So there we were, in the midst of a memorable meal at Urasawa. I knew that the arrival of the Gari(Pickled Ginger) was a sure sign that the parade of Nigiri Sushi was about to begin. A small wooden Handai(Rice Tub) was brought out, and Hiro-san got to work.
Hiro-san was the picture of efficiency, and the nigiri sushi was dressed with a dab of Wasabi(the real stuff, of course), a few drop of Nikiri Joyu - Hiro-san's custom concoction of Soy Sauce, dashi, mirin, and who knows what else. At times, a few drops of Yuzu juice, or some Yuzu was grated for zest and brushed on to the sushi, or perhaps a touch of salt was added for flavor. In retrospect, I should have taken a few more photos of Hiro-san in action, or of the construction of the nigiri, but that would have been a challenge. The nigiri is created with Sushi-meshi (sushi rice) at perfect temperature, and the nigiri is placed on the Geta(serving platform) and served at optimal condition. This means that it should be consumed ASAP! In fact, once when Captain Jack was in fine eye rolling orgasmic bliss (I think it was the uni)form, Hiro-san reminded Him to eat the nigiri now on his plate. So for photos I would get the camera set while the nigiri was being formed, and as soon as the sushi hit the Geta, snap a photo, and snap up my sushi! So there I was like a photographer on the runway of nigiri fashion show, anticipating where the sushi would hit so I could quickly get my shot. So here are the runway models.......
Toro, the ultimate fat tuna belly, with a light brushing of the Nikiri:
There are two types of Toro; Chu-toro, the medium fatty toro which is what we usually get in smaller neighborhood sushi joints, and O-toro, the fattiest strip of buttery, tender toro....delici-yoso!!! I jokingly mentioned how O-toro got it's name. After eating this treasured-tender, rich and buttery morsel, you couldn't help but moan; "ooohhh-toro, ooohhh-toro", it is that good.
Slightly firm, and mildly creamy in texture. Good stuff. By this time you start realizing something. Looking at the nigiri, you can almost count every grain of rice, and each little oblong ball of rice is packed perfectly, not too tight so that the rice is mashed, not too loose so that the nigiri will fall apart.
Madai(Japanese Sea Bream/Japanese Red Snapper), as noted before slightly firm at first bite, but soft after.:
The grated Yuzu zest took this piece of nigiri to the next level. Each tiny bit of yuzu was packed with a clean, condensed citrus flavor, giving the nigiri a very clean finish.
Shiro Ebi(White Shrimp), actually many tiny raw white shrimp reside on this piece of rice.
I've had this once before, and didn't think much of it. Chewing the shrimp was like eating a hundred little pouches of water, and it had very little flavor. This one was heavenly; the shrimp was so very soft, and the flavor sweet. I'd take this over Ama-Ebi any day of the week. This was one of my favorites, the condensed flavor of a dozen sweet raw shrimp. I think it's about at this point where Hiro-san started conversing with us a little more, he really enjoys talking about food.
Sayori(Halfbeak), this was a new one for me. The long thin piece of fish was manipulated into a circular form with chopsticks.
The texture is firm and mild.
Kohada, many people call this Japanese Herring, but I know it as Gizzard Shad. Hiro-san told me that they call it Japanese Herring because many customers don't know what Gizzard Shad is:
Slightly sweet and milky, this was very good. At this point, Captain Jack said "Hiro-san, you are a super-star!" Hiro broke out into a smile and said, "no, my customers are stars....."
Ika(Squid), I don't know about you, but I've had many tough pieces of Ika in my life, this was probably the most perfect piece of Ika I've ever had:
The fine grains of salt and yuzu zest added great flavor. I mentioned the salt to Urasawa, who said, "yes, I make it here....", and added breaking into a smile, "I like to make everything myself!" So salt???? Urasawa creates a mixture of salt and water, adds Kombu(Kelp), lets the liquid steep, removes the Kombu, and lets the water evaporate....to create salt!
Aji(Horse Mackerel), one my favorites:
Very tender, I've never seen Aji looking so translucent. Very mild in flavor.
Kuruma Ebi(Prawn), this little bugger, was alive and kicking, placed on a skewer, and briefly poached(I know, I know...photos. Maybe next time):
Soft, sweet, and tender. Hiro-san told me, "just slightly cooked, is the best way....."
Uni(Sea Urchin Roe - actually the ovaries, but who cares?), I must say that I've never seen a more perfect piece of uni:
I have had better uni, live, directly from the shell. This was as good as "wood box" Uni gets, sweet and creamy. Captain Jack absolutely loved it. At this point the Handai was replenished with fresh rice.
Saba(Mackerel), usually not my favorite, this was excellent:
Aoyagi(Clam), more tender than mirugai, and sweeter to boot, with mild briny overtones:
Really, really, good!
Awabi(Abalone), as beautiful as the Awabi was, I wasn't too impressed:
Though the yuzu zest added flavor, there was little else.
A medium sized charcoal brazier was brought out, and two pieces of Shiitake Mushrooms were grilled until soft. Nikiri was brushed on to the nigiri, and topped off the earthy flavor. I was rather surprised at how well the meaty texture of the mushroom worked as sushi.
Hotategai(Scallop), two large scallops were opened and cleaned. The meat was butterflied and the Hotategai Nigiri was topped with a brushing of Nikiri and Yuzu zest :
Soft, sweet, and a bit salty. The umami was going strong on this one!
Negi-Toro(Green onion and Toro roll). While preparing this, Hiro-san brought out a piece of Takuan(pickled Daikon Radish), and cut off a round slice. Placing the slice on the cutting block like a wheel, Hiro-san sliced a very long paper thin strip of pickle. The Takuan added a very mild hint of sour to the salty-onion flavor of the roll, as well as a crunchy texture.
Seared Toro, at first I thought, "what a waste", but this really tasted like beef.
An interesting nigiri.
At this point, I started wondering when palate fatigue was going to set in, but it never did. But I'm pretty sure reader fatigue will be setting in, if not already. So I'll stop here. There's still one more part to go, where we'll cover the extras, and the last items of our dinner, including dessert and other things.
A few comments and questions that were emailed to me:
The Crab - Sorry, I dropped the ball on this one. I think the Kani Miso was made from Hairy Crab.
Organic - Yes, everything at Urasawa is organic.
How much did this cost? - Sorry you'll have to wait until part 3 is done for this one.
Thanks for hanging in there....I hope this isn't too much for everyone! Part 3 should be done tomorrow!