Bryan, my husband, often travels for work. Occasionally, armed with his trusty little Sony camera (affiliate link!), he will take photos and send me his thoughts on some of the more note-worthy restaurants he has visited. Other posts I’ve written for places he has visited (but I have not!) are Sushi Yoshitake (3-Michelin stars) in Tokyo, Luce in San Francisco, and Olo in Helsinki. This is also the 14th post of I’ve written in May as part of my #21PostsInMay Challenge where I aim to write a new post every single weekday in the month of May. You can see all posts written in May here.
The Japanese take their national holidays very seriously.
Which is why it’s a huge bummer if the one day your business trip takes you to Japan, the city is closed because everyone is celebrating the holiday.
This is exactly what happened to Bryan.
Well, sort of.
First of all, it was a rather unexpected surprise that Bryan was even flying through Tokyo. His trip was supposed to take him through a couple Scandinavian countries before heading to Macau for a conference. Originally, he would fly straight back from Hong Kong. Alas, a last minute business meeting came up, which made him have to reroute his flight plan through Tokyo.
And how can you stop over in Tokyo and not stop by?
As visions of sushi floated through his head, Bryan decided to stay just one night in Tokyo. Essentially he would have time for one dinner and one lunch before heading back to Narita for that lovely (newish) direct flight on Japan Airlines back to Boston.
There was just one problem.
It was Vernal Equinox Day, a public national holiday where Japanese people celebrate the coming of spring. Typically people don’t go to work and instead travel back home to visit their families. Museums were closed. The best sushi restaurants were closed. The city was quiet, with most people spending time with their relatives.
Thankfully, Bryan was able to find a few places that were open.
He visited Meiji Shrine, a Shinto shrine right in Shibuya dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shōken. Emperor Meiji ruled Japan from 1867 until 1912. He is best known for his instrumental role in the Meiji Restoration, which changed Japan from a feudal state to a capitalist imperial power.
After a visit to the shrine, Bryan managed to find a great sushi lunch.
It’s true that most sushi places are family-owned and close on a holiday like this. However, Sushi Kanesaka, a two-Michelin starred establishment that I reviewed back in 2011, has another location inside the Palace Hotel, not far from the Imperial Palace. As you know, hotel restaurants tend to keep longer hours and are typically open all the time in order to serve hotel guests. After all, do hotels ever close?
Luckily, Sushi Kanesaka was open on this first day of spring.
The restaurant opens for lunch between 11:30am and 2pm. It again opens for dinner between 5PM and 10 PM. There are a variety of set-sushi lunches. Bryan opted for the 15-piece lunch menu, which was the biggest one. The overall meal took less than one hour (definitely designed for the hardworking lunch crowd!).
Beer is a common drink paired with sushi, and most sushi places have several different types. Bryan ordered a Suntory premium malt.
Below I’ve listed the entire tasting menu. Unfortunately, since I was not there, I am not able to describe them. However, you can get a sense of what fish are offered and what they looked like!
The meal began with a simple seaweed/agar salad topped with tiny little fish (not pictured). Then, the sushi began to come out, in relatively fast succession. Typically the sushi chef will add the “sauce” on the fish for you (notice many of the fish pictured below are brushed with a soy-colored sauce). In most instances, you should not be dipping your sushi further into soy sauce or wasabi unless if specifically instructed to do so!
Here we go!
Hirame (hlibut) and tai (snapper).
Maguro (tuna) and chutoro (fatty tuna).
Iwashi (sardine) and otoro (super fatty tuna).
Ika (squid) and saba (mackerel).
Hotate (scallop) and spider urchin? Bryan had never heard of it. He says it was chewy and reminded him of abalone.
Bonito (skipjack tuna – one of my favorites!) and uni (sea urchin).
Ebi (shrimp) and akagai (clam).
Finally, the chef made a small, simple maguro (tuna) maki, which he instructed Bryan to dip into the soy sauce.
A miso soup with shitake mushrooms and scallions.
A final few additional bites: anago (sea eel) and tamago (egg custard). We always compare any restaurant’s tamago with our gold standard: the tamago at Sushi Mizutani and Sukiyabashi Jiro (both are simply divine). According to Bryan’s notes, this particular one was “not as soft and flavorful as Mizutani.”
Bryan says that overall the sushi was very good. It was definitely better than anything you can get in Boston. It was noticeably not as good as the best ones we’ve visited (Mizutani, Jiro, and the like). I asked Bryan how it compared with our visit to Kanesaka four years ago, but he said he really couldn’t remember. The chef spoke some English, and described all of the pieces to Bryan in English, which is helpful.
It’s interesting to note that the original Sushi Kanesaka lost a Michelin Star in the 2015 Tokyo Guide. When I visited back in 2011, it was a two Michelin starred restaurant. At the time, it was by far the best sushi experience I had ever had (up to that point, I had only tried Kyubey and had not yet tried Mizutani or Jiro). Now, for one reason or another, the critics (or are they called “inspectors”?) have decided it’s only worthy of one star. I don’t believe the one at the Palace Hotel has been rated.
In any event, Bryan was super thankful he could find anything that was open on Vernal Equinox Day, especially something that was still very enjoyable.
So what did Bryan do the rest of his 24-hour trip to Tokyo?
He found an incredible whisky bar in Ginza called Hibiya Bar Whisky-S that was pouring Yamazaki 25 and Hibiki 30 by the shot. Because the U.S. dollar is so strong right now (and those whiskeys are virtually impossible to find in the U.S.), Bryan was in heaven trying shots of whiskeys he had always wanted to try at an approachable price.
He stopped by his favorite store (mega electronics store Yodabashi Camera which literally takes up a whole block) in Japan’s famous tech gadget area called Akihabara. He also stood in line (first thing in the morning!) in front of Kiddyland, one of my favorite stores in Tokyo. He picked up several Totoro and Domo stuff for me, which I guess helped make up for the fact that I wasn’t able to go to Japan with him.
Finally, he had a fantastic dinner (again!) at Sushi Mizutani, still one of our favorites. Despite the fact that Mizutani also lost a Michelin star in the 2015 Michelin Guide (from three star down to two stars), Bryan said he noticed no difference from our previous dining experiences and still thought it was amazing.
All this Japan writing is making me want to go back! Thankfully, I’ve got a trip planned out there this fall. Can’t wait!
Sushi Kanesaka Palace Hotel
T: +81 3 3211 5211