Tokyo Food Guide: Sushi Tokami and what it’s like to eat high end Tokyo sushi

I love sushi, but to be honest, my taste in sushi is, admittedly, pretty pedestrian. It tends to run more casual than fancy and when we’re in Tokyo, we’ve been known to eat depachika (department store)/supermarket sushi and more relaxed sushi places like kaiten (conveyor belt) and small family run places. But, one can only eat so many discounted pieces of tuna nigiri before one starts wondering, what’s it like to eat high end Tokyo sushi?

Like most everyone I know, I have watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Back in 2011, I even dreamed about eating at Jiro. But then, after a bit of internet research, I realized that there were a bunch of hoops to jump through for a chance to sit at that coveted counter for 30 minutes. Still, the lure of a high end hinoki wood sushi bar called to me and it would have been a shame to not try out at least one place (or two). As for Jiro, I quickly forgot about him — there are so many other sushi chefs that are move beloved.

sushi tokami | www.iamafoodblog.com

All you have to do is take a look at tabelog, the definitive guide on where to eat in Japan. Like yelp, tabelog is crowd-sourced. Unlike yelp, you can actually trust it, partially due to the fact that it’s anonymous and partially because Japanese diners are notoriously meticulous in their reviews. A good rating on tabelog starts at 3 and there are absolutely no 5 starred restaurants. Even though Jiro is arguably the most famous sushi chef in the English speaking world, with 3 Michelin stars, his sushiya is currently rated 4th on tabelog. And, to add just a little more insult to injury, his tabelog award this year was bronze. Still, I would eat there in a heartbeat. But, this isn’t a post about Jiro, it’s a post about high end sushi in Tokyo.

sushi tokami | www.iamafoodblog.com

Once you decide that you want high end sushi in Japan, you’ll be spoiled for choice. It’s difficult to decide but one thing will certainly guide (if not force) your decision. Reservations are a must and for the higher rated sushiya, notoriously difficult to obtain. Mike and I have discussed it endlessly and we think there’s a hierarchy reservation system but this is all speculation.

1. You need to be a regular because many places do not take first time customers. You become regular by dining there of course, but you need an in, someone else who is a regular diner, who introduces you.
2. If you’re a regular, you most likely will be making a reservation for your next dining experience while you’re at the shop, after you’ve finished your meal. Mike and I have actually done this, not for sushi, but for places that are popular with locals and difficult to get into, like certain yakitori places. First priority goes to locals/regulars and to be honest, there are many occasions where going to a high end sushiya is basically like them going to their neighborhood joint.
3. Japanese speaking. If you’re going to be making a reservation, it’s best to speak Japanese. It only makes sense, you’re in Japan right? There are a couple of ways around this: find a friend or use a concierge, but some sushiya do not do reservations for non-locals. I think it’s most likely because they’ve had no shows, which is particularly heartbreaking considering that fish has been selected and the fact that there are absolutely no walk ins in the case of sushi dinners.

Once you find someone to make you a reservation and you’ve passed the gauntlet of phone tag, credit card information exchange, and signing away your soul to ensure you will be at the restaurant on time, you’re gold. In February, Mike and I lucked out (okay, truth is, Mike did a lot of legwork) and scored a reservation at Hiroyuki Sato’s tiny ten seater Sushi Tokami.

Tokami is a relative newcomer to the sushiya scene – it’s about four years old now – but you could say that chef Sato was born to be a sushi chef; his father was a serious sushi chef as well. What puts Sato on the radar though, aside from his impeccable sushi making skills, is that he didn’t ever want to be a sushi chef. Luckily for us, he fell in love with Japanese cuisine while he was living in America, came back to Japan and started formal training.
Tokami is his first restaurant, tucked away in the basement of a business tower in Ginza. It received a Michelin star in 2014, is currently ranked 20 on the top 100 Tokyo sushi list, won a silver for tabelog’s 2017 awards, and has been a pretty sought after experience ever since.

Tokami is serious business so we went for the omakase, of course. Most high-end sushiyas expect you to order omakase, or chef’s choice. To be honest, there isn’t any other choice. But don’t worry, you’re in good hands because it essentially ensures that you’re going to be getting the freshest, in season items.

sushi tokami | www.iamafoodblog.com

Anyway, because Mike is pretty good at maps, we made it to Tokami with lots of time to spare. We were the first ones to arrive at our seating (usually sushi dinners are all booked at the same time with everyone being served simultaneously) We sat down, ordered some drinks and took some photos with our gun shot loud camera. It was a little intimidating, to be honest, because it was so silent in there, but the staff were lovely and didn’t seem to mind our photo taking at all – our cute waitress even gave us a nice bamboo mat to place the camera on.

Now that I think about it though, was she being nice to us or was she protecting the wooden counter? We’ll never know…

Once we had a couple sips of our drinks, the other dinners started arriving and we were off! At Tokami, the omakase started off with a handroll: crisp nori and warm rice wrapped around coarsely chopped tossaki – an uncommon cut of maguro from the base of the head. The rice (from Niigata prefecture) at Tokami is seasoned with red vinegar fermented with natural sake yeast and is, in my opinion, to die for.

sushi tokami | www.iamafoodblog.com

rice seasoned with red vinegar

Sushi rice and the amount of vinegar used is a very personal chef choice as well as personal preference. I LOVE a very vinegary shari (the rice part of sushi). It’s partially (note from Mike: actually the sole reason) why Mike chose Tokami – he knows that I’m a vinegary rice head. I just find that it complements the fish. It was an awesome first bite and only made me even more excited for what was to come.

After the roll, we had a bunch of otsumami, a variety of hot and cold dishes that are served before the nigiri courses. I don’t really remember any of them because I was keen on getting to the sushi, but I do remember there was a kinmedai sashimi course that absolutely changed my feelings on kinmedai. Well, truth is, before Tokami I never had kinmedai/splendid alfonsino/golden eye snapper before. It’s a white fish with pink/red skin that’s best in the winter/early spring: it’s delicate, tender, and full of a subtle umami flavor. Seriously so good.

sushi tokami | www.iamafoodblog.com

After that, the most memorable thing that happened was a fish served on a very wide plate with a delicious dashi/consume. There were no spoons of course but I just knew that the dashi was delicious and I wanted to drink/eat it but couldn’t really see how it was possible.

Me, in a whisper, to Mike: can I drink this?
Mike: What?
Me: I wanna drink this, can I?
Mike: uh, how?
Me, bringing the plate up to my mouth to tip in the liquid and spotting Sato-san laughing at me.
Mike, shaking his head: Why do I even bring you places?!
Me: It tasted good, I wanted to eat it!!!

sushi tokami | www.iamafoodblog.com

the plate

It was a good laugh though and I guess it broke the ice because after that Sato had a lot of fun chatting with us, asking us to guess what each fish was and telling us a little bit about where he learned English – Singapore, apparently.

The tuna at Tokami is unsurprisingly AMAZING but the reason why is kind of cool: one of Tokami’s investors, Yamaguchi-san, is the president of a celebrated Tsukiji hon maguro wholesaler, Yamayuki. Yamayuki supplies many of the cities top ranked sushiya, like Kyubey, Sushi Saito, and Sushi Sawada.

sushi tokami | www.iamafoodblog.com

otoro

But, as much as I love tuna, the two stand out pieces for me were the uni and the tamago. I’ve always been a big fan of uni, and here, Sato-san does a unique cold and warm uni mix all wrapped up in a one bite gunkan. The contrast between the temperatures brought out the flavors even more. And the tamago…don’t even let me start! Give me a slice of bread because tamago is my jam and I could eat it all day every day. The tamago at Tokami was perfect – very different from the types of tamago you usually see at high end sushi ya. Nothing like the tamago you see the assistant slaving over in Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Tokami’s tamago is no ordinary tamago – it’s tamago brûlée. The top has a very thin, crackly, caramelized sugar crust that gives way to a dense, slightly sweet, very dashi-full tamago custard. Unique and delicious. I almost wanted to ask for another piece but after the plate debacle, I was shy.

sushi tokami | www.iamafoodblog.com

tamago brûlée

Oh, one last thing: the duo of anago, one piece with shio (salt) and one piece with tsume (sauce) was also very very good. Okay, to be honest, once we got to the nigiri portion of the meal, I was dying everything was so good. I was kind of skeptical because I’m more of a sweatpants, hair tied, chillin’ with no make-up on kind of girl, and this was a nails done, hair done, everything did kind of place, but I seriously loved it. It sounds crazy but I feel like I was forever changed. I mean, now, I feel like the sushi that I eat never has enough vinegar.

sushi tokami | www.iamafoodblog.com

anago

Yes, we paid an insane amount of money (I don’t even want to know how much) but it was so worth it. Mike was even more skeptical than me and in the end he loved it. He just told me it’s the barometer by which he measures all sushi and that hands down it was the best sushi he’s ever had, period. Hands down best sushi I’ve ever had too! This wasn’t our first rodeo with high end sushi in Tokyo, it just happened to be the best and now we’re absolutely hooked…time to save up because there are just so many other sushiya that we NEED to visit.

Sushi Tokami
8-2-10 Ginza , Chuo-ku, Tokyo
104-0061 Seiwa Ginza Silver Building B1F
12:00-14:30
18:00-23:00

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

9 Comments

  1. Kelsey says:

    This was such an interesting post! I loved learning more about high end sushi through your and mike’s experience. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. Bee Dizzle says:

    My closest friends actually raved about the splendours of kinmedai recently. I’ll have to try it myself!

  3. Geoff says:

    Thanks for this. Wondering how high end Tokyo sushi compares with something in the states like the omakase Sasabune that focuses entirely on the fish (NYC).

  4. Danielle says:

    You always have the BEST food experiences in Tokyo. I’m actually going there in early Feb and might try to score a reservation here even though it sounds very difficult… do you think it’ll be too hard to even try?

    1. Stephanie says:

      it never hurts to try! and if you don’t get in, there are SO many other good places for sushi :)

  5. Louis says:

    What yakitori places do you frequent? ;-)

  6. vy says:

    hi steph and mike! How does the high end sushi counter compare to the ones is tsukiji? so jealous of your adventures right now!

    1. Stephanie says:

      hi vy,

      it’s a completely different beast! high end sushi places have cooked foods and they also age their fish (here’s an article on that), which is something that the sushi counters at tsukiji don’t do. of course, they all source fish from the market, so that’s the same, but different restaurants get access to different levels of fish.

      they’re both delicious, just different!

  7. Peter Dao says:

    I want to eat every foods in Japans. It is very delicious.