San Jose Sushi?
In case someone recommends somewhere in SJ Japantown, the "best" sushi in that strip of road is Sushi Maru, but it is a sushi boat restaurant (conveyor belt). Honestly if you've been to Marinepolis Sushiland chain of sushi boat places in Pacific NW/Seattle region, I'd say the general quality is much better up there. And the last time I was at Sushi Maru, the Milpitas location was much much better.
To get something that's somewhat close to say Kisaku or Shiro's in Seattle, I'd say go to Kitsho in Cupertino and sit at the bar. The trick is to get there right when they open, sit in front of chef owner Howard Arita (glasses wearing guy, grey hair) and request omakase (the dinner will be mostly focused on nigiri, but feel free to tell him you want some sashimi and/or occasional side dishes). You can order rolls if you want, but the best experience, sit at the bar, omakase. In terms of selection, Howard's can't be beat. The usual suspects, plus aji, shima aji, kanpachi, tairagai, always excellent uni, and if you are lucky a range of specials/hidden fish (on a good day, 7 to 8 kinds of fish from the white fish category) and a superb tamagoyaki that's rich in dashi (and sweet). Also good are in house made tofu (ask for the cold 3 bean tofu appetizer), special in house made miso soup (make sure they don't give you the regular kind), and in house made natto (ask for "fresh natto" or maguro-natto appetizer, only if you like the fermented sticky soybeans). Averages about $80+ a person (roughly 12 pairs of nigiri). In terms of the really really special fish they've had in the past (not all at once): kawahagi (filefish with fish liver), kinmedai (alfosino), shako (mantis shrimp), turbot (white fish from France), grouper, uni from Hokkaido, uni from Canada, kibinago (baby silvery fish), anago larvae (baby transluscent eels), marinated wild salmon ikura, marinated tuna, sea bream from Japan and New Zealand. Again, do not sit at the table, you will be subjected to much poorer service and experience (since most waitresses are somewhat disconnected with what Howard knows he has).
The next best place is Tomi Sushi, Off Highway 280 and Saratoga next to the Mitsuwa complex. A bit more friendlier local neighborhood atmosphere where they welcome the rolls and traditional stuff. You will also have a choice of having ramen next door if you want at Kahoo, or head further down Saratoga Ave, to Halu (another famous ramen place that has a line before 5:30 pm). Pricewise you can also hit $70 to $80 here easily, unless you fill up on rolls or cooked food. The grilled miso beef tongue appetizer here is good, same with tai miso soup. If they have it, try the raw oyster nigiri. A monster, but fun to eat.
If you want rolls with your sushi, then this is a better place.
But while you are in the South Bay, you should take advantage of the great Japanese style izakaya's and skewer type places. Of those try:
Saizo in Sunnyvale (Japanese style tapas and some skewers)
Sumiya in Santa Clara (strictly all skewers, yakitori)
Hoshi in Santa Clara (true Japanese style izakaya, although it may help to have a Japanese speaker in there)
Gochi in Cupertino
Tanto (one in Sunnyvale, another in San Jose)
Tanto and Gochi are pseudo izakaya's, focusing more on small dishes in an upscale type environment and incorporating fusion elements.
re: K K
Wow - Thanks for this great report. I'm not a Kitsho regular, but the few times I've gone I believe Howard has had kinmedai, which I'm rather fond of. My much shorter experience agrees with your assessment of the importance of sitting in front of Howard. Table service is clearly inferior. I look forward to trying Tomi Sushi - I usually walk past it on the way to Kahoo.
For the izakaya places, what is your order of preference? I've been to Tanto and Sumiya, both of which I liked fine but I'd like to explore other options. Gochi doesn't seem as appealing to me as Saizo and Hoshi based on the menu. I think I prefer the more traditional food.
Tomi Sushi San Jose (sister restaurant to Sushi Tomi Mountain View) also has a "published" omakase, in that for a fixed sum they flat out tell you that you will get chef's choice nigiri (x number of pieces), maybe sashimi, whatever hot plates/appetizers, soup, and dessert. For lunch one time I think Tomi Sushi had a $30 ish "omakase" published. Sushi Tomi now advertises a $60 one that includes generally what I just described. Bottom line, pretty much takes the fun out of the surprise or "sock it to me baby" style dining. Why not just call it a prix fixe, haha.
The best kinmedai in the Peninsula/South Bay I've had is Jin Sho in Palo Alto. Howard's is OK, not great. Sushi Zo in Los Angeles offers a way better version by far.
I don't have a ranking or preference, as I've only eaten at Saizo once for dinner when they opened years back. Tanto I haven't been for dinner in ages, and never ate at Gochi or Hoshi for dinner.
Hoshi and Saizo are probably closer to traditional style, rather than fusiony upscale types. You may want to give Sumika in Los Altos a try too. Maybe the newly opened "En" in Santa Clara.
re: K K