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May 24, 2008 10:24 AM

Is it weird to do this?

I'm toying with the idea of going into Sushi Mizutani just so I can try two pieces of their sushi: their tamagoyaki and anago. It would have to be an a-la-carte order as I don't think I can justify the expenditure of a full meal course there. Thus the best I can do for now is for me to go there just so I can educate my palate on what a supremely good tamagoyaki is like, and what a supremely good anago (my favourite nigirizushi) is like.

Is it weird to do this, will I get refused or sneered at? Is there anything I can say so I can make clear my intentions of just being there to eat two items? (I don't speak Japanese apart from a few useful phrases I memorise) I was thinking to go in approaching to lunch closing time so I don't have to make a reservation just for it.

Thanks again..

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  1. Not only would it be weird, it would be perceived to be highly disrespectful and likely an insult at the chef. Still, I'd be interested to know what happens if you do such a thing.

    6 Replies
    1. re: E Eto

      LOL... wow I didn't figure it to be that severe..
      I'm curious though, why would it be highly disrespectful and insulting?

      1. re: Eldarion

        Try going to a 3-star Michelin restauraunt (or what might be considered the best high-end restaurant in your area) and ask to be seated just for an appetizer so you can taste what a 3-star appetizer tastes like, and see what kind of response you get.

        1. re: E Eto

          Hmm there must be some socio-cultural thing I'm missing out here because I still don't get how it would be disrespectful and insulting to chef when ordering a single dish in a high-end restaurant. I can agree with as much as it would be weird to do that, but assuming 1) they do accept walk ins, 2) they do serve food a-la-carte, wouldn't it be perfectly within the bounds of ettiquette to proceed with what you want? Or is this something specific to Japanese culture, sushi shops, or 3 starred Michelin restaurants? Can someone enlighten me?

          1. re: Eldarion

            Hey Eldarion,

            I think the key point is #2 in your list of points. I didn't ask Mizutani-sensei directly, but I don't think he does a la carte. His restaurant is Omakase only as far as I know. Of course you can tell your itamae if you have any allergies / dislikes / and even favorites, but he would only serve what is fresh.

            I know in the case of Mizutani-sensei, he only stocks enough for his clients that day (he gets so many reservations, etc.); he knows how many he's serving and stocks appropriately.

            Now, even if he does do a la carte (surprising if he did), then it's still a bit insulting to walk into a shop of a dedicated, devoted Sushi Master, sit down, and just order 2 pieces of Sushi and leave. A great Sushi Restaurant like Mizutani is not a Kissaten / Dessert Shop / Convenience Store; but what you want to do is the equivalent of treating him and his store like that, if you know what I mean?

            1. re: exilekiss

              Ah okay. I didn't figure that going to order two pieces can be construed as treating the sushi master like a convenience store. Thanks for the elaboration.

            2. re: Eldarion

              maybe u could order takeaway from kyubei

      2. Considering this guy basically gets the best raw seafood in the world, why order eggs and a cooked eel? He didn't get those michelin stars for how well his assistant folded those eggs over in a fry pan. You would have a lot more chowhound credibility asking for something like a taste of "Omazaki hon-maguro" or "winter buri from Ishikawa prefecture", or something that a sushi restaurant builds its name on.

        21 Replies
        1. re: Silverjay

          Hmm I suppose my interest in tamagoyaki is because it is traditionally a yardstick by which sushi restaurants are judged by. And yet there seem to be a variety of styles by which it is prepared in sushi shops, and it is this diversity of tamagoyaki intrigues me. I'd also love to be educated on what a superb tamagoyaki is like, and was thinking my trip to Tokyo would be useful for that. As for anago it just happens to be my favourite sushi and from what I know the sauce used for anago in each shop is made with their own unique recipe, often having been blended with previous batches of sauces made over the years.
          While the ability to get the best seafood in the world is amazing, I think I would be at least as interested in learning something about the character of a good sushi shop through tasting dishes/components that require "preparation" such as anago, tamagoyaki, kohada etc. I would also love to educate myself on the fundamentals of sushi, such as how superbly formed and cooked shari tastes like. These things are common denominators among all sushi shops and hopefully by tasting the best shop in the world it will help me learn about how the standard of a sushi shop can be compared. (apart from their ability to access the bestest seafood from the bestest of prefectures)

          1. re: Eldarion

            The "tamagoyaki as yardstick" thing is a popular adage that seems to have more traction on Chowhound than anywhere else. Going to Mizutani and not eating raw seafood is a good example of something that is "もったいない"....which you can look up yourself or maybe that language professor guy will chime in with a definition.

            1. re: Silverjay

              Wow...just wow. How old are you anyway.

              1. re: Silverjay

                I heard the tamagoyaki idea back in 1999 or 2000 from Japanese friends who had never (and still haven't) even heard of Chow, so I think it must have a strong foothold in Japan, as well. Japanese people probably know it, but whether they agree with it or not is another thing.

                1. re: prasantrin

                  I watched the same TV show that Eldarion described the scene when Jiro Ono asked for tamogoyaki and kohada to test his disciple when he visited the disciple's sushi shop. If my recollection is correct, the show is called Japan Hour, shown every weekend here in Singapore. I don't ever recall here in Chowhound that anybody ever wrote "tamgoyaki as yardstick in sushi place", certainly not on Japan Board, but perhaps on other Boards that I don't follow.

                  1. re: FourSeasons

                    When I was in Japan in January, I watched a two-hour documentary on the hon-maguro ippon-zuri tuna fishermen of Omazaki in Aomori Prefecture. Ippon-zuri means single line fishing and the tuna are literally reeled in by one single fishing line in a relatively small boat. Of course the fishermen use electric shocker devices to stun the fish on the way up, but anyway....According to the program, Omazaki hon-maguro is the most prized, delicious tuna. And the best fish are only sold to the highest bidders which are nearly always Tokyo sushi and tuna restaurants. The program specifically mentioned Ginza restaurants as a destination for many of the most prized catches. From my "research", I've learned that Mizutani serves this tuna. You can eat tamagoyaki at any sushi restaurant in the world. You can NOT eat this tuna in but a few sushi places in Japan- probably within a 10-block radius of Mizutani. "もったいない" is Romanized as "mottainai". It means "a sense of regret concerning waste when the intrinsic value of an object or resource is not properly utilized". In this case, it is the passing up on the opportunity to enjoy expertly prepared treasures of the sea that have most likely earned Mizutani-san his Michelin stars. Not the egg omelet that he learned back in Sushi 101 class in Showa.

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      Hi Silverjay:

                      Thanks for your introductory course on "Omazaki hon-maguro". I have my best sushi meal ever in Sushi Mizutani (and trust me, I have tried many in the world). And I agree absolutely that to go there and miss the raw seafood would be a big miss opportunity. Which is why no one here tells Eldarion that his proposal is a good idea. But at the same time, tamagoyaki in Sushi Mizutani is not one that you can eat at any sushi restaurant in the world. And it certainly does not belong to Sushi 101; to say that is certainly an insult to chef Mizutani.

                      1. re: FourSeasons

                        You can get good tamagoyaki many places. It's more of a time consuming dish to prepare than anything else. It's covered relatively early in sushi apprenticeship... If Mizutani serves it to me next month when I visit his shop, I will mention to him it's popular with foreign internet bloggers.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          If you visit Mizutani next month and tells him that his tamagoyaki belongs to Sushi 101 and there is no different from the sushi places you ate in New York, then he will treat you like the way one who comes in and ask for tamagoyaki and anago only.

                  2. re: prasantrin

                    No one's questioning the origin of the adage. I've heard it from way back as well. But that's all it is, an adage. The Japanese blogs and food review websites I've read make occassional reference to it but no one's really going out of their way for tamagoyaki.

              2. re: Silverjay

                A lot of my Japanese friends use the egg as the test of the chef. If the egg isn't good, then the chef's skill is probably lacking. Even if it's an assistant making the egg, a good chef won't serve it unless it's good.

                1. re: prasantrin

                  The late Jiro Ono was also famous for his shop's tamagoyaki. I saw a tv show where the tamagoyaki is one of the two sushi pieces he would test when visiting his disciple's shop (the other being kohada). As such it has added significance to me if I have the opportunity to try Sushi Mizutani's tamagoyaki, since the lineage is also from the legendary Jiro-san.

                  1. re: Eldarion

                    Do you know why he chose kohada? I understand why one would think tamagoyaki tests a chef's skill (simple, yet it can be difficult to do well), but I'm not sure why kohada would be chosen. Is it to test the way it's marinated? (proper proportions, etc.)

                    1. re: prasantrin

                      Yep it has to do with the marination because the timing and the amount of seasoning has to be controlled accordingly to the size and season of kohada. I think it also lets him test out the shari, because the tamago was served without.

                      1. re: Eldarion

                        Hi Eldarion :

                        I will tell you that Mizutani makes the best tamagoyaki and kohada in the world. They look simple but in the hand of chef Mizutani, they are just incredibly delicious. And I can assure you that it is not just the assistant that folded those eggs over a fry pan. That maybe what happen in all other sushi places, but Mizutani pays so much attention to details that that does not happen here. And I can tell you I never like kohada, until I taste it in Sushi Mizutani. It has always been my least favorite sushi and I was certainly shock how good it was under his hand.

                        But I will agree with others that if you just walk in to order tamagoyaki and anago, it is certainly an insult to chef Mizutani. I understand you are just a graduating student, but if you can afford to come all the way to Tokyo and your admiration of Mizutani is so high, why even bother to try to disrespect him in this way? You may as well put in an extra part time work of a few days prior to the trip to afford and enjoy the whole meal in Sushi Mizutani.

                    2. re: Eldarion

                      That's the other thing, if you walk into a shop, order just tamagoyaki and another piece and then leave, it implies that the sushi wasn't quite up to your standards. Which is a bit of an insult at Mizutani's level.

                      But when people use tamagoyaki as a test, they usually order other stuff too.

                      1. re: Robb S

                        Yes I can understand that. Does it help to say that the sushi is delicious? I can see how if I don't say anything after eating two pieces in a sushi shop and leave, it would be implying that the food wasn't to my standards.

                        I'm wishing there was something I could say, to explain my intentions that I'm not there to insult him but someone there seeking to educate my palate about sushi, with the upmost respect. I'm not ordering other pieces simply because I'm a newly graduated student who cannot justify spending for a whole course at this point, but I'm keenly interested in this nonetheless. However I'm afraid to even make that request would probably involve a whole a long memorised script/letter in Japanese LOL...

                        All the same I think I would very likely have to give up on this thought and settle for lunch at Kyubei, since it does seem really irregular and insulting if I don't do things correctly which is a bit complicated for a non Japanese speaker.

                        1. re: Eldarion

                          I don't know what to say. You asked for advice and you were told repeatedly by different people that it would be impolite, rude, insulting, a breach of etiquette, etc. - if that isn't enough to dissuade you, I don't know what would be.

                          At any rate, there's very little chance that they'd serve someone as a walk-in anyway. There are ten seats, and they take lunch reservations for one seating, at noon.

                          1. re: Robb S

                            Alritey I know I've been a bit thick in the head there. My apologies for being so annoyingly persistent about this, but all the same thanks for everyone who chimed in!

                        2. re: Eldarion


                          The legendary Jiro-san (of Sukibayashi Jiro) passed away?! :( When was this?

                          On a side note, have they closed down his original Sukibayashi Jiro restaurant in Ginza now?

                    3. Well, in case anyone is still wondering what happens when you walk into Mizutani, order 3 pieces of sushi and then get the check, I know the answer. No, I am not brave, or dumb, enough to try this myself. But some buffoon did and I was there to witness it. He is definitely not a reader of this board or else he would have the sense to know better. But I know they are off to a bad start when they tried to order "diet coke" (strike 1). Next think you know, he tries to tell Mizutani that he doesn't want a set (strike 2). Think the nail in the coffin is an order of miso soup after 3 pieces of sushi (strike 3). I could barely contain myself when this couple delivered the final blow. Seeing that Mizutani seems a bit unwilling to be "accomodative" and they probably can't order as many pieces of otoro as they want, they asked for the check (strike 3 and you're out!). Pretty amazing stuff. Mizutani's assistant literally gasped when he heard that couple asking for the check. Mizutani was upset about this and after the couple left, he simply said "okashi". Can't really disagree with this one!

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: HKTraveler

                        Ouch. Just reading that gives me the shpilkes. Anyway, went to Dai San Harumi last night for dinner. Last night's omakase had among other tasties, a pair of anago, one with tare, one with salt, a trio of tuna in sequence: akami-chutoro-otoro, 60,000 yen/kilo shinko, and amazing modori-gatsuo. That man is a genius.

                        1. re: HKTraveler

                          Thanks for posting this. Like I said earlier upthread, I've been curious as to what would happen if someone actually did what the OP proposed. I wonder if all this happened in Japanese, or in English, or what. I'm assuming they were foreigners.

                          1. re: E Eto

                            Yes, they were actually from HK and don't speak any Japanese at all. Interestingly, out of the 8 people where were there at the same time, 6 of them were from HK and each in a party of 2. It does make me wonder if it is for this type of reasons that Jiro doesn't serve non-natives.

                            1. re: HKTraveler

                              I think Jiro at Ginza serves non-natives if they speak Japanese or accompanied by natives or Japanese speaking non-natives. The sushi chefs there just don't want to deal with any language problem, and perhaps judging from the above incident, cultural one as well.

                              1. re: FourSeasons

                                Do you think they'd serve non-natives who speak crappy Japanese? I speak enough to get by and have pretty good pronunciation, but my grammar and vocabulary suck and I'm not very fluent in fish-speak. I'd still like to try it, though!

                        2. I would just order them to go.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: roadfix

                            Not a good idea, this is top end sushi, not conveyor belt fast food sushi. You don't treat it like a McDonald burger.

                          2. Even ignoring the peculiarities of sushi, it is just common sense that this is a silly idea which is bound to offend, no? Imagine making a reservation in a busy (but very small) very high end restaurant which is often booked out months in advance, then turning up, ordering a tiny starter and leaving. Is it really necessary to explain why that is not a good idea?