Friday, May 24, 2013

Kyubey

Founded in 1935, Kyubey is a high-end sushi restaurant in between the Ginza and Shimbashi districts of Tokyo, Japan that has been named as one of the ten best restaurants in Asia.  We were inspired to try Kyubey after reading a post from the Tiny Urban Kitchen.  She wrote: "Yosuke Imada is the second generation chef-owner and has won numerous awards for his restaurant, including a Michelin star back in 2008. In fact, Chef Imada is obsessed with freshness and quality that he makes sure Kyubey serves only local, Japanese fish. There are no imports here but over 40 types of local wonders. Being one of the biggest players in the fish market (Tsujiki Fish Market is less than a 10 minute walk away), Kyubey has access to some of the top picks at the fish market, and Imada makes sure he gets it." 

The restaurant consists of multiple floors in two separate buildings. Each floor contains just one sushi bar with about 12 seats and 2 sushi chefs. (They have a rule that a sushi chef can serve no more than 6 people.) So, even though the restaurant is actually large, the ambience is very intimate.  Luckily, we made reservations a few days prior to ensure a coveted seat.  We arrived nearly an hour early to the main entrance and I was worried we'd be turned away, yet they happily greeted us and escorted us across the street to the other building and we were seated at the bar on the lowest floor.

We decided to choose the Omakase set menu (chef's choice) for 10,500 JPY per person.  It came with nigiri, assorted sushi, and soup.  Our sushi chef was super friendly and spoke English very well. As an amuse bouche of sorts, he presented us with "French fries" that were actually sticks of fried fish spine and bone pieces.  The chef explained the calcium in the bone is "best for women's health."


He then asked us what we cared to drink and Keith preferred a cold sake.  Soon, a server presented us with a bottle that they picked for us "as recommendation."  This was a sign to the high quality service we were to be treated with all night.  The sake was clear and very strong, yet still drinkable on its own.  I could tell it was higher quality and more refined than the other cloudier variations.  Next, we were presented with a bowl of pickled seaweed as our opening "salad."  It was tasty and used as a palate cleanser throughout the evening.

A younger sous chef who mostly grabbed supplies for the main chef, was told at the beginning of our meal to make more wasabi.  Using a shark skin covered board, he ground the green root lightning fast by hand and the fresh eye-burning scent wafted in the room.  He then explained to us that putting wasabi in your soy sauce is a no-no. Instead, for nigiri, you are supposed to just rely on the wasabi inside the nigiri because the sushi chef has already put in the perfect amount of wasabi. The only time you use the wasabi that they give you is when you eat sashimi. You are supposed to put a dab of wasabi on the fish slice, fold the slice in half with the wasabi on the inside, dip the folded sashimi in the clear soy sauce, and then eat.

The chef started us out with a light, white fish that I think was kampachi (amberjack). He proceeded to prepare for us piece after piece of perfectly formed sushi.  It was amazing to watch him slice the fish so effortlessly.  The fish was extraordinarily fresh, the sushi was cut with exceptional skill, and each nigiri was perfectly formed. You must allow the chef to control the flavors for you. Sometimes he would brush the fish with a bit of soy sauce while other times he just sprinkled a bit of sea salt. Lime was surprisingly featured often, either in zest form or juice. I actually loved the bright citrusy notes that the lime added to the fish and it replaced the "zing factor" that the ginger slices often give.  The chef also instructed us when to use our hands to eat versus chopsticks.

Row 1: kampachi, toro
Row 2: hirame?, uni
Row 3: ebi, clam
Row 4: aji, bonito 
Standouts among the nigiri included the uni (sea urchin) that was sweet, fresh, and had absolutely no off flavors. It was actually quite good and was a nice creamy and light bite. The fresh toro (tuna belly) tasted like nothing I’d ever had before - soft and buttery, with a melt-in-your mouth richness that's really hard to describe. The bonito was topped with garlic puree and a squirt of lime that gave the whole piece a burst of flavor.  The clam was another oddity - as it, too, was live and the chef would slam it onto the table to "wake it up" and the meat would curl up and move.  I think this was a way to tenderize the thicker meat.


During the sushi-making "show" we noticed something jump on the plate in front of us. The chef quickly darted out his hand to cover what turned out to be live prawns on the plate. One nearly succeeded in its escape as it jumped off the plate, but the chef caught it in time.  The chef then asked us if we preferred the preparation raw or medium-rare. Keith asked "Which way is best, chef?" to which chef answered, "Both!" So I said the heck with it and responded "Raw!" The chef smiled, then beheaded the shrimp and took their tail meat to make the ebi (sweet shrimp) nigiri that you see in the collage above.  Keith nudged me and whispered, "It's still twitching."  Eek!

To quote Tiny Urban Kitchen: "With my eyes closed, I quickly grabbed the sushi and stuffed the entire piece in my mouth. I chewed faster than I had ever chewed in entire my life, at the same time desperately trying to squash visions of "twitch twitch" in my mouth."  The raw shrimp was sweet, but left a weird film and mouth-feel.  I think I could have handled it better with some rice.

Later on, we were presented with the shrimp's head and tail that were saved and then deep fried.  I was more brave this time and popped the crunchy head in my mouth.  I was expecting odd textures or oozing elements, but instead it just was like a crispy shrimp cracker.

Midway through we were presented with our bowl of soup.  This was a break in the course, to allow us to digest a bit and give time for the next course to be ready.  The soup was a simple clear broth and had mushroom, carrots, and fishcake in it.  It was a little bland for me and so I barely touched it in order to leave more room for the rest of the stellar sushi.


As a segue, I nibbled on more of the fish bones and Keith was presented with eel liver, as this is "best for men's health."  The chef refused to give me any ("For men only!," he quipped) and I did not mind, as they looked strange and Keith said the flavor was very strong and unappealing.


Soon after, we were presented with anago (salt water eel) that was grilled and marinated in a teriyaki-type sauce.  I enjoyed this heartier warm part of the meal.


After all the nigiri pieces, we had a small set of sushi rolls featuring pickled radish, toromaki (tuna belly roll), cucumber, and pickled plum.  For each piece, we also noticed that the rice is served actually a bit warm and slightly vinegared - the same as the rice in the earlier nigiri pieces.  Each grain was visible and perfectly cooked.


As a "dessert" we were given our last pieces of sushi - the tamago (sweet omelette).  Keith had become quite fond of this treat during our travels in Tokyo.  I was stuffed and could only eat one piece, so he was happy to finish off the rest of mine.


I thought that was the end of our meal, but the chef quickly pulled out some daikon & shiso (radish & sesame seed leaf) to make us a palate cleanser before we left.  I snapped a final picture of the chef at work making this little sandwich for us.  It was crunchy and refreshing. I quite enjoyed it - and was surprised how it did seem to naturally clean my mouth.

I agree with the Tiny Urban Kitchen who commented: "In the end, so much of the omakase experience is your interactions with the sushi chef. Many sushi chefs in Japan hardly speak a word of English, and will only take reservations in Japanese. Even if the food is amazing, you miss out on half the value of an omakase if you can't talk to the chef at all about the food you are eating. Kyubey is one of the best choices for a foreigner to enjoy a true omakase experience. Even if you don't get a chance to try every new exotic sushi preparation, you will have an incredibly fun, informative, and awe-inspiring meal."  There was no doubt that this was the most incredible sushi we have ever had in our entire life. Overall, we had an incredible meal at Kyubey. You get almost personal service from a very experienced sushi chef (they all have to train 12 years before they can come out and make sushi for customers!) and the food is unbelievable.

Total Rating: 4.78
Food: 5, Price: 4, Service: 5, Ambience: 5, Accessibility: 4.5
What Micky Eats...

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