Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sushi Sase

My husband wanted to go to Japan for a last-minute weekend trip but I talked him out of it. I didn't want to spend half the weekend in transit, even if it did mean eating amazing food for the rest of the weekend - crazy as it sounds, all I wanted to do was sleep in, do laundry and get some R&R right in our own home. To make it up to him, I decided to surprise him - if we couldn't go to Tokyo, perhaps I could bring Tokyo to us.

I often hear expats - especially those who previously lived in Tokyo, of which there are many in Hong Kong after the 2011 earthquake - complain that there is no good sushi in Hong Kong. I used to be among them. Sushi Kuu serves decent sushi but is bogged down by too many distractions on its menu - a sushi restaurant should really only serve sushi. I'd heard from friends that Sushi Yoshitake and Sushi Rozan are both excellent - that is, if you don't mind spending your kids' tuition money on a single meal. I needed to find something in between - sushi good enough to be considered very good sushi on par with Tokyo, but at human prices.

Surprisingly, I found just the spot, and it happened to be under our noses all this time. Sushi Sase, located on Hollywood Road in central Hong Kong, is a quiet sushi oasis - as soon as you step past the curtain and the automatic sliding door, you are transported to an authentic sushi-ya in Japan.

Chawanmushi (savory egg custard)

 First course of the Hokkaido set (available at lunch) - uni and ikura donburi
 Kai (red snapper)
 I forget what this was - looks like hamachi
 Hairy crab with roe
 Delicious hand-cut udon
 Tamago and unagi

It was a win-win for all - hubby's desire for Japan was temporarily but very satisfactorily quenched, and instead of getting on a redeye flight, we only had to walk down the street!

Food rating: ****
Bang for buck rating: 4

The essentials:
No website
Location: 49 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong
Omakase - HK$1400 (~US$200); Hokkaido set (lunch only) - HK$400 (~US$50); Mini-kaiseki (lunch only) - HK$650 (~US$85)

Kyubey Ginza - A perfect meal

For most of my life, I used to categorize rainbow rolls and dragon rolls and California rolls together with nigiri - that is, eponymously with the term "sushi." I've since become a sushi purist after living in Japan, so that when I refer to sushi, I mean only nigiri sushi - vinegar-marinated sushi rice topped with fresh raw fish. Gunkan maki, the type of sushi wrapped with nori (often done with uni or ikura) counts too, but please, please don't say you want sushi and then eat California rolls or anything that includes a mayonnaise-based sauce. I don't know exactly what to call that type of cuisine - perhaps "Bastardized American sushi" would be most fitting. If you ever have a Japanese business client and take them out for sushi make sure there is no special sauce, fake crab meat or deep-fried soft shell crab within 100 feet of your sushi, and especially not in or on your sushi. I know - I sound like a food snob, but all you need to do is visit Kyubey in Tokyo and I think you'll understand where I'm coming from.

Kyubey is legendary in Tokyo. This is where gunkan maki is rumored to have been created. Astonishingly, it appears to have been left out of the Michelin guide's favor for the past few years, and perhaps that has to do with the fact that it is now a restaurant chain and the service and food quality is inconsistent across locations. This review is for the original Kyubey located in Ginza - I've previously reviewed the Hotel Okura location which was disappointing, but the Ginza location served one of the most impeccable meals I've had in my life. But enough talk, I'll let the pictures do the convincing.

Chu-toro (medium fatty tuna)

Maguro (lean tuna)

Kai (red snapper)

Uni (sea urchin)

Amaebi (Sweet shrimp - these little guys were alive and kicking when I took this photo. The chef swiftly de-headed and de-shelled them before serving)

The prepared Amaebi. The flesh was still beating with life when I ate it.


O-toro (fattiest fatty tuna)

Anago two ways - the one on the right was sprinkled only with a light dusting of salt and it was absolutely amazing because it allowed the sweet, subtle flavor of the eel to shine while the one brushed with sauce was overpowered by the salty sweetness of the soy. If I ever go back to Kyubey, I will ask for both my pieces to be served with salt only, no sauce.

Final course - maki rolls with pickles and tamago. The negitoro (fatty tuna with green onion) in the middle was the best negitoro I've ever had.

I asked for no "chewy" sushi (i.e. squid, octopus, clam or abalone), so one of my courses was a simple chawanmushi (savory egg custard)

The sushi omakase ends with your choice of a traditional Japanese red bean dessert or fruit. Even the watermelon here was the most delicious watermelon I've ever had.

Food rating: *****
Bang for buck rating: 5 (not cheap but worth every penny)
Location: 7-6, Ginza 8-chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Sushi omakase: 8,500 yen (~$90) at lunch, 10,500 (~$110) yen at dinner