“Are you Obama’s Family?”, asked the taxi driver, grinning ear to ear. He was reveling in his ability to make a joke in English. I obligingly smiled, then started really laughing. I had just given the name of my destination; Sukiyabashi Jiro. President Obama, along with the Prime Minister of Japan; Shinzo Abe, had recently dined here. It was fresh in everyone’s mind.
Like most Americans, I was made aware of the restaurant when Jiro Dreams of Sushi hit theaters back in 2011. I’m a fan of excellent food, and while not a true sushi connoisseur, I made a mental note to eventually visit Japan with the sole purpose of eating at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Getting reservations sounded difficult, but not impossible. I’m all about challenges, and I was ready to finally make it happen.
My strategy was to get a concierge to make the reservation for me, since you need to “know someone” in Japan. I used Hilton Honors points to make a speculative booking at the Conrad Tokyo for one night, then contacted the Conrad Concierge and got them on board with my plan. “I’ll eat anything, will take any time slot, and would prefer the original location”. Sukiyabashi Jiro only accepts reservations on the first day of each month, and books the entire month that day. The concierge move was successful, and I ended up with a lunch reservation. Original location. I was advised not to wear any “perfume”. The price was 30,000¥, with cancellation fees of 15,000-30,000¥.
I immediately booked my trip around it.
On arrival, I was seated at the 10 seat sushi bar, along with 3 others. There was a sign out front, stating that they were at capacity for the day. I was given an extremely fucking hot towel for my hands. There really isn’t another way that I would prefer to describe the heat level. They do not screw around at Sukiyabashi Jiro, nor -I’m sure- are they able to feel the heat the same way my untrained, soft, candy-assed American hands do. I applaud them.
I was then handed a meal-specific menu for that day, and was asked if it contained anything which I would not eat. My immediate response was that I will eat everything.
The squid and the urchin were calling my name.
I ordered green tea, but immediately regretted not ordering Asahi, which I soon saw my fellow diners receive. Thankfully, that would be one of only two mistakes I would make during my visit.
Jiro’s son, Yoshikazu Ono made each piece for me. Early into the 19 courses, we did the squid. It was absolutely astounding. Each additional piece, just escalated in complimentary flavor during my journey. Tuna, followed by semi-fatty tuna, and finally, straight-up fatty tuna. The flavor was subtle, and complex; operating on several levels of taste. An umami-tsunami, if you will. The rice was -as it should be- the centerpiece of the experience. The timing and delivery of every piece was planned with the same deliberation as every other facet of the preparation. I had high expectations, which were met, and slightly exceeded.
I’m a quick eater, and as such was very comfortable with the pace of the meal. Though it seems intimidating, I never felt uncomfortable in this environment. The menu was finished out with Tomago(egg sushi), which tied in wonderfully with the preceding urchin, salmon roe, and eel. I was then asked if there were any specific pieces which I would like to repeat. I opted for another squid, and semi-fatty tuna, none of which came cheaply. I think heaven on earth could be surmised as eating your way into bankruptcy at Sukiyabashi Jiro.
Afterward, I was seated at one of their 3 tables, and given what appeared to be honeydew melon for dessert. Like everything else here, it was perfect. Ripe, sweet, and juicy. After finishing, the host approached and asked if I would like to have a picture taken. After gently retrieving my jaw from the ground, I quickly agreed. Following him out the front door, I found Yoshikazu waiting for me. It was a pretty epic moment. We then bowed to each other, with my “arigato”, and with a friendly wave, his “see you next time”. I was a bit overwhelmed at this point, and began to make my way back up to the street level. totally. forgetting. to. pay(Mistake #2). It wasn’t a big deal, thankfully. A laugh was had, and we quickly settled up.
Final thoughts: I can’t say that Sukiyabashi Jiro was the best Sushi I’ve ever had. It would be an insult to compare it to the meager, landlocked food that I used to call Sushi. I’ll just stick with most honest statement I can conjure; it was the best meal I’d experienced to date. All 25 minutes of it.