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Oct 9, 2009 11:58 PM

Sushi Mizutani - good, but overrated?

We live in Tokyo, and have been trying different sushi places in Tokyo once a week for the past year. I have to say I was slightly disappointed by the sushi we had for lunch at Mizutani. We ordered the omakase course (with sake ended up over 600USD for two), and though none of the items were bad, we did not find anything to be outstanding (as in best we have ever had) except for the egg - not something I would consider a yardstick for a sushi restaurant. I would definitely consider places like Sawada and Sushi Saito much higher in terms of the wow factor. I even think some of the non-Michelin places were better, like Sushizen and Ume no Sushi in Hokkaido, and Tsukasa and Kiraku-sushi in Tsukiji.

We had heard stories of Mizutani-san's reticence and seriousness, but were surprised by the complete silence in the place despite being full with customers and my wife's (her Japanese is near fluent from living in Japan for almost 15 years) attempts to engage the itamae in conversation. Since we consider banter with the itamae an integral part of the sushi experience, that was another strike against this place. Funnily enough, after all the other customers left by the end of our meal, Mizutani-san opened up completely and we had lots of good laughs - very weird.

Most people seem to drool and ooh and aah over Mizutani's fare, are we really alone in being underwhelmed with it? How do people compare Mizutani against Sawada or Kanesaka or Sushi Saito?

Our Restaurant Pics -

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  1. Hi sajith:

    Nice photos...:-)

    In terms of quality, I consider Mizutani at the top of my sushi experience. But yes, he is more serious. I actually remember on my second visit there, despite my party being the only non-Japanese there, I was actually surprised he striked more conversation with us than the other Japanese clients who kept quiet most of the time, seriously focusing on the sushi. Beside that, his style is very traditional; there are less varieties and innovation hence less surprise there. Can't remember all the details but I was wow by the awabi, kuruma ebi, anago and others. But I am not surprised by your comment; I have two other friends underwhelmed too by the experience: one find it too serious and the other too traditional. To each his own...

    My own favorite is Sawada. Also quite serious (but less so than Mizutani) He brings more "surprise" to the sushi meal. So does Sushi Saitou. Kanesaka is the most friendly and easy to strike conversation. I enjoyed all the sushi meals in these 4 places.

    Have you tried Umi at Minami-Aoyama? Seem to be getting rave reviews too. I am not able to get a seating there on my upcoming trip to Tokyo.

    1 Reply
    1. re: FourSeasons

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Fourseasons. We also like Sawada. We went at lunchtiime, and we were the only customers there. He was actually quite gruff toward us at first, but when he realized we spoke Japanese and weren't clueless about sushi, he was engaging and funny. He even told us how hard it was for him to be accepted as a top rated sushi chef because he doesn't have the age and pedigree usually required. We loved talking fish with him, and especially liked the aged-tuna - amazing!!

      Now I can't wait to try out Umi! Thanks for the tip!

    2. I, too, was disappointed by Mizutani. The sushi was, unsurprisingly, high quality. All the fish and seafood were excellent, as was the rice. However, the selection of fish was pretty mundane, though there was a notable emphasis on shellfish. As a quibble, two pieces of fish weren't cut cleanly and had stray hanging material. (This really surprised me.)

      What disappointed me most was the price. I felt the omakase course was significantly shorter than that at most places, but the bill still came to 26,000 yen (without sake). For comparison, the bill at Sushi Saito came to 22,000 yen, and I felt the omakase course was about twice as long. Sushi Saito certainly offered much greater variety, and I enjoyed the experience much more.

      1. Mizutani is the name that every sushi lover should be familiar by now. Honestly, it’s not on my top list of the sushi place I would like to visit in Tokyo. I wanted Sushi Saito, but not very sure whether we would be able to secure seats and at the end it didn’t work. Mizutani, Yoshitake, or Sawada naturally came up as alternatives. I’ve been to Yoshitake HK so I didn’t feel the urgent to visit its “head quarter” in Ginza. It may sound funny, but eventually I chose Mizutani over Sawada simply because Hachiro-san is a more senior Itamae. I ate at Jiro Ginza 6 years ago, so kinda curious about the only other sushi place who got 3-star Michelin in its first edition. Thanks to the advancement technology, there are plenty of info about how to get into this place. Also with a helpful assistance from Okura hotel’s concierge, we didn’t really have much difficulties to locate this famous sushi bar.

        The restaurant is simple and humble, seated up to 10 people only. When Michelin claimed its criteria is to judge restaurants purely on food, it’s likely to be true for this place. During our lunch, there were only 7 guests; among them was a Japanese couple who have been here numerous times. I asked how many? The man asked Mizutani and even Mizutani lost count. So when his spouse told me than they’ve been here almost 50x, well it’s probably true. As regulars, they consumed plenty of extra items that the rest of the customers didn’t get. At first, this place was almost as stuffy and rigid as Sukiyabashi Jiro, especially when we’re the only guests. With my “caveman level of Japanese”, I tried to engage a conversation with the sushi master. Simple question would receive simple answer. As I asked something more complex, I often only understood half or sometimes less of his reply. But at least, I managed to break the ice – he’s become more loose since then, and even more when his regular guest arrived plus another group from HK/Canada.

        The omakase menu is pretty straight forward, to be exact for our case we got: 14 nigiri pieces (including tamago), 4 kind of sashimi and 2 rolls (dried gourd and fatty bluefin tuna). There’s almost no piece that was not at least tasty, even the kampyo-maki at the end was surprisingly good. Anyway, I liked the following:
        - Sushi: Kohada (the silver-skinned fish was delicious with balanced vinegar flavor), Ika (Japanese squid was unlike any other. It’s clean and smooth), Otoro (sublime and melt in my mouth as expected), Sayori (fresh and inherently sweet, probably the best Half beak I’ve ever had), Anago (creamy with the right amount of sweetness) and Tamago (possibly the 1st time I ever mentioned that the tamago is among my favorite pieces in any sushi places; the egg custard, carefully prepared with small ebi, was just moist, fluffy and pleasantly sweet – very umami. Yes, it’s better than the tamago at Jiro, Sushi Shikon or Sushi Shou). Before leaving, I also asked for an extra piece of Otoro and Anago
        The rests of the sushi: hirame, akami, chu toro, akagai, mirugai, aji, kuruma ebi, and uni. Note that the nigiri piece here is quite long, but the size was not as big as at Sushi Shikon in my opinion.

        - Sashimi: Mushi Awabi (arguably the best thing I ate for this lunch. It’s perfectly tender and delicious. Only Yoshitake’s abalone with liver sauce comes close) and Tairagi (aka pen-shell clam. It’s an interesting kind of clam – firm & crunchy with delicate sweetness; never had it before)
        The rests of the sashimi: seared scallop wrapped in nori and saba

        A very satisfying meal with high quality shari and (shell) fishes. The rice is firm, al dente and less acidic compared to Jiro’s; the temperature is just right. It’s easily one of the best sushi-ya I’ve ever visited, but it’s not cheap for sure. Nevertheless, this meal still cost less than my lunch at Jiro Ginza 6 years ago. For food only, I would give 95/100 (2 ¾* equivalent) - It’s just slightly better than Jiro Ginza. For sushi fanatics, you have to go to both places at least once in your lifetime. Considering service, the overall experience is ‘only’ 93 pts in my notes. Sorry no pictures to share, Madame Mizutani was very strict with it; she gave us stern look even as my wife posed at the entrance.

        16 Replies
        1. re: Bu Pun Su

          on rice firmness, how does it compares with jiro ginza?

          1. re: Lucil

            I would say Mizutani's rice is stickier than Jiro's
            With Mizutani as you already know, the 'light' shari and 'pristine' fishes produces harmonious nigiri piece

            With Jiro, the strongly vinegared rice was sweet and more chewy. As far as I'm concerned, it did not produce unpleasantly acidic/sour shari, on the contrary when combined with his (shell) fishes creating explosive (the wasabi was a bit stronger also) and bold sushi flavor

          2. re: Bu Pun Su

            Now that's a very good review, I really enjoyed reading it! I am looking forward your next reviews - hopefully also about sushi.
            At sushi Jiroo, I have been already a dozen times, and am very familiar with his style. Actually, this year, I went out, again, to have a look at his roots: Sushi Yoshino, in Kyobashi, was one of the sushi yasan where Jiroo worked as an apprentice. When its chef asked me, as I went alone, where I had heard about him, I mentionned my experience with Jiro, Matsunami - who had introduced his place - and my unfortunate experience at Mizutani . He managed to convince me - as also does your review - to give it one more try.

            1. re: Ninisix

              Hi Ninisix, thanks for reading and glad that you enjoyed it
              I wonder what unpleasant things you had at Sushi Mizutani? Was it about the food or the overall experience there?

              How old is the chef at Sushi Yoshino? I assume they worked together before. Given Jiro Ono's current age, I could not imagine that his teacher would still be alive. When is your favorite time/month to eat at Jiro and why? What are the other sushi-ya(s) you like the most?

              Yup, my next review, fortunately, will still about sushi (Shou) but it will be the last sushi meal during my Japan trip.

              1. re: Bu Pun Su

                Yes, Jiroo-San is now 88 years old, Ono Jiroo was under the actual master father... I used to go after work, and alone at Sushi Jiro. Actually it was the perfect time, the last service, and this is a perfect place to eat alone, definitely no 2 hours wait for service, a private deluxe time ! The 'tako' in winter, the 'torigai' in spring, the 'aji' in summer, the 'uni' in beginning of autumn, the 'chutoro' in december, the list is long... but the one diner I can't forget is 3 years ago.. Now, if I need to reserve, I won't have this choice anymore...
                As for sushi Mizutani, I had lunch there 4 years ago. Sushi Jiro was the only 3 stars sushi on the 1st edition, then after the second year, sushi Mizutani followed, with the lunch at half price of Jiro's omakase. It was fully booked, and in the old location. In fact, the nigiri were compact, heavier. I seated next to a regular who also was alone. The chef was so busy that he only found out I was eating with my finger after 2/3 of my lunch ... He was surprised. Then after, the nigiri was pressed differently.
                As I understood from sushi-yasan chef, dining alone is alright, but when they have 2 or 3 persons dining alone, it can be a nightmare ! And that was the case at sushi Mizutani, at that lunch specially, he was trying to take care of already 2 ... well, not a real disaster, but quiet close.
                When did you have your experience at Jiro ? During recent 2 years, his oldest son is taking slowly the hand. Jiro is doing only the nigiri right now, ..

                1. re: Ninisix

                  Thanks for sharing. I'm afraid I still could not get it when you said that it's the sushi chef's nightmare for having (too) many lone diners? Difficult to remember and control the omakase flow?

                  I ate alone at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Dec '07. His eldest son helped him and Yoshikazu Ono was also a very capable sushi chef. But, Jiro Ono still made most of my nigiri (15-16 of them) and very few created by Yoshikazu-san. I somehow managed to stay for almost an hour during that lunch.

                  Here are some of the pictures of what I had:

                  1. re: Bu Pun Su

                    No, that is not what Mizutani-San said, except the fact he admitted being too busy to even look (?). My main issue there was with the nigiri, really not as I expected it, way to heavy. Even if Mizutani San is believed to follow apparently the exact course of Jiro, it was so compact and lacking vinegar. For me, it is hard to think of him as a disciple of Jiroo.
                    Jiro's nigiri has this very particular 'breathing' specificity !! Sushi Harutaka nigiri was more similar to Jiro's...
                    Yesterday, there was some news about the new Tokyo Michelin Guide 2014 (tempura 7 chome not a 3 stars anymore). Also some reports on Jiroo mentioning he's doing 800 nigiris a day... it means the shop is having around 40 patrons a day, oh my, 4 to 6 clients seating feels so different!

                    1. re: Ninisix

                      Sorry for that bad experience ..
                      But Mizutani should not be that busy anymore - it's hardly fully booked after the Tsunami tragedy. Given of your Jiro's experience, I assume you speak fluent Japanese. I don't see any reason why Mizutani-san would ignore somebody with whom he could converse well

                      What do you mean by heavy? Yes, I think at the end, Mizutani found his own style of sushi instead of simply copying his master - hardly happen. I heard Sushi Sho Masa is very similar to Nakazawa's nigiri; the same case with Jiro and Harutaka. By the way, how did you feel being a regular/VIP at Jiro Ginza? Did you often receive extra pieces or rare morsel that other guests usually didn't?

                      Have you been to 7 chome? The price scared me, so I didn't even bother to consider it. 40 patrons per day for sushi-ya is amazing indeed - money machine place. Normally, Michelin top places only do 1-2 seating at most per night

                      1. re: Bu Pun Su

                        I think at the end of the day ... all the sushiyas everyone talking about are all good quality sushiyas. Very hard to compare as it all comes down to personal preferences. Different people prefer their sushis differently. I have been to Jiro, Saito, Mizutani and Sawada before and I find them all good but different in their own special way, very difficult to choose a favorite. Shortly this month I'll be going to Saito, Mizutani and Sawada again, plus Yoshitake, Sushisho and Iwa ... and maybe one more sushiya (still thinking). I'm hoping this way I can compare all of them in one trip together head to head ... though in the end, I doubt there will be a clear winner.

                        1. re: CaLBeaR1227

                          Sound like an awesome plan and look forward to reading your report

                        2. re: Bu Pun Su

                          ninisix thinks the sushi is too compact and heavy, which also kinda reaffirms on your review that mizutani is stickier than jiro, since if it is stickier it is also much more compact and heavier.

                          infact my reservation was for mizutani (since reservation for jiro ginza failed) at first, but i gave it up because i have been and several opinions , some from sushi chefs etc.. told me that harutaka might be better since mizutani rice was too sticky and sweet...
                          but i think the overall fish quality at mizutani is better and i prefer mizutani than to harutaka( i have read thru past reports, and some reported that it had even firmer shari than mizutani, well opposite for me, strange indeed..the shari was quite bland for me..not vinegary at all) but my mizutani experience was in 09 and harutaka was current.

                          1. re: Bu Pun Su

                            Yes, I have had some special service at Sushi Jiro, these experience stay as a private tresor !
                            Tempura 7 chome, I didn't try it. Last year I had diner at Tempura Kondo, a tempura of 'uni(sea urchin)' that is a must, creamy, raw, how did he manage such a wonder ? I don't know about specialities of tempura 7 chome, I just have heard about eggs(?). Well, if this is only eggs, it is for me difficult to understand !!

                2. re: Bu Pun Su

                  nice report...yoshitake's with abalone sauce, omg ridiculous

                  1. re: Lau

                    thanks for reading
                    couldn't agree more with Yoshitake's awabi liver reduction

                    1. re: Bu Pun Su

                      yah i need to post on all my tokyo stuff

                      on a side note have you tried dai san? its probably considered a 2nd tier place, but it was pretty reasonable (115-120 USD without drinks) and I thought some of their stuff was as good as yoshitake and some of the shellfish was probably better. their shellfish was really good. They also have the best ebi i've ever had (i don't even like ebi), it was still warm so i believe it was cooked immediately before eating, very flavorful

                      1. re: Lau

                        Hi Lau,
                        Sure, please post your Tokyo stuffs if you have not done so
                        I'm afraid I haven't been to Daisan (Harumi) - the one by Nagayama-san, correct?
                        It must have been a great quality ebi - just ebi, right? Not the Kuruma or Botan version? I usually also overlook this prawn sushi, but just had my best Ebi (with oboro) at Sushi Shou