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Tokyo top sushi places: Ginza Harutaka and Sushi Sawada

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The first part: Ginza Harutaka


One day before our dinner at Sushi Yoshitake, we actually had a meal at another Tokyo’s elite sushi-ya (also) located in Ginza named Harutaka. One of the ‘challenged’ of ever worked under Jiro Ono (Japan’s national treasure for his contribution/dedication to sushi) is that you’re almost always being compared with your master. Harutaka Takahashi fortunately has risen to the occasion and made a name for himself. His sushi-ya has often become the favorite sushi place among Tokyo’s chefs.  


Like many other top sushi-ya(s) in Ginza, Harutaka is located in the 3rd floor of unassuming building. Our reservation was late, around 9 PM and we were the last guests arriving to the restaurant. At that time, there were a group of 3 and a solo diner at the counter – all of them was Japanese. We were seated in front of the sous chef but by the time we ate the sushi, the 3 people already left hence Harutaka-san himself prepared the sushi for us. We opted for otsumami + sushi


-Our first dish was smth refreshing: sashimi of tender ise ebi and its jelly with clam miso. Next, grilled sanma; it was quite tasty and smoky. The saury was intensified with the sauce made of the sanma’s liver

-Soup contained matsutake broth (good aroma and dashi flavor) and delicate hamo; we enjoyed it. For sashimi, we had hirame with its pleasant natural flavor as well as smooth & sweet botan ebi

-Tender and a bit chewy black abalone (simmered carefully for several hours) served with abalone’s dashi (warmed and a bit thick) was our next dish - in order to enhance the awabi’s flavor. It was decent though not at the level of Yoshitake’s signature dish.

-Lastly, we had seared katsuo, almost raw in the middle with crispy skin. It was served with interesting side dish: garlic, ginger, oil etc. taste bitter but went along well with the bonito  


The appetizers were more interesting than Mizutani’s sashimi variations (similar qualities), but in terms of creativity and deliciousness – it’s still behind of what we had at Sushi Yoshitake. Luckily, the sushi was really good. Including the tamago (not inferior to Jiro’s), Harutaka served us 16 pieces of sushi. Some of the outstanding ones were:

-sumi ika: silky, naturally sweet, and tender with a good amount of wasabi

-chu toro: aged for 5 days with a great balance of tuna’s ‘meat’ and fat

-o toro: Very velvety and oily yet we could still taste its flavorful flesh. An excellent otoro, perhaps the best one I ate this year 

-kuruma ebi: tender and juicy; sweet and high quality. Possibly, it's one of the best broiled tiger prawn I've ever eaten

-aji: a lovely fish; fresh, a bit oily, and good texture

-kasugo: well seasoned, pleasant texture and refreshing; had a novelty feeling

The rest of the sushi items were: kisu, shima aji, akami, kohada, ikura, aka uni, buri, akagai and anago. You can read the descriptions in my more detailed review at the link below


I really love the combination of the fish and the rice at Harutaka. Unlike Sushi Mizutani whose shari was more sticky (less al dente), the shari at Harutaka was more similar to Jiro's especially in terms of texture (firm but smooth) and temperature (warm). However, to distinguish himself from his master, Chef Harutaka's rice was more balanced - less acidic with mild salt that blended really well. It's very suitable to my palate. Harutaka might look young & inexperienced but don’t be ‘deceived’ by this. He has been trained for more than a decade at Jiro and another 10 years or so of running his own place. His knife work was impressive and precise and his movement was graceful and purposeful. Very different from the formal Jiro, Harutaka was more accessible and relaxed; he often smiled yet talked very little – he seemed he would rather listen to his customer’s talking. The rest of the staffs were also friendly and helpful. They did their best to make us feel comfortable and enjoy the meal. They also worked hard to explain the sushi we consumed, sometimes showing us the book about Japanese fish.


I think Ginza Harutaka is my current favorite sushi place in Japan, if not in the entire world (along with Sushi Sho). At this level, when for instance, I mentioned Harutaka is better than Mizutani or Jiro – it was only marginally better and you cannot go wrong to go to any of these places or other elite sushi-yas in Tokyo especially if you’ve never had any sushi in Japan before. I would rate my overall experience here as 95/100 (2 ½*). My ‘perfect’ sushi meal will probably consisting of 5 appetizers from Sushi Yoshitake plus 15 or more sushi pieces prepared by Harutaka Takahashi. Can it happen? Not sure if one will be allowed to only eat tsumami at Yoshitake’s place (and paying half price of the full omakase).


Detailed review: http://zhangyuqisfoodjourneys.blogspot.co.id/2015/11/ginza-harutaka.html

Pictures:  https://picasaweb.google.com/118237905546308956881/GinzaHarutakaTokyoJapan#



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Part 2: Sushi Sawada


Unlike any Tokyo’s top sushi chefs, Koji Sawada was not trained by any famous sushi master. In fact, his background was a truck driver. However, that did not stop him to pursue his passion to be the best sushi chef. Following Japan’s kaizen principle, for more than 10 years, he has been running and honing his skills in which his sushi-ya has become one of the most sought after place to dine in at Tokyo by locals and foreigners alike.


Sushi Sawada is the 3rd and last sushi-ya we visited during our most recent Japanese trip. With only 6 seats, it’s certainly among the most exclusive sushi place in Japan. All seats were occupied during our lunch. Besides me and my spouse, there were 2 other couples: one is Japanese and another one flying in from New York (He said Sawada was his favorite sushi place in the world; he was a repeat guest). As we’re seated, my wife whispered to me – how come the lady helper was so skinny and looked pale? The chef must have made her worked so hard. Because in contrast to her, the itamae was big and stocky – she must have initially thought that as a staff, the lady helper worked a lot harder than her ‘boss’. FYI, my wife is not a foodie, and usually had no info about any restaurant we visit. I told her that the lady helper was actually Sawada-san’s wife; she was even more ‘shocked’ and thinking that the chef might have been “cruel”. I just smiled and told her to simply enjoy the meal =)


As many have known, Sawada was very strict with regards to taking pictures and the use of mobile. In addition, eating with chopstick was not really encouraged. So taking notes has been quite challenging (eating using hand was really appreciated – I became a lefty during this 2 hours). Moreover, I was not even allowed to put my notes on the counter – it was pretty much spotless. The counter was so clean that the Sawada-san was confident to serve all items on the wooden counter. Similar to other sushi meals we had, the lunch is divided into 2 parts:


Appetizers – there were more than 10 items

-My favorite one was the charcoal grilled tuna (near the collar’s part, so it’s fatty) but this time the charcoal was put on top of the fish. It was ‘burnt’ outside, still raw inside – looked like a steak. This aburi toro was very wonderful

-The tender tako sashimi and Mushi Shima awabi with jelly liver were delicious. I also enjoyed the roll containing kamasu, shiso, ginger, wasabi and a few other things

-Some other things that were good and interesting were buri marinated mackerel (shime saba)+tomato, chu toro aged for 1 week, and sea cucumber ovary (kuchiko) served hot

-The other items we ate were alright but not memorable:  sashimi of hirame, engawa, and aori ika with aka uni on top. We also ate the part that Sawada called in between chu and otoro (kotoro?) but it was somewhat tasteless; tasted like non marinated and plain akami    


Sushi – there were about 15 pieces

-Sawada was proud of his tuna and rightly so. His tuna (and some other ingredients) was of outstanding quality even by top sushi standard in Japan. We had (they get ‘fattier’ in the sequence): tsuke akami, chu toro with plenty of wasabi, kotoro (this time was tasty), o-toro (served twice) and buri otoro, consumed with lots of wasabi. To neutralize the ‘oiliness’, Sawada-san gave us refreshing and delicious raw eggplant after these “tuna party”

-My other favorite pieces were soft and flavorful shima aji, marinated kohada with a hint of sweetness, edo style cooked squid wrapping around the shari.

-The ikura (fresh with delicate salty flavor) served generously was also good. The murasaki uni served in normal sushi style while the bafun uni served in gunkan style. The only ‘complain’ was Sawada-san gave too much ikura and uni – it became quite challenging to swallow and properly eat them without dropping anything. He managed to put ‘neta’ to be > 1.5x the height of the nori while the rice was less than half of the nori’s height; he jokingly named these as “Tokyo tower or sky tree”

-The rest of the items I also enjoyed (though not to the extent of the above pieces) were: kisu, akagai, smoked katsuo, kuruma ebi with its miso, anago with salt and sweet sauce. The meal ended with a gooseberry – the chef called it tomato strawberry.


Like my experience at Harutaka, I thought Sawada’s sushi was better than his otsumami. Sawada applied white sugar to the rice (served warm around body temperature consistently) with some sugar and salt though sometimes a bit too salty for my taste, but overall it still went well. His fundamental execution was very strong resulting in pure and tasty food. In contrast to his sturdy body, Sawada-san worked really fast; he skillfully used the knife to cut fish, prepare the food and serve them directly to his customers. He spoke minimal English but was very chatty. He spoke 80% of the time with the local guests which was understandable, but the surprising part was that he even spoke a lot more than his Japanese guests (we noticed that the chef initiated the conversation all the time). We spoke only a little with him. We learned that he’s from Nagoya and at the end when I mentioned that we were not really like the red miso there, he swiftly replied “Me too (either) and laugh hard”.


It was another solid sushi meal in Tokyo as expected. I would rate the food here 95 pts (2 ½*) on par with my experience at Sushi Mizutani but with better service. For sushi, I tend not to repeat the same place yet as there are numerous places I want to try in the future such as Mitani, Hatzune, Sho Masa etc. just to name a few  

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