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Apr 11, 2008 11:55 AM

Sushi Mizutani - Best Sushi in Tokyo?! [Review]

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Continuing with my Japan Trip, on Night 2 I was lucky enough to get reservations for Sushi Mizutani. Going to Japan and being a major Sushi Hound, I had to try out "great Sushi" in Tokyo as a comparison for everything I've had before outside of Japan.

I found Sushi Mizutani thanks to Silverjay's mention of the Japanese Customer-driven Food Review Site Tabelog (similar to a Chowhound + CitySearch/Yelp). As of today (and when I was researching), Sushi Mizutani was the #3 highest-rated Sushi restaurant listed. I later found out it was also a Michelin 3-Star rated restaurant! (As a side note, Sukibayashi Jiro (the other Michelin 3-Star Sushi restaurant in Tokyo) ranked much lower on Tabelog (from customers' feedback).) So off we went to Ginza to try it out.

Sushi Mizutani is in the basement level of a tiny building off the main streets, a simple, humble restaurant (with no pretentiousness).

We walked in, and were immediately and warmly greeted by Mizutani-sensei himself, and his wife, who runs the front of the house. It's a small establishment, with 1 simple and clean Sushi Bar, seating up to ~10-12 people. That night there were 8 of us dining. We of course went for the Omakase-style dinner, allowing Mizutani-sensei to choose. Here's a rundown of the Sashimi and Sushi pieces we had:

* Hirame (Flounder): Served Sashimi-style, it had wonderful texture, simple and clean. The best Hirame I've had.

* Engawa (Dorsal Fin of Flounder (Hirame)): This is the first time I've ever had Engawa, and a nice hint at the variety and uniqueness of what was to come. Nice texture and flavor.

* Awabi Liver (Abalone Liver): Very unique and again, the first time I've ever had this. I normally don't like liver of any sort, but this had a rich, earthy taste that actually didn't exude the normal "liver-like" taste normally associated with it.

* Saba (Mackerel): I'm normally not a fan of Saba and the oily fishes, but Mizutani shows off his impressive knifework (and eye for picking fresh fish). The Saba was hands-down the best Saba I've ever had! Wonderfully *fresh* and not overpowering at all. It also tasted like it had *2* different types of textures (his knifework in cutting the Saba lent itself to a wonderful cut of the fish).

* Awabi (Abalone): Abalone usually can be a little tough and/or chewy or rubbery, depending on the quality, and even the best Abalone I've had before this was "crisp" but on the firm side. Mizutani-sensei shows off his expertise and focus on Shellfish: The Awabi was amazing! It was soft and had a wonderful texture... it was nothing like any Awabi I've had before, ever.

* Chutoro (Medium-fat Bluefin Tuna Belly): Very fresh and tasty. The best Chutoro I've had, but I've been spoiled by Ohtoro so I was anticipating that later.

We now started the Nigiri Sushi portion of the meal:

* Kohada (Japanese Gizzard Shad): Amazing. The best I had previous to this was at Mori Sushi in L.A., but Mizutani's was one step above.

* Ika (Squid): Ika is usually the step-child for Sushi at many places... at most places, Ika can be rubbery or chewy and just not appetizing. Not so here: This was one of Mizutani's showcase pieces: The Ika here is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS! It's SO good. His Knifework shows through here as the Ika was literally CREAMY! *No* "chewiness" or "toughness" at all! It was melt-in-your-mouth creaminess! We were blown-away. Tied for my favorite of the night. (^_^)

* Maguro (Tuna): The standard piece and wonderfully executed here. Solid, fresh and smooth! No complaints.

* Akami (Special Portion of Tuna next to Chutoro): Another cut of fish I've never had before. Mizutani-sensei warmly explained what Akami was (he brought out a Fish Magazine with illustrations) and showed us that Akami was the portion right next to the Chutoro cut on the Tuna. It was wonderful and not as fatty as Chutoro, but richer in flavor than the regular Maguro cut.

* Ohtoro (Fattiest Cut of Bluefin Tuna Belly): Amazing. It was probably just a touch below Sushi Zo's Ohtoro, but only a touch. It was still very fresh and melt-in-your-mouth goodness. :)

* Akagai (Ark Shell): An amazing piece of shellfish! This is the first time I've experienced this and it didn't disappoint. Unique, toothsome (in a good way), and a good flavor and texture.

* Tairagai (Pen-Shell Clam): Another unique shellfish I've never had before! I have no frame of reference, but it was extremely fresh and tasty. Softer than the standard Mirugai, for example.

* Torigai (Cockle): Wow! This is another piece of sushi I've never had before. Mizutani-sensei explained that the Japanese call this "Torigai" because it looks like the beak of a bird (tori). The cut he presented to us was so well-done! It had a dual-flavor and dual-texture if that makes any sense. The flavor would augment and change from the first bite to the second.

* Mirugai (Geoduck Clam): The best Mirugai I've ever had.

* Sayori (Halfbeak / Needlefish): Prior to this, Mori Sushi had the best Sayori I've had, but Mizutani's is LEAGUES ahead of Mori's! His cut of Sayori was so sweet and fresh! My 2nd favorite of the night.

* Ebi (Cooked Shrimp): I'm spoiled by (and have a preference for) Amaebi (Raw Sweet Shrimp), so I usually look at the cooked version as "eh~." But for a standard Ebi Sushi, this was well-done and fresh. The Shrimp was lightly sweet as well, no complaints.

* Uni (Sea Urchin): Ridiculous. This was a perfect "100%" rating in my book, and it had a taste that was different from Nozawa's (which was the only other one to get a 100% once). Perfectly Sweet, Buttery, with NO hint of any "sea water aftertaste" that usually plagues Uni. My favorite of the night!

* Anago (Conger Eel): Fresh and wonderfully prepared (not overly sweet or sauced), easily the best Anago I've ever had.

* Tamago (Egg): The true test of a Sushi Master in many ways, and I can only say: WOW! Hounto ni SUGOI desu!~ COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS! I have NEVER had Tamago like this before! The cooked Egg was SO light and airy, so fluffy and lightly sweet... it could've passed as a dessert! It's not even remotely like any Tamago I've had at any other establishment.

Throughout the night Mizutani-sensei and his wife and assistant were warm and cordial, chatting with us and made us feel at home. In total, it cost us about ~$275 U.S. per person (including Sake). Mizutani-sensei is a true Sushi Master, with wonderful knifework and a specialization in shellfish (amongst other things). Sushi Mizutani is easily THE Best Sushi I've ever had in my life, eclipsing L.A.'s top Sushi bars like Mori, Sushi Zo, Nozawa, Sasabune, etc. It's simply the freshest fish I've had, and he's a warm and hospitable Sushi Master (which doesn't always seem to be the case with other top-rated places).

*** Rating: 9.7 (out of a Perfect 10.0) ***

Sushi Mizutani
(Ginza, Tokyo, Japan)
中央区銀座8-2-10 銀座誠和シルバービル B1F

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  1. Great report - thanks! And I agree completely about the amazingly tender awabi and unique tamago.

    Just one question - do the staff speak English, or do you speak Japanese?

    4 Replies
    1. re: Robb S

      Hey Robb S,

      I speak Japanese. :) But Mizutani-sensei's assistant (a younger gentleman) was able to speak a little broken English as well (he was chatting it up with the 2 ladies from Cypress that were seated next to us).

      1. re: exilekiss

        Thanks. The reason I ask is that I wonder if people who don't speak Japanese would really enjoy the experience at Mizutani, given that it's so small and intimate, and there's so much interaction with the chef during the hours one is there. What do you think - is the broken English of the assistant enough for one to fully appreciate the experience?

        1. re: Robb S

          Hi Robb S :

          I speak only very elementary Japanese. I don't think one has to speak Japanese to really enjoy the sushi meals in Mizutani, especially if you do not dine solo with friend or companion joining as well. In Mizutani, the three Taiwanese beside me spoke fluent Japanese (and I spoke fluent Mandarin) so they were helpful enough to translate for me whatever I do not understand. So that creates better atmosphere but then I do not think it enhance my enjoyment of the sushi. In Jiro at Roppong Hill, which is very small and intimate as well, the chef was rather busy and serious, and there was even less interaction even though he actually spoke English, but I enjoyed the meal thoroughly too.

          1. re: Robb S

            Hi Robb,

            Hm, that's tough, but I think if you have an appreciation for good food (and good sushi), then that's the most important thing. :) Mizutani-sensei can see if you smile and give a thumbs-up or are just happy, heh. (^_~)

            Definitely worth a visit if you love great sushi.

      2. Hi exilekiss:

        I just went to Mizutani one week prior to your visit. Agree absolutely that it was one of the best sushi meals I had too. My lunch style omakase complete negiri sushi is slighly cheaper at 17k per person (include another order of uni + draft beer), but without engawa, abalone liver and tairagai that you had over the dinner course.

        Agree with you as well the lesser known sushi, such as kohada, saba, ika, bring out the biggest surprise. I normally do not like kohada and saba, but under Mizutani's hands, they were sublimely delicious. I like ika but it is never easy to satisfy me, and Mizutani's one is also probably the best one I had.

        Surprise your review of the ebi is rather neutral. My understanding is that the ebi is from Tokyo Bay. It is the same one I had on my 4 visits to Jiro, the fist time was heavenly and the last three were rather below the expectation created from the first visit. Mizutani's ebi brought back the same memory that I had the first time. It was just amazing.

        My old favorites, toro, akami, akagai, anago, were just too good to describe the experience in words. But then, I already expected them to be good, but that was not the case with kohada, saba and ika. And can't avoid not to mention the tamago as well. It was also probably the best piece I ever had too.

        Notice that you only took the picture of the front door. Did you refrain from taking the pictures of the sushi because of objection from Mizutani? The Taiwanese visitor beside me requested for permission to take photo but was politely being turned down.

        So what other specific places do you plan to dine on this trip to Tokyo?

        1 Reply
        1. re: FourSeasons

          Hi FourSeasons,

          Glad you liked Sushi Mizutani as well! :) It's truly a wonderful place.

          As for my Ebi comment, LOL, don't take it too seriously... of course it was great (the best Ebi I've had), but I just have a personal preference for Amaebi.

          As for the pictures, it was such an intimate experience I didn't bother asking. I did take notes (and he was totally cool with that), and we were just chatting after each piece was served. It just felt a little distracting to try and take a picture of each piece of fish. ;)

          I finished up my Japan trip already, sniff (I miss Tokyo already!). I'm posting up reviews of all the other places I visited (some great surprises and wonderful discoveries thanks to you and all the other contributors on the boards)! (^_^)

        2. Strange that they use Geoduck, I thought it is only commonly use in North America or outside Japan. The Mirugai I had in Japan is Gaper clam 海松貝, similar to geoduck but with a smaller size. I found it much sweeter and with a smoother texture than Geoduck !

          For the Awabi, do they only use the middle top part (the center circle shape which stick out) ? I found it the softest part of abalone.

          And also Engawa, my favourite part of Flounder !

          3 Replies
          1. re: skylineR33

            Hi skylineR33,

            Oh, I don't know if it's officially "Geoduck." I *do* know in Japanese Mizutani-sensei called it "Mirugai", so I equated it with the "Mirugai" I've gotten in the U.S. which is Geoduck. If it is Gaper Clam, that's good to know (thanks).

            As for the Awabi, it seemed to be the middle top part only (for a few pieces I was in conversation with my tomodachi and wasn't watching Mizutani-sensei). It was definitely the softest, most amazing Awabi I've ever had.

            1. re: exilekiss

              may i ask.. for the sushi, are u expected to dip the sushi into the soy sauce??? or will they not provide any extra soy sauce??

              1. re: Lucil

                Hi Lucil,

                You can eat the Sushi by itself. Mizutani-sensei would instruct you if there were any pieces that needed to be dipped or enjoyed with sauce. Enjoy!

          2. Sounds like a pretty good experience. I've never been to Mizutani, although I've been meaning to for the longest time. I knew about Mizutani well before the Zagats and Michelins of this world annointed it, so maybe I've missed the boat. My favorite place is Dai San Harumi in Shimbashi. The itamae, Nagayama-san, is a bit of an acquired taste, and the reviews from the "I'll try it once for the experience" crowd are mixed, but I've been doing business with the guy for a few years now, and he treats me veery well. I think the man is a genius.

            8 Replies
            1. re: Uncle Yabai

              Thanks for introducing Dai San Harumi. You're right, the reviews are mixed but certainly more toward the positive side. Seems Nagayama is quite a character, which he's parlayed into a second career as an author. On the Japanese food review sites, some people complain that he uses koshi-hikari for his shari, which is a bit unconventional. And that he also serves it warmer than usual. Are these the sort of acquired taste experiences that you refer to?

              ...One interesting comment from a Tabelog poster, if I read it correctly, was that some bafun-uni was touted as being domestic, but came from a box labled "Russian uni". However a sticker had been placed on top saying it was from Hokkaido. The justification given was that it was actually Japanese territory, which I guess is implying something about the Sakhalin island dispute. Gotta love that kind of stubborn Japanese oyaji sensibility...

              Excerpt below-

              1. re: Silverjay

                He's definitely an unconventional dude. He's quite stern and humorless unless you've passed his muster. For example, my wife always takes small bites of food, so she would bite into the sushi and put it back into the tray. Nagayama-san told her flat out that this was rude and she should eat the sushi in one go. So now she only orders sashimi.

                On the other hand, he can talk to you for 20 minutes about the mating habits of the modori-gatsuo and how swimming against the current in the Sea of Japan makes the fat content just right between October and November. Or he can wax poetic about his copper wasabi grater he made himself, and how it is superior to sharks-fin grating, or the nori he goes and buys from an old geezer in the shoals of Urawa, etc. etc. He's really into his trade, he's very proud and it shows in the quality of what he puts out. He hand-writes his menu every day, and puts down what is available and where it came from. I have rarely seen anything that wasn't locally fished, and if he did, he would make a big deal out of it: "this uni is from India, very special, or how about this tuna from Ireland, wild fished from the cold waters, etc." He makes his own pottery and writes books about sushi.

                Anyway, you get the idea. On the Sakhalin island dispute, I'm not surprised. He's very proud and old-fashioned, but also very talented, reminds me of a mix between Shintaro Ishihara and Yukio Mishima, but in the sushi business.

                1. re: Uncle Yabai

                  I love these type of guys! Once you get past their high "entry barrier", as my investment banking chowhound friend calls it, you're golden. How do you find his prices? I want to go and see if I can charm him with all my own annoying fish habit questions.

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    I think his prices are pretty reasonable given what you're getting. The most I've paid for the full treatment, including 4-5 sashimi courses, plus his omakase, soup, dessert, a beer and a couple rounds of sake is probably 20-25K.

                    1. re: Uncle Yabai

                      This sounds great! :) Can either of you post Dai San Harumi's Tabelog URL / Info? (I find it more convenient than just the romanized addy - thanks! :)

                        1. re: E Eto

                          Hi E Eto,

                          Awesome! Thank you! :)

                          1. re: exilekiss

                            Dai San Harumi is my wife's and my favourite (over Jiro and Kyubei) but I havne't tried Mizutani or Kanesaka yet. I have been there several times and find the dinner to be more special. Our fav there is the otoro sashimi which he instructed us to dip with salt and wasabi and it was heavenly!

            2. Had lunch at Sushi Mizutani the other day. The awabi was a highlight for me as well. It's braised/ stewed and perhaps tenderized physically. In general, I preferred his kai to sakana. The akagai though, was not as good as what I have had in Hokkaido. I don't like it that warm either. The ebi was another high point for me as well. Out of the sakana, the akami was my personal favorite. Not from Omezaki though. It was from Sado on this day. The tekka-maki stomach stuffer at the end was weak thought. Too much rice I though. And I'm not a fan of the tamago. Reminds me of American sponge cake. I much prefer layered dashi maki style. Very good meal overall. I'd like to go back in the fall or winter.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Silverjay

                Hi Silverjay,

                Thanks for the report back! :) Yah, Mizutani-san's Tamago was the first time I had it in that style and I thought it was pretty unique from the usual layered style.

                Thanks for reminding me about the Awabi and Akami again! /drool! :) Can't wait for my next visit (and to try some new Sushi restaurants as well).