Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ouchi oishii!!!

By our third day in Japan, I was getting antsy. We had had Okinawan food (noodles, stir fry, tempura), tonkatsu, kushiyaki and teppanyaki, with some wonderful strawberries thrown in, but we hadn’t sunk our teeth into any sushi or sashimi yet. Hello? Have we got our priorities right, I was thinking (sometimes aloud, to J)?

I mean, we are in Japan, after all, where the freshest of seafood is supposed to pass through its famed Tsukiji market, from wriggling prawns…

… to clams and shellfish of all shapes and sizes.

But the star of the show has to be the tuna shipped in from all over the world, fetching the highest prices in the auctions...

before being carted away by the middlemen to their stalls in the market itself to be butchered (with deft force)…

… into manageable chunks ready for chefs, fishmongers and other retailers to purchase.

We did eventually have our fill of fresh raw seafood, from specialty spots like Isegen and Hakarime (raw anko and anago prepared in many creative ways), to sushi restaurants ranging from the pricey to mid-level, to even the humble bento boxes we picked up at Kyoto train station for our Shinkansen ride back to Tokyo (the quality of the latter belying its affordability).

The highlight for me was Sushi Ouchi, which we visited on our last night in Tokyo. The Shibuya restaurant is all about organic food and sustainability, right from its inception in 1983, before those concepts became hip and politically correct. The restaurant’s popularity with visitors increased after it was featured in a Japan Times profile in 2005. What’s not to like, when master Ouchi Hisashi is strict when it comes to choosing what to serve – “fish caught from the wild; rice from organic farms; naturally brewed rice vinegar, shoyu, miso and mirin; sea salt sun-dried in old-style saltpans; and fertilized eggs from free-range chickens”, according to the article.

This is a tightly run establishment – Ouchi-san had only two helpers, as far as we could tell, and the English speaking one attended to us. The waiter was unfailingly helpful and courteous, even though he became increasingly busy as the Saturday night crowd drifted in. He handed us our menu and apologised for his inferior linguistic skills. We smiled a little, since his apology was delivered in flawless English! (Anyway, a common language or the lack of, was never a problem in Tokyo and Kyoto.)

You need not blow a fortune here – set sushi meals begin at 2,100 yen and range up to a 10,000 yen omakase set that had both a sashimi and sushi platter. Our sushi platter came artfully placed on very impressive bowl.

I asked J what she remembered of her experience:
“I remember:

The beautiful pottery the sashimi and sushi were served in and that were stacked high behind the sushi chef.
The small size of the pieces.
The loosely-packed sushi (really meant for fingers).
The perfect seasoning of the fish.
AJI!!!! Horse mackerel -- never thought I'd like something more than toro. Absolutely no fishy smell, lush and oily texture, smooth as butter.
The neighborhoody feel of the place, given the people that were there.

Can we go back?”
We had asked the chef if we could have otoro with our set (if it wasn’t already part of it). The fatty portion of the tuna belly did not disappoint – J was in closed-eye ecstasy – but, as she says above, we were swept away by the aji, and not surprisingly, we had seconds!!! She also liked the place because it was “not trendy at all, and the prices don't reflect a premium”.

Yes, we can go back. ☺

Sushi Ouchi
2-8-4 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku. Tel: 3407-3543.
Open: Noon - 1.30 pm; 5-11.30 pm.
Time Out Tokyo city guide (copyright 2007) says it is open every day; the (2005) Japan Times article says it is closed Sundays and holidays


z said...

wah, so delicious . . . sigh.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

I linked randomly to this through Thomas Clarke's running blog, and being Nikkei and having spent a few years in Japan, I am now very natsukashii (nostalgic) and my onaka ga suite ire na! (my stomach is very empty / I am very hungry). Nice pictures! Keep having fun!

Aromatic Beans said...

Z, you just had to be there! We were always torn between two or three places to eat during our stay!

Thanks for swinging by, Mark. We became nostalgic the day after we flew out of Japan!!! Hey, I should get some recommendations from you. We felt we didn't have an insider's track to the best spots there. Cheers!