I’ve encountered Chef Takao Ishyama several times now.
I first met him when he was working at two-Michelin starred Sushi Kanesaka. Although I was initially disappointed that we did not get Kanesaka-san himself during our visit, I was still very, very impressed with every single course from that meal.
Fast forward three years. One of our friends who lives in Japan had recommended to us this new sushi restaurant called “Sushi Ya” すし家 (ya means family). The prices at Sushi Ya are a bit more reasonable than other sushi places because the chef does not use certain exotic and more expensive ingredients.
However, his skills are top notch, and the sushi is excellent.
I visited during lunch and fell in love with the place.
I really, really enjoyed every single piece of sushi. Better yet, our entire meal for two was only $140 USD (including sake, tax, and gratuity), which felt like a steal. In fact, I enjoyed my lunch a lot more than our $400+ dinner the night before at Jiro’s apprentice’s place, 2-Michelin starred Sushi Sushi Harutaka (which I generally found too salty for my tastes).
I vowed to come back for dinner for the full experience. [update: link to full dinner experience]
As we sat down to dinner at the tiny 7-seater sushi bar, we watched Chef Ishyama construct a "maki" roll mad from a sheet of kelp wrapped around some sort of mackerel-like fish, ginger, shiso, sesame seeds, and rice.
He held the roll together with a rubber band before setting it aside, presumably for us to enjoy later?
Our first bite was a small bowl full of what looked like clear ribbon noodles, but were actually baby eels (!) in a ponzu-like sauce. If you look really closely, you can see the tiny eyes.
It was excellent – a light and refreshing way to start the meal.
Next course, meiji mono, or baby tuna, was phenomenal. It was oh-so-tender and so flavorful. Inside I wondered whether it was bluefin tuna, and whether I was eating something horribly unsustainable. I really don’t know, but I did feel a twinge of guilt as I wondered these things.
Next Chef Ishyama grabbed a cleaver and cut in half a crab shell artfully stuffed with two types of crabmeat. The meat was tender and sweet.
The first time I tried shirako (cod sperm sac) was at Sushi Kanesaka with Chef Ishyama when he was working there. Funny thing is, at the time he told me I was eating "monkfish liver". I totally believed him until a kind reader commented on my blog post and told me the hard truth. Heh heh, it was probably good I didn't know what I was eating that first time.
This time we had it grilled, which was quite interesting. It was smoky with that lovely char while still creamy inside.
Next was crab roe (presumably from the crab we had earlier?) and the pressed kelp roll that we had watched him make earlier.
I absolutely loved this next course - a tuna cheek (kama), which was luxuriously fatty and super flavorful.
I often don’t like monkfish liver because it can be a bit funky. In this case, I loved it. Chef Ishyama's version was creamy, nutty and not stinky at all.
Next was grilled sablefish with mashed daikon and flounder (hirame).
As we moved into the sushi courses, we munched on crunchy pickled daikon as a palate cleanser.
And then it was time for sushi! We started with a trio of tuna.
I absolutely loved both the chutoro (medium fatty tuna) and otoro (fatty tuna), which were extremely flavorful and had excellent rice texture. The soy-sauce aged akami (tuna) I found to be slightly too salty for my preference.
Next was kampachi (yellowtail) followed by squid (ika) with lime. The ika was one of the few pieces I did not love, and I definitely felt like I’d had better versions elsewhere (most notably on this trip, at Kyubey).
The kohada (mackerel) was nicely cured with a bright vinegar taste.
The akagai (surf clam) was crunchy and delicious.
The aji (horse mackerel) was fantastic. I also loved the rice texture of the uni (sea urchin), though I found the uni itself to be less sweet than others I’ve had.
Kuruma ebi (prawn) was fine. It's never one of my favorite pieces (ha ha, maybe because it's cooked!) but it was solid.
Finally, we had hamaguri (clam), which tasted phenomenal with the floral addition of orange zest.
We ended with anago (sea eel) served with salt and a touch of orange zest.
When Chef Ishyama asked us if we wanted any "extras", Bryan piped up and asked for uni. Chef Ishyama brought out a different type of uni from Hokkaido. Bryan thought it was delicious, sweet, and creamy. Alas, I was too full and had no room. 🙁
We ended with tamago (egg omelet), which was good but not in the same league as the likes of Sushi Mizutani, Sukiyabashi Jiro, or Sushi Yoshitake.
All in all, I loved my dinner at Sushi Ya. There were many phenomenal courses of things I had never tried before. I like how the focus is more on fish than shellfish, which is something I prefer. Chef Ishyama speaks enough English to get by, though you probably won’t be having long conversations with him if you don’t speak Japanese.
Highly recommended. I think I will visit this place regularly every time I return to Japan.
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