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Mar 27, 2012 02:59 PM

Urasawa etiquette?

My first time to Urasawa is approaching. This meal will be an epic experience for me and i don't want to screw it up! are they're any do's and don'ts i need to be aware of? this is probably a silly question but just wondering... :)

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  1. I can't think of anything. I think the best thing you can do is when he asks if there are any allergies or foods you don't like you say no. Ideally, for him, you say you love it all. (I love the stuff some are freaked out by - uni, monkfish liver, etc.- I look forward to a date saying "no" to it so I can to have their portion. Don't like uni? No problema!)

    Also, one other thing - there will be a server who comes from behind, try to be conscious of their presence because I had a date there once and one of us was gesticulating (not wildly) unaware the server was bring something a dish suddenly appeared out of the blue and it got knocked all over her suit.

    Other than that - can't think of anything else. They stagger the reservations so you'll see people coming and going. Hiro is warm and gracious - he'll make you feel comfortable.

    5 Replies
    1. re: foodiemahoodie

      Thank you. We have a 6pm time slot. I hope the dinner will drag on and on as I've always been worried about making it through every single bite as i'm on the small side but i can usually keep up with sushi. I did say on the phone when they asked that we don't eat meat, b/c i see meats in the photos and while i wonder if i'm missing out, i didn't want to subject my SO to meat, as i'll cheat here and there but he doesn't usually do so. we're fish only. but on the up side, we LOVE LOVE LOVE monkfish live and UNI and squeal inside with delight anytime i'm presented with it.

      1. re: Clyde

        Not eating meat there is not a big deal as it's usually 1-2 small dishes. The grilled kobe bite and possibly some thin sliced meat for the shabu shabu. Remind him if he doesn't ask although I think he usually does. You'll be full with or without it! I haven't had too much monkfish liver there but he does often serve blowfish liver when in season.

        The tip above about being aware of service behind you is actually pretty important as some of the things that might be coming over your shoulder are big, heavy, and possibly on fire;)

        Hiro as mentioned is friendly as can be. He is also VERY focused on what he is doing and although his english is great, he doesn't appear to be listening to the guests. Some sushi chefs seem to always have an ear on the sushi bar chatter which can be helpful as they appear to read your mind or anticipate a question. If you want to address him, and don't be afraid at all to, you will probably need to make it clear that you are talking to him.

        1. re: LATrapp

          "...but he does often serve blowfish liver when in season."

          Isn't blowfish liver extremely poisonous? I thought the organs and skin contains the most toxins.

          1. re: Sgee

            I'm pretty sure that is incorrect. As you say, the liver is the most toxic and can cause instant death even in the smallest amounts. Also there was mention here a few years ago that he stopped serving fugu due to "trouble getting the fugu past customs".


            1. re: Sgee

              I believe the distinction is in farmed vs. wild blowfish. You can 'farm grow' non toxic blowfish. If the farmed blowfish is now also banned, then I'm unaware of that.

              And just to clarify- when they serve it, Urasawa (if they do anymore) and certainly at Masa you'll get everything from the sperm sack, to the flesh, to the liver! Yum.

      2. Do not wait to eat the sushi. Hiro-san feels it should be eaten within 10 seconds of preparation. I saw a couple who completely ignored their sushi and continued talking, and Hiro-san had to interrupt their conversation to get them to eat the sushi. I think it was awkward for everyone involved. If you're a picture-taker, have your camera ready to shoot the instant the sushi is set in front of you.

        Also, if you can, bow and say "gochisou sama deshita" at the end of the meal.

        About the "foods you don't eat" thing: I'm probably in the minority, but I absolutely despise ginger, unless it's mixed with other stuff and very faint. And IIRC his gari is stronger than the stuff that comes out of a jar. (I forgot to tell him; I felt so bad about wasting it.) I don't know how you feel about gari, but I thought I'd mention it.

        Enjoy your visit! It is truly an unforgettable experience. If only I could afford to go again...

        26 Replies
        1. re: mrhooks

          I echo mrhooks on this one... Be quick on the draw with that camera, if you got one. Enjoy Hiro-san's legendary hospitality!

          1. re: mrhooks

            thank you so much for the 10 second rule!!! i wouldn't have thought of it and probably would let the sushi sit, only so not to rush myself and also just to savor the moments.

            I have a question -- sometimes when i get full from eating sushi, i tend to eat the fish and leave the rice only towards the very end of my meal when i am feeling full yet i want to continue and try to finish what i already have and what's yet to come -- the best way to do so is to leave the rice. let's say we're towards the end of the meal and i have that i can't eat anymore or i will burst feeling -- is it poor form, will i offend anyone if i eat my fish and leave the rice? i know it stinks, but it's the only way sometimes i can complete a meal.

            1. re: Clyde

              My personal opinion- Enjoy yourself. It's a very expensive experience and it sounds like a special occasion and one that you are excited about. Relax and enjoy. Your enthusiasm will reach Hiro and he will respect that more than anything. You will not be shown the door for not eating the rice, promise.

              I've seen some pretty disinterested people there who seemed to not even know they were showing up for a sushi dinner. Believe me, they would rather have you there not eating the rice than some of the others that might grudgingly eat every bite.

              1. re: LATrapp

                thanks! that makes me feel better. i've been wanting this meal for many years and so i'm definitely appreciative and excited that i will be having this experience.

                1. re: Clyde

                  I've never been to Urasawa, but that could be seen as pretty insulting. The rice is an important part of sushi, just let him know when you are full.

                  1. re: AAQjr

                    yes, that was my concern. however the way i am seeing it and i hope no one disagrees with me is that no matter how much i am able to eat, the cost is the same. i feel that i would rather eat more fish, than stuff myself with rice once i'm feeling full towards the end. I'd rather waste rice than waste some amazing piece of fish...

                    1. re: Clyde

                      Ask him for "sashimi" style sushi...

                2. re: LATrapp

                  I agree that you should just relax and enjoy. When it comes to the upper echelon of sushi dinners, the chef feels it is HIS job to adjust to you. Hiro (and others of his ilk) will watch how fast you are eating and pace accordingly. If you look uncomfortable, he'll check in with you to make sure you can still eat, and maybe portion things a bit differently. If he sees you not eating rice, I'm sure he'll adjust to that as well.

                  That being said, I, personally, would never just eat the fish and not the rice. It's composed that way for a reason. Whether the chef takes offense to that is up to him, but I feel it's a bit disrespectful. Of course, everyone has their own sense of that. I probably err towards the side of caution.

                  If you're worried about getting value per piece of fish, I worry you may be thinking about this dinner in the wrong way. Maybe you should consider the price you pay compared to a measure of happiness instead of price vs. # of lbs of food ingested

                  1. re: andytseng

                    I'm not worried about value per piece of fish. I'm worried about missing out on the EXPERIENCE of a piece of fish. the money's not an issue. It's about the experience.

                    1. re: Clyde

                      Actually, the EXPERIENCE of great sushi, as you put it, is actually the interplay between the fish AND the rice.

                      Great sushi is not just fresh seafood on a drab bed of rice. For me, the RICE can make or break the fish sitting on top of it, however fresh and unique as that fish may be.

                      As one who is about to be initiated into the ranks of "expert sushi" by eating at Urasawa, I feel you need to know that.

                      As generous and pleasant as Hiro-san is to his clients, don't disrespect his craft by eschewing the rice. You're in HIS house when you dine there. The idea a person can do whatever s/he pleases just because s/he is paying $500pp is a very Western concept.

                      Just tell Hiro-san up front how you feel about rice and what your food preferences are - and he'll probably more than satisfy that.

                      1. re: J.L.

                        What Servorg said about maybe asking for more sashimi and less sushi because rice fills you up too fast. It's a big meal no question. He'll understand. Maybe.

                        1. re: choctastic

                          Rice will never fill me up as I allergic to it but do enjoy sushi without rice which I was able to get in Hawaii while i was stationed there and when I went out the locals understood asbut back in Florida they stare at me in disbelief

                        2. re: J.L.

                          My meal at Urasawa was magnificent - the standard by which I have held all sushi since. However, when I was asked if I there was anything I didn't care for, I stated my aversion to eggs. Hiro-san did not offer to make any accommodations, but simply stated that there were several egg-oriented dishes to be served and left it at that (chawanmushi and tamago were served). I winced when they arrived, but it didn't ruin my overall experience. However, in retrospect, I wish that my wishes had been accommodated. For one, he asked. Secondly, it's a pretty penny we all put out to dine at Urasawa. My few food accommodations have been met with much grace, and with super delicious alternates, at other fine dining establishments. Having said that, I would go again in a heartbeat when the next windfall comes.

                          1. re: djquinnc

                            That's odd and unfortunate to hear. I've always seen Hiro accommodate in similar circumstances. Foie Gras replaced with another protein for the shabu shabu for example. I guess maybe next time upgrade your aversion to an allergy;) (Although the foie gras mentioned above was an aversion and not an allergy)

                            1. re: LATrapp

                              Tamago is a measure by which great sushi chefs measure themselves. Urasawa's is like an impossibly light sponge cake-- hardly recognizable as being egg, and I got the sense that his tamago is a source of great pride.

                              I suspect that in telling him that you don't like eggs, he likely found it professionally frustrating, but also personally disappointing. People who work this hard to perfect their craft feed off the appreciation of their customers. You can certainly keep your American attitude of "I paid for it, so whatever I say goes" but you would be missing the point.

                              Mr Taster

                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                I know this thread is pretty heated elsewhere, but I don't think it was a matter of "I paid for it, so whatever I say goes" in djquinnc's situation or in LATrapp's response. Urasawa-san asked if there was anything djquinnc didn't care for, was informed of what it was, and still served it. This seems be an anomaly when compared to the experience of others who have made special requests there and have had them accommodated.

                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                  Regarding tamago being the measure, the first I heard that statement was in the NYTimes review of Yasuda about 10 years ago. Since then, I've asked several chef's that question: "how do you measure the 'greatness' of a sushi restaurant".

                                  A few of them say it's the marinating of silvery fish like mackeral or kohada. Too much or too little gives you a fishy or off texture result. I tend to agree with this school of thought.

                                  A few of them go simple and say tuna nigiri since they are able to judge the fish, sauce, and rice in its most pure form.

                                  The most interesting answer was tuna handroll since you can judge the fish, rice, AND quality of the nori all at once. This was Mori's answer when I asked him what he and Yasuda order when they go out for sushi and beer.

                                  I have yet to hear tamago despite the commonly accepted wisdom.

                                  I'd be curious to what Hiro-san says if you ask him how he would judge the skill of a sushi restaurant.

                                  1. re: Porthos

                                    These days my budget doesn't allow me to get out for sushi very often, and when I do it's at the Hide/Sushi Gen/Sushi Go 55 level, and not Mori, etc. so especially not Urasawa. And now that I'm married to a spouse mired in pharmacy school debt, I'm lucky to have sushi that doesn't come from Trader Joe's.

                                    But I remember those glory days of disposable income. On my one visit in 2004...


                                    ...I remember being completely shocked by the stuff:

                                    38. Tamago – ok, tamago is simple eggs, right? Wrong. This was almost like a flan or cake, but was as light as air. With a sweetness/foaminess that just disappeared. He had a pan of it in the back and cut us each a square. Remarkable!

                                    Ah, the good old days.

                                    Mr Taster

                                    1. re: Mr Taster

                                      I've explained this on the Ask Sushi Man and Ask Sushi Man 3 thread on the General Board but to summarize:

                                      The tamago (and kohada) taste tests were strongly adopted by Jiro Ono of Sukiyabashi Jiro as he in a way perfected those versions ahead of others (no doubt there are versions now as good or better). There's a youtube clip of a documentary where Jiro travels to Nagoya to visit an ex-disciple of his (who went through the complete training) and Jiro tried tako, kohada, tamago, and ika (and maybe more but that was all they showed). Clearly Jiro is extremely anal about measuring a disciple on these things.

                                      Jiro is the first known chef to have come up with the sponge cake tamagoyaki, and my theory is because the regular tamagoyaki (atsuyaki tamago or dashimaki tamgo) can be had at soba noodle shops in Japan as an appetizer (or many izakayas), but more importantly there are 50 to 80 year old tamagoyaki shops in Tsukiji Fish Market area...and he wanted to innovate and come up with this own offering. This was why a former disciple of Jiro quit because he failed him at tamagoyaki (who came up with a atsuyaki version).

                                      Jiro's secret to the tamagoyaki is shiba ebi, likely yamaimo, ground up into a paste, and mixed with a specific kind of egg (with other ingredients). Most of you saw Jiro Dreams Of Sushi and probably already know this bit. There may be more details outlined in one of his 2 books (in Japanese only).

                                      Urasawa does the sponge cake tamagoyaki in the spirit of Jiro Ono, and Mori appears to be doing that as well. It is definitely a good thing to have at a very high end establishment. From a 2007 visit to Sushi Zo, their version was atsuyaki was good but I've had way better.

                                      The taste test thing really depends on what the restaurant's strengths are, especially if the chef specializes in something more than another. It is similar to measuring the strength of a dim sum seafood restaurant based on their ha gow or siu mai...and in the end there's no perfect ha gow or siu mai but you might still get a decent yum cha experience if you navigate correctly (even if you know what should go into making a proper HG/SM).

                                        1. re: K K

                                          Yeah, I had tamago at Sushi Zo a few years gack, and I would vividly have remembered it if it were sponge cake consistency.

                                          Wow, never knew Jiro of Jiro Dreams of Sushi newly found fame started the sponge cake style of tamago.

                                          Very interesting. thanks kk.

                                    2. re: Mr Taster

                                      even though i have never been, i seriously with i could even try his pound cake or sponge cake looking tamago.

                                      i bet he could probably open up shoppe on a street in BH just selling those things by the dozen.

                        3. re: Clyde

                          I usually find that, the slower the pace at which the sushi is made, the more I can eat. The sushi at Urasawa comes at a very relaxed pace - at times there were maybe 5-10 minutes in between pieces. I could eat practically indefinitely there.

                          1. re: mrhooks

                            To be honest, when I am full I just quit. My husband may eat more than I do if he wants to. Don't think of getting your money's worth. I agree with Andy that this is not the way to approach a meal at Urasawa. Also Hiro is very proud of his rice and the proportion of rice to fish is much smaller than other sushi restaurants.

                            1. re: lizziee

                              good to know. that's why i'm asking these questions because i don't want to go there and be an a-hole. there have been times when we get our last round of fish and i realize i just can't do it so i'll pull off the fish and leave the rice. if the meal is slow paced then hopefully i should be OK as i finished the omakase at Mori and wasn't totally full so that was something i did not expect. knowing rice to fish portion is smaller than most places makes me less nervous about finishing the courses.

                              1. re: Clyde

                                The one time my husband and I were there, I got full much sooner than my husband. I told Hiro I was full and he asked my husband if he would like to continue, which he did. The meal was absolutely amazing!!! You'll have a great time.
                                I think it may be offensive to leave the rice. Like lizziee said, Hiro is proud of his rice and the rice to fish is much less than most places.

                      2. Yes, formal rules exist in Japanese dining. Sushi is to be picked up by hand, not chopsticks. Wasabi is not to be mixed into the soy sauce. There are phrases to be uttered before and after the meal.

                        However, no one is expected to follow these rules. The Urasawa experience is more Americanized and casual than you’d think. Many diners were snapping photos during the meal. I saw people leave items half-finished (Chef Hiro didn’t seem offended because it was clear these diners loved his food but were simply too full).

                        As to your specific plan of deconstructing Chef Hiro’s sushi in front of his own eyes, hmm….
                        Please report back on what happened.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: MonsieurKnowItAll

                          Actually from my observation in Japan, about 30% of people use their hands for nigiri sushi, and the other 70% or so still use chopsticks.

                          For each dish/piece served at Urasawa, I usually snap like 3 or 4 photos in rapid succession within the "ten-second rule". Hiro-san remembers that I do this, and doesn't seem to mind at all.

                          Then again, I am gifted with a near-bottomless gullet, and I've never missed a single grain of rice in any of my 7+ visits to Urasawa. I've literally eaten every item he's ever served me (and occasionally I go on to bonus rounds). My record is a 50-course monster kaiseki in one particular sitting with Hiro-san a few years back. Ah, good times...

                          1. re: J.L.

                            Honestly, it's fascinating to me that taking hundreds of photos during a meal in a very intimate 10-person restaurant is considered less disruptive and disrespectful to you than someone who might be full near the end of the meal and is thinking about not eating the rice on the final few bites.

                            When Hiro first changed over from Sushi-Ko, he and his staff discouraged picture taking and certainly cell phone use in general. As the years went on and food blogging became the norm, he certainly gave in. Does it still bother him? I don't know. But after years of being on one of the most touristy streets in America and seeing hundreds of visitors who view his restaurant as a destination I'm sure he's seen it all....from people who take hundreds of pictures to someone who can't eat every bite.

                            1. re: LATrapp

                              Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to dine there (yet!), but I'd find it VERY annoying to have my meal disrupted by someone taking photos during the meal. I'm actually surprised Hiro permits it.

                            2. re: J.L.

                              Exactly right...even the most cultured in Japan do not adhere to archaic “rules” of eating sushi, so Clyde shouldn’t have worry too much about insulting Chef Hiro…except, again, for his plan to take apart the chef’s little masterpieces.

                              1. re: MonsieurKnowItAll

                                isn't it a good thing i asked? who knew leaving a bit of rice behind was such a big deal... i'm a regular at nishi-ya in glendale and there have been multiple times where our last course comes and i leave some rice. they've never once let me know that it was bothersome. they're friendly and happy to see me every time i go. so thanks chowhounders for letting me not make a fool of myself at urasawa, especially the responses that were friendly about it.

                                1. re: Clyde

                                  > who knew leaving a bit of rice behind was such a big deal.

                                  As I understand it, at one time rice was a de-facto currency in Japan. As a result -- and reinforced by the privations of WW2 -- wasting rice is viewed as a serious breech of etiquette. Of course, anyone doing business in the US in the last 10 years should be aware that the social imperative of finishing everything on your place is now (deservedly) in steep decline.

                                  > there have been multiple times where our last course comes and i leave some rice. they've never once let me know

                                  But that is very typical of Japanese etiquette. They will not "let you know" in any obvious way, but they will still perceive a "transgression".

                          2. The original comment has been removed
                            1. Sorry if it sounded all too didactic - Some of us on this thread (me included) get too passionate and carried away about sushi at times. Please forgive my words if they sounded harsh, for I never intended them to be so.

                              Enjoy your meal! And please report back!

                              1. re: J.L.

                                Well said J.L.

                                Apologies as well, Enjoy! (You can't help getting passionate about Urasawa!)

                            2. With the amount of money you'll be spending, who gives a _____ what the chef thinks. Enjoy the meal in whatever manner makes you the happiest.

                              16 Replies
                              1. re: Helper Monkey

                                Without respect for the food, the house you're enjoying it in, or its owner? Wow.

                                I'm a person that gives a ____.

                                1. re: J.L.

                                  A bit melodramatic....

                                  There's nothing about leaving rice that inherently disrespects the house nor the food. If the chef objects, that's his issue. The customer is there to enjoy the meal that they've paid for, not stroke the chef.

                                  Disrespect would be entering the restaurant in flip flops and a backwards baseball cap, or talking on your cell phone through the entire meal.

                                  1. re: Helper Monkey

                                    I wasn't going to post on this, since the guy almost definitely already ate his meal and did whatever, but my take is this: wherever you eat, at the end of the day it's YOUR meal. It's not the chef's meal. If you want to spend your meal eating in a way you don't prefer in order to be respectful to the chef, that's your choice. If you choose to eat your meal the way that you want to, and eat or not eat whatever part of the dish you want, by all means do it. Don't feel forced into eating something you don't want to because of what some people might think.

                                    1. re: Helper Monkey

                                      I misunderstood your original comment. I thought you were saying that anything goes (including the backwards baseball cap, talking on the cellphone, etc.), as long as the customer was paying big bucks.

                                      1. re: J.L.

                                        So, you guys are saying don't wear a baseball cap backwards, but it’s OK to mess with the food anyway I want since I paid for it? What if I wanna dip my sushi in some ketchup? I don't think we can completely ignore a chef's feelings on how his food is manipulated. The OP was asking about etiquette in formal Japanese dining, not the rights of a paying customer.

                                        That said, Urasawa is not formal Japanese dining and is different from eating sushi in Japan at, say, Sukiyabashi Jiro (don't even think of adding soy sauce).
                                        Whoever's up next to eat at Urasawa, please tell Chef Hiro to get a Chow account and explain he's a more easy-going than what many think.

                                        1. re: MonsieurKnowItAll

                                          Maybe I didn;t get my point across. My own words from earlier in this thread:

                                          "As generous and pleasant as Hiro-san is to his clients, don't disrespect his craft by eschewing the rice. You're in HIS house when you dine there. The idea a person can do whatever s/he pleases just because s/he is paying $500pp is a very Western concept."

                                          Helper Monkey and I have a difference of opinion on what constitutes disrespect, in this scenario.

                                      2. re: Helper Monkey

                                        I don't think J.L. is being melodramatic at all. Very few places call for this level of "good behavior" - Urasawa is one of them. imho, stepping into Urasawa is like entering a capsule of cultural and culinary bliss of the highest order. Sure, the customs can be waived off, one can have disregard for the chef, and one can even try requesting a spider roll. But I liken it to walking up with beer in hand and rippin' a loud one when first meeting your fiance's mom.

                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                          <<walking up with beer in hand and rippin' a loud one when first meeting your fiance's mom>>
                                          Excellent analogy bulavinaka!
                                          If only I had done that when I met my (first) fiance's mom!

                                          1. re: Ciao Bob

                                            You are one of my mentors, whose shadow I ... oops - excuse me - where's my beer...? :)

                                      3. re: J.L.

                                        I'm with you, J.L. The whole point is the connection one makes, possibly over a lifetime. But I guess people are used to just ordering. That's why I basically don't eat out in the USA anymore.

                                      4. re: Helper Monkey

                                        "The customer is always right" is a very American attitude that is at odds with the customs and etiquette of many other cultures, notably Japanese culture. That doesn't mean the customer doesn't have rights in other cultures, but the relationship is rarely as asymmetrical as it is here.

                                        1. re: Peripatetic

                                          I'm trying hard not to jump back into this thread, but we are talking here about something that goes into your body. Something you consume. There should, I hope, always be a choice to politely decline no matter what the situation, culture, or location. It's sad to argue that there are cultures where you don't have a right to politely decline what goes into your mouth. And I strongly believe that Urasawa is not one of those. If you don't want to or can't eat the rice, please don't eat the rice.

                                          1. re: LATrapp

                                            I agree, actually. I was just responding to Helper Monkey's remark "who gives a _____ what the chef thinks". Native Japanese will be inclined to see that attitude as disrespectful. I think you should be able to come to an understanding with Hiro-san if you explain apologetically in advance that you won't be able to eat the rice. I'm not an expert on Japanese etiquette, but I believe it's typical to be apologetic in situations like this where you would not normally need to be in other cultures. This is especially true in view of the symbolic history of rice in Japan (as I mentioned in this post:

                                            On the other hand, you can be completely oblivious and probably nothing bad will happen. I'm sure they're accustomed to it by now.

                                            1. re: Peripatetic

                                              That all sounds good and agreeable to me! I misunderstood your post. Thanks