Friday, June 26, 2015

Pure Enlightenment at Sushisho Masa of Tokyo

Ah, Sushisho Masa. This had to be the capstone of my sushi tour of Japan.

I felt quite privileged as I sat inside this tiny, exclusive 7-seat sushi haven, situated underground (in the basement of a building in Tokyo), which had required us to make reservations at least a month in advance. After all, I was about to try the omakase at a place that my travel companion had first experienced a couple of years ago, which she had declared to be better in quality, as well as friendlier, than the hyped-up Sukiyabashi Jiro—and at half the price (about ¥25,000 per person).

I tried to be mindful of etiquette, for this was that kind of place. Although I consider myself an expert, I knew I had yet to be indoctrinated, for this was the domain of acclaimed Chef Masakatsu Oka, and this was Japan, where surely there were exotic fish that I had not yet heard of.

For such an upscale setting, Sushisho Masa indeed has very affable staff members who are quite accommodating to your needs. If you inquire about a particularly unusual fish, such as Tachiuo, one of the chefs might ever so thoughtfully open a Japanese picture book of fish before your eyes and point to it. They are patient to repeat the names of other esoteric sea life—sea grapes, penshells, whelk—in Japanese and in English, if they happen to know the names in both languages.

The meal began with little slices of octopus and miniscule servings of sea grapes and seaweed. And then it commenced in earnest, an in-your-face explosion of flavors and textures: smoky, raw, slippery, chewy, pickled, charred. This was not a place for beginners or for those unprepared for seafood…four items in, and you were munching on what I think they said were “Giant Clam Insides.” That was soon followed by a solo shrimp head from the Ama Ebi family, which was later followed by a sinuous sliver of mackerel belly.

Of all the tastings we were each served, I think less than half of them came with sushi rice, which was smart (you got to taste more items this way, without filling up too quickly). Each tasting was unique—one item was served on a stick, another in a fold of seaweed, another in a tiny ceramic bowl.

But I think the best thing I have ever put into my mouth was that marinated firefly squid, which was so good that I clung to my friend’s shoulder and started convulsing a bit. The squid was gooey and slimy-looking, not the most presentable, but surprisingly delectable. Its taste, said my friend, reminded her of ika no shiokara, or pickled squid guts. (Well, now I have to look for that.)

Other glorious tastings: the buttery, melt-in-your-mouth ankimo, touched with a hint of the mildest wasabi; the sweet horse mackerel sushi; the kinmedai (golden eye snapper) sushi topped with wasabi, grated radish and tart sudachi fruit. There was the mustard yellow Murasaki uni atop a small heap of sushi rice—so sublime.

I especially liked the way the chefs separately served both the outside and inside parts of a sea critter. This was done with the kuromutsu fish (first the inside, raw and sitting atop a nub of sushi rice; then the outside part, which was seared hot, smoky and flaky). The torigai (cockle shell) was served raw first, then barbequed versions were laid before our eyes. Bonito was served as sushi with Japanese mustard, followed by slices of bonito seared with a tantalizing garlic sauce.

In our two-hour sitting, we were served exactly 50 pieces of perfectly rendered sea life, the rote broken only by a lightly pickled radish in the middle of the meal, then a random slice of eggplant. Finally, our meal was finished off with the sweetest cube of caramelized tamago for dessert.

I reckoned my enlightenment was complete. For now.

Sushisho Masa
4-1-15 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Basement Floor

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