I'd planned of having a heck of a first full day in Tokyo....it was to be our "red lettered day". We started out at Tsukiji Market, then had lunch at Sushi Iwa. I wanted to finish off the evening with something special. initially, I thought about one of those 2-3 Michelin Star places....but, as I've mentioned before, I think folks put a bit too much in the "star" system, though there's a good bit a rating like that does say. I started thinking a bit differently about things when I overheard a conversation regarding some of the "top rated" places in Tokyo.....and I read about this common theme as well. You won't find any Japanese Nationals at many of these places....nowadays it's mostly Chinese/European/American tourists. Nothing wrong with that, but it's just not our style. Also, we wanted something that wasn't too stuffy or pretentious, not overdone and precious. I wanted a place where we'd find Japanese eating. After doing a whole lot of research, hemming and hawing, a little Kaiseki place named Suzunari came up. No, you won't find it on Chowhound, I just did a search on the Japan board before starting this post. A big plus was this little place was located in rather close proximity to our apartment in Yotsuya. The only obstacle was trying to get reservations...nothing online, we had no concierge, no English spoken. We're lucky to have friends who were able to make reservations for us. So we headed down the narrow streets of Arakicho a neighborhood of small, somewhat private looking bars and restaurants....we just followed the Salarymen.
I had read that Suzunari had no real sign and it was very difficult to find so we started early....strangely, perhaps it was luck, we found the place with no problems at all. Sticking my head in the door, quietly saying in my fumbling Japanese "Yoyaku shitemasu......" to the young woman working the tables, suddenly I heard a greeting from behind me......this happened to be Chef Murata and the kind and warm young lady is his wife. They were of course expecting us, first grabbing our coats then leading us to our seats at the bar.
There are three versions of the menu available, basically, 60, 100, or 150 dollars. Heck, we were in Tokyo, we had arranged for the 15,000 yen menu. There's so much preparation done ahead of time, that you need to indicate which offering you want. I had the folks choose our Nihonshu, just indicating we wanted something "local"... the young woman knew a little English, which helped, and I did my best....which wasn't much.
It was great watching Chef Murata and his assistant prep all the dishes. The entire staff was a total of four, the Chef, his second, his wife who worked the front of house, and an older woman, who seemed to be one of their mothers, who took care of the dishes and cleaning....it really seemed to be a family affair. And yes, this is Tokyo, most everything was done in almost a hushed silence.
The meal itself was amazing.....Chef Murata would often stop everything he was doing to try and explain what he was serving, or his wife would try to find the English words for items......they seemed to be pleasantly surprised that I knew the Japanese or at least the English names of what was being served. Of course there were still many, many, gaps...items I've not had experience with, which made this meal even more pleasant.
The Sakizuke, first course was a refreshing, understated course of shrimp and tender tako with what seemed like, but I don't think was grated yamaimo, it was too smooth. The aspic was subtle, but refreshing.
The range of flavors all seemed to compliment each other.......so smooth...
The Hassun, basically a arrangement of appetizers was one of the most impressive things I've ever seen.
I will say, some the simpler items were just amazingly perfect; the smoked duck was moist and tender that you would think it was pork, except it had that nice duck flavor....the ginnan, earthy, with a hint of sweet and bitter but also made crunchy. The two almost ohitashi like dishes; the greens and mushrooms with yuzu, topped with beautiful, briney ikura, served in a hollowed out yuzu....the fragrance of the fruit adding a nice touch. The tai with shiokara sauce, sweet, pungent, chewy and silky smooth at the same time. The bo-zushi was a fantastic combination of milky and savory flavors, cut by the vinegar in the rice. You really could go on and on.....
And yet, the one item we're still talking about is the simply perfect shirako........perhaps my best bit of the year. Firm until it enters your mouth, turning into a wonderful melting creaminess upon your first bite. Just simply amazing.
The Mukōzuke, the sashimi course, was fine.......
The Mushimono - steamed dish was a fabulous. A chawan-mushi, steamed egg dish, was so smooth and custard like. This version had suppon (soft shell turtle) in it.
Comfort food taken to the next level.....the suppon is quite mild in flavor.
Botan Ebi - October is pandalus nipponesis season from what I understand.
You know which part we treasured the most, right?
We watched as fish were skewered and roasted/broiled in the salamander. Chef told me what kind of hikarimono these were but I really couldn't understand and I didn't want to take him away from the now full house he was dealing with. I figure these were the yakimono items.
The fish were rich, with good oil, savory, and quite tender. Our favorite was the version served with a smooth, savory, beany, but not salty aka miso. It just blended in so well with the fish and especially the shiitake mushroom....umami overload.
This was so good, we don't even remember the next item.......
I'm thinking this was a palate refresher....because next up was the Kamameshi, the grand finale as it were. Noticing that I was taking photos......the young lady kindly brought me the pot of rice to photograph before serving......it was just so touching in a way....so thoughtful....
Mixed and served with the typical Kōnomono, seasonal pickles.....this was by far the best kamameshi we'd ever had...it was just masterfully prepared, so perfect in proportion. Also, the entire pot was for us! We saw the couple next to us totally clean out the entire pot....but there was no way we could do this. In the typical way, they made onigiri for us.
The aka miso shiru had a large amount of lobster in it. It was rich, yet not salty......it wasn't a favorite of the Missus, who I guess prefers the really salty versions we have here in the states....She really didn't care for any of the miso soup we had in Japan.
And yes, there's dessert....but there was no way we'd be able to do that. I just nodded "no" and patted my stomach and said, "oh no. soon sumotori....." Which got a nice laugh.
As the evening wore down, the folks here took time to formally introduce themselves to us and kind of of wondering where we were from. I do wish I spoke and understood more Japanese. They were genuinely surprised to find we were from San Diego.
We both loved Suzunari. In fact, if we're ever back in Tokyo, I'll try and find a way to return. The food is great, the folks running the place are wonderfully gracious, very relaxed, and so sincere. It's more than wonderful food; it was a memorable experience It was the perfect place for us; no pretense, not stuffy, a family operation, gracious hosts, and fantastic food. There were no tourists in the place other than us......the place was fully booked. We didn't want any concessions and that's a great thing we found in Japan, I'm sure there are places that will do this....but as a whole, you'll eat like the people. We loved it!
All customers are escorted out as they leave and thanked; though the Chef came out from behind the counter to join us as well....to give me his business card. But I gotta ask.....when was the last time you saw a Michelin-starred Chef flashing the peace sign in a photo? You gotta love this place! We do!
7-9 Arakicho, Shinjuku-ku