In fact, two weeks prior to visiting Sushi Dai, I had breakfast at Sushi Bun, just a couple of stalls down. Sushi Bun forbids photo-taking, so there will be no blog entries on Bun.
My previous blog on this very same restaurant can be found here:
Aside from the minor differences in the fish served (they are all seasonal, last time I went around summer), I feel that this blog is slightly more comprehensive overall.
Waking up before sunrise to catch the very first train for Tsukiji sushi is both a painful and exciting feeling, and this is the fifth time I’ve been to Tsukiji for sushi ‘breakfast’.
There are three popular sushi shops in the inner market of Tsukiji: Sushi Dai, Daiwa Sushi and Sushi Bun. Sushi Dai typically has the longest lines, and that’s where we were headed.
My previous experience made me semi well-prepared, as I knew exactly what I was signing up for, so I drank my flagon of fresh coffee and wrapped myself in layers as we got ready for departure. Everything went according to plans: got onto the first train at 5:02 (albeit very close), arrived punctually at Tsukiji-shijou station at 5:22, and began queueing up at 5:30. The shop opens its doors at 5:00 in the morning and seats twelve. At 5:30, the tiny restaurant was already packed, and there were seventeen people eagerly waiting at its doors. The wait was long and dull, and it was made particularly arduous due to the cold weather, lack of sleep, and anticipation for tasty sushi.
The sun gradually began to rise as people were slowly ushered into the shop, by the time it was our turn, the day was bright as… day and my iPhone read 7:10.
We both ordered the Omakase (お任せ) set at 3950, which includes tea, miso soup, nine pieces of nigiri-sushi and four pieces of maki-sushi [omakase means ‘up to the restaurant/chef’ deriving from the word 任すmeaning ‘entrust’].
We were greeted warmly and enthusiastically by our sushi chef, who profusely apologized for the agonizing wait in the cold weather and made various small talk to make us more comfortable. As I sat down in front of the counter, I ceremoniously decided that I would use my fingers to eat the nigiris instead of chopsticks.
The first nigiri served was oo-toro, which is the fattiest piece of tuna belly. This is typically the best and most expensive piece: a great way to begin a meal. I grabbed the sushi with my three fingers, and expertly dipped it lightly in the soy sauce then moved it swiftly into my mouth. The rice was of a very nice temperature and texture. The fish required very little chewing, and almost melted in my mouth by itself.
The second piece served was suzuki (sea bass) すずき. This fish was slightly chewy, but very light and refreshing: a very nice choice after the heavy oo-toro. A random aside: at this point, a Japanese girl sitting beside me ditched her chopsticks and began eating her nigiris with her hands too.
The third piece was the tamago-yaki (玉子焼), the omelet. The omelet was warm, sweet and fluffy.
The fourth piece was kimmedai (金目鯛), or snapper.
The fifth was uni (海胆), or sea urchin. Unlike regular supermarket or even department store sushi, this uni was particularly fresh with almost no fishy smell or taste. It was simply a bite of unctuousness with a subtle hint of the ocean.
The sixth piece was aji (鯵), or horse-mackerel.
Then came hokki-gai (北寄貝), or Sakhalin surf clam. This clam was the acme in terms of entertainment, as the clam was served while still moving. I grab the nigiri as the clam moved, and ushered it into my mouth. The clam was crunchy and slightly fishy, honestly nothing too special other than the fact that it was moving.
Ikura (イクラ), or salmon roe. Much like the uni, the ikura was superbly fresh.
Shiro-ebi (白海老), or small shrimps.
Sawara (鰆), or Spanish-mackerel.
Then came the four pieces of maki-sushi.
Followed, finally, by anago (穴子), or conger eel. This anago was very warm, sweet and soft, and the sauce added a very nice touch. However, I still feel that the anago served at Sushi Bun was much better.
We then moved on to order some pieces of the a-la-carte menu. First was a different piece of oo-toro. This piece was noticeably more chewy and slightly more fatty as well. I preferred the first piece much more, and ordered that one again.
As we continued to browse the a-la-carte menu and showed no desires to leave, the chef either began to like us or wanted us out ASAP, he suggested his favourite nigiri to us: kawahagi (皮剥) filefish. This nigiri by far had the most complexity as it came with both the fillet and the liver on top. This fish was extremely chewy, and took me a good minute to swallow it.
We then ordered a few more pieces before heading out:
Ikura and shiro-ebi again, followed by aka-gai (赤貝), red clam
...and, Tako (蛸), octopus
In the end, the meal ran about 13,000 JPY for both of us, and we left somewhat full. I do feel that the overall experience was better than that of Sushi Bun, but given its wait time and the minute superiority in terms of quality, I would probably opt for Sushi Bun in the future.
I still remember Haji's suggestion of trying a few 'real' sushi restaurants, and that's definitely near the very top of my things to eat: Saito and Jiro in particular.
While I feel that the quality served at Tsukiji is superb, I am also beginning to sense that much more could be done with regards to presentation and theme. I often hear that a high quality sushi meal could tell a story, much like a kaiseki; and those refinements and intricacies are some elements I felt Tsukiji stalls lacked and wish to experience in the near future.