far less seasonings than these, you leave underwhelmed. Still, above average sushi by Mtl standards , though such feature is really not that hard to achieve. Ok  6/10
p4Makis (blufin tuna, reduction of maple syrup/soya), filling of cucumber/shiso/tuna. Fine enough. Again, not a maki which souvenir would linger on my mind. Still, above average by the weak standards of Makis in Mtl. Ok  6/10
p5Hamachi, akami, salmon, tuna albacore with spices of steak –  Ok, as Ok sashimi do taste and feel like. Ok is also how I would describe the broth. 6/10
p6White choco/ raspberry sorbet. Again, just Ok. Ok classic blend of white choco mixed with raspberry. Safe, safe, safe and not what I want to sample at an omakase priced … this high. Ok was, indeed, going to be the recurrent qualification of most of the food items of this meal …but Ok is not what I am looking for when I dine out…Ok?  6/10
Overall food rating: 5.5/10 (Categ: Montreal fine dining standards) –  You can’t afford one single  0/10  dish when you are not a world class restaurant. I did not invent that 0/10. Your broth …well, ….water tasted better! Get it? What rating would you give to a dish like that if I was serving you a broth that was less exciting than water??? At L’Arpege, to take an example, they could afford that. They could afford even 2 or 3 dishes like that. Because they have the kind of exceptional skills to wipe off such disappointments. Not you. Antonio (he was not present on that evening) would have definitely lifted up those dishes. Though, even with Antonio, let us get the records straight: Park is no exceptional eatery. That said,  this was still a tolerable meal / slightly above average meal… by the weak standards of the majority  (there are, of course, some few Japanese artisan Chef restaurants in town that are consistently good, but this time I wanted to focus on what the local experts had for us) of our local Japanese-inspired eateries. “Tolerable” happens to be over flattering in this case. I am generally not a diner who insists on cost performance, as proven elsewhere on this blog ( I have never mentioned cost at L’Arpege or L’Ambroisie, some of world’s most costliest restaurants), but this meal at Park is really way too $$$ for what I was getting (my meal at Hvor did cost way less with far superior cooking and dazzling produce). Meaning that I do not even have to go abroad to realize that this particular omakase is not worthy of the pricetag.
Pros: Service (10/10)  was the highlight of this meal. I am usually more into the food than the service, but I definitely know how to appreciate great service and will always take the time to mention it whenever it is the case. Antonio knows how to surround himself with a staff that perfectly balances professionalism and amiability. He did it at Kaizen, he keeps doing it at Park
Cons: A restaurant of this reputation and charging what they are charging should ensure that …when the main Chef is not working, the performance remains worthy of the pricetag.
Bottom line: Montreal is not a sushi destination, we all know that, but the sushi scene used to be way better here back in the days when Mikado/Jun I were in their prime   + there was a hole-in-a-wall sushiya on le plateau that was really good by mtl sushi standards. The rational thing to do is to save  your money and your time and just go to NYC for your fix of good sushi. At least, there, you will understand where your hard earned money has gone and you will have a good time.

Jun I (Addr: 156 Avenue Laurier O, Montréal, QC, Phone: 514-276-5864  ) is my long time preferred sushiya in Montreal.  During my last meal at Jun I (click here for that review), Master Chef Junichi Ikematsu was present at his stronghold and his craft was a benchmark sushi meal by Montreal standards. It might sound unfair to review Jun I right after the review of a first-rate sushiya of the caliber of Sushi Azabu, but not to worry: both are not competing in the same category, and that is taken into account in my assessment. I am also someone who will never become jaded:  I can eat at the best sushiya of Japan one day, and still appreciate a perfectly well crafted sushi in North America the next day without allowing my appreciation of the former to influence my impression of the latter. The standard of sushi in Montreal is nowhere near what you will find in NYC. Just to give you an idea of how far behind (their peers of NYC) our local sushiyas stand, here are couple of laughable examples that “””speak volume”””: we are in 2017  and … fresh grated wasabi at a sushiya in  Montreal is still a futuristic project. Actually, there is probably one  wasabi root in the drawer, lol…BUT  it will be served to the  happy few (local celebs, a poster diner, etc). It sounds surreal, but that is Montreal. Primitive examples of that sort abound. The problem is that Montreal has nothing of a serious foodie scene, in reality. I said “the problem”, but I should have accurately submitted that it is “the reason” …one of the reasons, actually … why montreal has nothing of a serious foodie scene. Therefore I returned to Jun I with the right expectations, first and foremost to enjoy my food and have a good time. And if there is any reference point to look for, then it will be the one that Jun I did set during my last meal right here, 3 years ago under their roof, as that meal remains the best sushi meal I ever had in Montreal.

3 years later, how does  Jun I fare? Jun I would be in NYC and I would gladly look into online reviews and find out. But in Montreal, that would be an exercise as useless as trying to talk to a rabbit. One would think that the local food journalists could help enlightening us on Jun I’s whereabouts, but apart one or two of them, our so called food journalists do essentially run after novelty. Food journalist Tastet noticed that in 2015, a year when Jun I was still in its prime, most food journalists had  forgotten about him. I am not surprised at all: our food journalists are basically just hipsters. Anyways, most of  them know Japan just by the name and the closest they got to Japan is by drinking sake and feeding themselves on americanized sushis.

On to my meal:

juni-1Yellow tail tuna was served with a thick yuzu / miso sauce, which was pleasant but lacked finesse and complexity. There was also some rice cracker, that did remind me a bit of Chinese prawn cracker, only it was made with rice and was consequently snowy white in color. 5.5/10

juni-2Spicy scallops as a temaki was not too spicy, which was  actually its only noteworthy feature. The wrapping made of ordinary nori. Ordinary, very ordinary. And I am being very very very polite, here…. Trust me!  5/10

juni-3An array of nigiris and sashimis (japanese red  snapper, tuna, salmon, spicy tuna on a piece of cucumber, eel, etc) – for Mtl, the quality of fish is fine. But since the fish was  generally offered in its “bare naked”  glory (generally not marinated , not aged, not cured, etc), the only way out is to get the ” fundamentals”  right :  so your   fish has to be sliced masterfully, your rice needs to dazzle, the  quality of seafood cannot be just fine, it has to be exceptional. And all of that was  not the case at all, here. 6/10

Overall food rating(Category – Fine dining sushi in Montreal): 5/10 The 3 young folks at the helm, on this evening, were not in the same league as Master Chef Junichi Ikematsu. From slicing the fish, pushing their craft beyond the ordinary, etc..they have many rivers to cross. They are young, cool, nice looking and the future pertains to them. I wish them the best. I really do. I also hope, for …them, that they continue to learn and develop a sincere passion for their job. Passion, they will need. For now, they need a Master around them  (I have no clue if Chef Junichi Ikematsu had a day off or if he is still associated with the restaurant as I did not inform myself about it).

On my way out,  I remembered that this area where Jun I is located  had couple of great eateries, around a decade ago (the “golden era” of my foodie existence in Montreal) : Barros Luco, Chao Phraya, La Chronique, Palais de L’Inde, Wilensky‘s. Chao is not what it used to be. La Chronique remains in my top 3 in town. Palais de L’Inde burnt, Palais de L’Inde I will miss a lot. Wilensky closes at 4pm, therefore it was closed on that evening (btw: I was there this past summer. I still like Wilensky’s but will submit that the quantity of meat in their sandwich is not as generous as it once was).  Barros used to be a favourite, but once I pushed open their door, whoever was at the counter seemed more interested to chat with his pal than serving his clients. Perhaps a sign that there was not much  to feast on, anymore. Montreal, oh Montreal, one of world’s most insconsistent restaurant scenes!!!  You just can’t keep doing things right….don’t you?? So I went to the last nearby ‘survivor’ of that ‘golden area’,  Fairmount bagel . At FB, the old guard is not there anymore, but the young gunz are still doing a great job. I told  one of the young gunz at FB  that I was surprised that they are  still doing this well after so many years. His answer will be my conclusion…the appropriate conclusion… to the current  review : “”  You  learn from those in the know. However painful the journey, if you have the last laugh, then you know you have achieved nothing. If they have the last laugh, then  you know you are doing something great “”.  Food for thoughts. Dear Jun I, I really hope that was just an off day!

My thoughts after this meal: I am a long time fan of Jun I, therefore this  experience was definitely not one I was expecting. I  know, that is life, and life goes on. I was just not prepared mentally for this, under their roof. There is a reason why Sushi Masters have spent years perfecting their craft. There is a reason why Sushi is considered as true art by many people.  I know that the newer generations of  cooks  can’t afford spending the time that their predecessors did, and that is understandable. But then, ensure you spend some time mastering the fundamentals (knife skills, handling of the fish, the rice, the basic gestures of a skilled and experienced itamae) alongside various Sushi Masters, those in the know. Observing is also very important as in observing how a true Master Chef keeps his working space organized. You can do that without the long and painful years that the older generations of Sushi Chefs went through.  I was sitting at the sushi counter, on that  evening, and that is what came to mind.

Sushi Azabu, New York
Michelin stars: 1
Addr: 1428 Greenwich St, New York, NY 10013, USA
URL: http://www.sushi-azabu.com/
Phone: +1 212-274-0428
Type of cuisine: Japanese (mainly a sushiya serving traditional Edo-Mae sushi)

In a city with many  great Japanese sushi Chefs, there is a sushiya for all kind of diners (the one who likes luxury, the one who does not, etc). My ideal sushiya has a great sushi Master at the helm, of course, and a decor that is intimate. A service that is great. A genuine feel of  Japan.  In New York, as far as top sushiya goes, Sushi Azabu is that ‘ONE’ for me. 

01 In NYC, you have Masa, which according to their local sushi experts,  is on top of the roof of their top tier sushiyas. Then, you have their other elite sushiyas , such as Nakazawa,  Yasuda, Azabu, 15 East. I tried Yasuda (I was missing the superb knife skills as well as the superior  work of the textures that I better enjoyed at other sushiyas in Nyc) and 15 East (I find Azabu better, in comparison, but 15 East had couple of noteworthy food items)  in 2015. Never tried Nakazawa, Masa and Jewel Bako. It is NYC, so keep in mind  that the price tag (therefore the cost performance, especially in comparison to what you can get in Japan at equal cost) will oftently be the issue.

I tried Azabu on Saturday Febr 4th 2017.
I picked the larger omakase and they fed my girlfriend on shrimp tempura and wagyu beef steak
The 1st course comprising of a piece of amberjack and salmon:
02Marinated Amberjack was seasoned exquisitely. As expected, from a kitchen of this quality, the marinating technique is flawless, its timing well judged. It came with a delicious piece of mushroom. (9/10)
03Smoked salmon boasted vibrant texture, the quality fish expressing plenty of complex joyous flavors 9/10
05Then an array of seafood items composed of octopus  (8/10 superb chew and texture), A first-rate piece of perfectly tenderized  abalone  which kept its maritime flavor at the forefront (9/10), amberjack and fluke and shrimp of impeccable quality. The wasabi is freshly grated wasabi root imported from Japan. This was a first-rate collection of sushis, even by the standard of a mid level sushiya in Tokyo.
06My current girlfriend  ordered some shrimp tempura which she had nothing to complain about.  I can see how extraordinarily lighter such  batter could be in the hands of a specialist of the tempura, but Azabu is a sushiya, not a specialist of the tempura, and the batter was still very well executed, the tempura light and tasting delicious,  (8/10).

07She also had her wagyu  beef steak, which was fine but both her and myself do regard wagyu as a (generally) vastly overrated meat. The finest Wagyu I had in Japan have  not changed my opinion about that, as already debated here.

08My tasting menu continued with some utterly fresh uni from Hokkaido  –the firmer bafun uni on the left, the creamier murasaki on the right — as tiny as I remember them from the last time I had them in Japan. As explained elsewhere on this blog, I prefer some of the sea urchin from the mediterranea and California. But Hokkaido’s uni are among world’s best, for sure, with, this time, the murasaki standing out for its sweeter flavor. Sometimes, it is the bafun uni that can be the sweetest of the two 8/10
09Then a tasting of  lean, medium fatty and  torched fatty tuna. The quality, high, as expected. This, too, would not be out of place at a serious mid level sushiya in Tokyo. 8/10
10King crab miso – the flavor and aroma of this particular miso preparation lifting up the flavor of the grilled crab remarkably well. Eventful 8/10
11Then the “Chef’s choice of nigiris” featuring flawless sea urchin/tuna/scallop/salmon/salmon roe/squid/wagyu beef. The fish sliced with precision (even world class Sawada was caught with one or two pieces that were imprecisely sliced ..and that happened at other highly regarded sushiyas of NYC, too), the rice served at body temperature (my preference), the proper pressure applied to the relevant rice/topping combination, the rice not overseasoned, i.e., not too vinegary.  The sushi rice, which subtle  sweet and umami flavor notes went so well with the toppings,  is  from Tsuyahime from Yamagata prefecture. Again, even for a mid level sushiya  in Tokyo, this would be excellent. 9/10
12As part of the previous Chef’s selection of  nigiris, there was also a piece of tamago that I did regard as a benchmark of its kind. I liked it so much that I ordered 3 of them. As I wrote elsewhere on this blog, even some of the  best mid level sushiyas of Tokyo did not always deliver tamago that have impressed me, although the tamago will always be a matter of personal taste given the different types of tamago you will find at sushiyas. Either the umami flavor is  more present, or it is balanced with the sweet taste of the tamago,  or its focus is on the eggy flavor, etc.  I am fonder of the sweet kind of tamago. Azabu’s tamago is of the sweet kind, executed with great finesse, the fresh eggy aroma exciting on the palate, sweet like the one I had at sushi mizutani, as technically well crafted, but bigger in size and which I much preferred  (eventhough Mizutani’s featured a more complex set of nuanced flavors and  eggs of surreal quality) 10/10
13A miso that is a first-rate version of its kind, the taste enriched by the subtle nuances of the remarkable kind of miso they are using. (10/10)
14We ended the meal with some flawlessly textured home made green tea ice cream (for me) and an equally excellent Mochi and Vanilla / chocolate ice cream for her (9/10). I ordered the Mochi for my girlfriend to introduce her to the importance of textures in food for the Japanese.  There was a strawberry that came with her dessert, but I forgot to ask if it also came from Japan. The last time I was in Japan, I did try some of their most celebrated (consequently expensive) strawberries and left unimpressed. They tasted as good as any strawberry anywhere else on planet earth (which is exactly how this one at Azabu tasted like, too).
Pros: Azabu deserves to be considered among NYC’s top tier sushiyas. It is also a proper 1 star Michelin sushiya outside of Japan. Its does not have the tsukiji market in its vincinity but they import their fish from Japan. The knife as well as overall cooking skills  is strong for this  category of  sushiya (comparable to a respectable mid level sushiya if this would be in  Tokyo), the tiny space so cozy, the service genuinely hospitable.
Cons: N/A
15 Overall food rating (categ: top tier sushiya in NYC) 8/10 – Top shelf sushiya in its category.  Just remember that there are two seatings per night (we had our table available till  08:30 pm, therefore i presume that the first seating  is from 05:30pm till 08:30 pm) and that its sushis are of the classic sort  (no experimental sushi here).
What do I think days later: One of the foodie friends who has recommended Azabu told me to expect excellent sushi but not unparralleled one. Azabu was exxellent, indeed,  as they fed me, up to now, with some of the best sushis that I ever had in NYC. As ever, restaurants do sometimes change some items on their menus, as I noticed, in old online reviews, that they once had a tamago similar to a creme brulee at Azabu. I doubt that such tamago would have the same impact as this tamago that deserved my praises, but I can only talk about the food they served me, of which I admired the precise slicing of the fish and assured technique in virtually everything (marinating, smoking, coaxing delicious flavors, etc). Based on what I came to expect from a 1 star Michelin sushiya outside of Japan, Azabu did impress by not sticking to a safe/correct performance as it is so common at the big majority of eateries in North America. This was clearly the work of skilled Chefs with their personal imprint rather than some dudes replicating whatever someone else has asked them to simply replicate properly. Sushi Azabu also knows how to make the experience of a diner enjoyable, as, to take an example, there is no need for all parties of the same table to partake in a tasting menu. I can have my tasting menu while my girlfriend enjoys whatever she wants to eat. And here, there was not one single rotten apple that happened to find his way in the service with the sole intent of ruining your appreciation of the dining experience and the superb work of the rest of his team  as it was the  case during my last visit at another 1 star Michelin, Torishin. Was my foodie friend right when he mentioned that Azabu was not unparralled? If you find a 1 star Michelin that is unparralled, then it is a 3 star Michelin. Lol.  Unparralled is what you should expect at a 3 star Michelin, not 1, and yet a fraction of the 3 stars are unparralled. I loved sushi Azabu.

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
URL: http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1301/A130101/13024790/

***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 (1)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 ->

Sushi Oono - See eal-Sea eel was excellent both in flavor and texture. Nicely sourced and paired well with the judicious quantity of fresh grated root wasabi that it was flavored with. 8/10

Sushi Oono - Uni-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.  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

Sushi Oono - lean tuna

-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

Sushi Oono - CrabCrab – Sizable portion but very ordinary crab,dry, lacking the exciting crab flavor I am expecting at this level. 5/10

Sushi Oono (3)

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

Sushi Oono - Gizzard chad

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

Sushi Oono - Octopus and abalone Octopus and abalone were both served at the same time:

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

Sushi Oono - Cod milt-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

Sushi Oono - Plum custardPlum 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

Sushi Oono - Miso soupMiso 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 who claim 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

Sushi Oono - Tamago-Tamago (in its cake version) featured good texture but lacked the fresh eggy flavor and enjoyable sweetness (it was bland) that I prefer and that was better expressed at the other Sushi shops 6/10

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 so that both the fish and the rice do combine well together   (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.

Sushi Oono (2)

Overall food rating: 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.

Sushi Yasu, La Prairie

Posted: April 9, 2014 in sushi, sushiya
Tags: , ,

Restaurant: Yasu
Type of cuisine:  Sushiya, essentially but they also have  more
Where: 835 Chemin de Saint Jean,  La Prairie
When:  Tuesday  April 8th 2014 19:00
(450) 659-1239
URL: http://www.sushiyasu.ca/

SUSHI YASU, LA PRAIRIE (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

For what it’s worth, Yasu is widely known as the place where Japanese, in Montreal, go. What’s certain is that, along with Jun I, this is one very rare Mtl’s (and surroundings / it is actually in Southshore Montreal) sushi place  with a real Japanese sushi Master at the helm (most sushiyasans in Montreal are mostly Vietnamese or Chinese). Yasu has nowadays two locations: one in Brossard and the other one in Laprairie. The original Japanese Sushi Master is now working at the one in Laprairie, which is where I went

My visit here is about the sushi (obviously), but I also ordered couple of non-sushi items just to get a better general impression of the depth of the cooking at Yasu.

As ever in Montreal’s & surrounding sushiyas, as great as they might stand (by local standards, I mean), there won’t be any attempt at surprising the customer with freshly grated  wasabi root, so wasabi in its paste form is the norm. The gari (pickled ginger)  was properly made though.

SUSHI YASU, LA PRAIRIE _ MENUAs some non-sushis items I was particularly interested by how they make their tempura as well as the takoyaki balls. Those are two items that I am curious about in order to assess very precise elements of the cooking skills of such place.

-The tempura: I have read reports about theirs being standard. The soft shell crab tempura that I had ($8) were actually  below average with barely no  taste coming through. The crab taste nowhere to be found. It was frustrating to eat a tempura of such subpar standard since this is hardly an item that fails to please. Plenty of ordinary oriental eateries in town get this better    3/10

SUSHI YASU, LA PRAIRIE - OCTOPUS BALLS

 

 

 

 

 

The Takoyaki Balls (dumplings with octopus pieces, $5 for 6 pieces) featured underwhelming takoyaki sauce that managed to have barely any flavor. Another frustrating moment since takoyaki sauce is one of the main elements that helps lifting the taste of those balls. Here, it had the color but no taste at all of whatever version of the takoyaki sauce you’ll stumble upon. Even more frustrating was the taste of the mayonnaise:  a low grade type of mayo that  I will remember for having diminished the enjoyment of it all. The light batter was the saving grace of this badly conceived takoyaki ball.  2/10

 

SUSHI YASU - SASHIMIS AND SUSHIS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sushis:  red tuna looked and tasted fresh, the Chef being very generous as the chunks of red tuna were sizeable compared to what’s generally served in Montreal and surroundings. Salmon was fine. Unagi was of great quality (by Montreal sushi standards) and I wondered how come such nicely executed unagi sauce was sharing the same roof as the above mentioned  forgettable sauce that covered the Takoyaki Balls.  Spiced salmon was exciting in mouth (not many sushiyas get those this right).  Some might not like the fact that the rice was mushy, but texture of rice boils down to what you prefer (some like their rice soft, others hard, etc). That said, this was no fine sushi rice neither and I am talking about local standards.  Still, by local standards  7/10 for the sushis and sashimis

Service was good

My verdict:  5/10 Some of the sushis were fine (by local standards), but I don’t understand how they could fail at delivering items as basic as a   tempura or a  takoyaki ball.  Needless to stress that I was disappointed by this meal at Yasu. The Master Chef is perhaps very popular among Japanese people  (according to most online accounts) but such meal is not consequent with his fame. Yes, I can see why this place is popular: the prices are low…but I went  south shore to sample the food of a great Chef, NOT the evidence that the food is affordable….