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High-End Sushi in Tokyo with easier reservations

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Hi everyone,

I know there are a lot of threads related to sushi in Tokyo, but like many other people, I'm having trouble getting reservations at some of the famous places - Saito, Sawada, Mizutani, Jiro… We are going in October, and we missed the Sep. 1 date to make reservations at some of these places

Can anyone recommend an alternative with the following criteria:

- High-End sushi restaurant, small (< 10 seats?), sit at the counter, omakaze, serves one piece at a time
- Amazing sushi - chef is a master, known to have the relationships in the market to get the best quality fish, excellent techniques in making sushi, etc…
- Not extremely difficult to get a reservation (i.e. not as much hype as Saito, Sawada, Mizutani, Jiro)
- Allows guests that do not speak Japanese (we can have Japanese friends or hotel concierge to help us make the reservation in Japanese)
- Relaxed friendly atmosphere

(Note: We'll also check out some other mid-range sushi places, breakfast sushi near Tsukiji, but we just wanted to make sure we get a reservation at one high-end place)

There are so many amazing sushi restaurants in Tokyo, there must be so many great ones that don't get as much press, and are not as well-known to foreigners - so perhaps a little bit easier to get a reservation.

Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. I posted this in another thread, but the last time I was at Sawada he really emphasized to me that he has empty seats all the time. He even told me once in a while he has no customers and goes home. Of course he is full a lot of the time because he only has six seats, but if you are flexible with a few days and you call him now you should be able to get a reservation without a problem. It's more of a luck-of-the-draw type of thing than a problem of being booked a month in advance.

    4 Replies
    1. re: la2tokyo

      Thanks!

      Lol I actually tried Saito and Jiro Roppongi, but did not try Sawada - I was dissuaded from trying after reading this post: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/862840. I was also not sure if I would be able to eat there without an interpreter.

      It also looked like Sawada was significantly more expensive than other sushi restaurants of the same caliber... but I don't mind paying the money if it's worth it :) Will ask my friend to help us attempt a reservation.

      1. re: la2tokyo

        Maybe if he'd take reservations from foreigners he wouldn't be empty.

        1. re: Gargle

          Sawada? Last time I was there all six people at the counter were foreigners.

          1. re: la2tokyo

            He takes reservations from hotel concierges, not from foreigners.

      2. Why not go to Sho?

        2 Replies
        1. re: Gargle

          I've just come across so many different options reading these boards, and never noted down Sho as an option - but after searching through some reviews, it looks pretty amazing! Thanks for the recommendation :)

          So, if I somehow managed to get a reservation at Saito or Sawada, would you still recommend Sho as a better first-time experience?

          1. re: analogarsonist

            Saito vs Sho... I'm not sure. They're both excellent. You don't see that many recs for Sho because (1) it's not in Ginza (2) they refuse Michelin stars (3) they don't sell the "sushi temple" thing so much...

            Sawada is a bit of an extremist, I think, and on the expensive side for what you get.

        2. Sushi Taichi, in my opinion, there is nothing to add, nothing to change, that is a good overview on sushi ! This sushi-yasan will be easier for a first approach in my opinion.
          If you prefer to be comfortable, and enjoy your diner with a more intimate approach, I really recommend sushi Taichi !

          17 Replies
          1. re: Ninisix

            Thanks Ninisix, I was actually going to PM you because you seem to have tried every sushi restaurant in Tokyo :) Now Sushi Taichi is definitely something I've never come across, and I can find very few english reviews - perhaps this is the hidden gem I'm looking for :) Thanks for the recommendation!

            Same question as above - if I somehow managed to get a reservation at Saito or Sawada, would you still recommend Taichi as a better first-time experience?

            1. re: analogarsonist

              Hey, I know I'm not Ninisix (well... do I?), but I'd say go to Sushi Taichi.
              I went to Tokyo twice. On our first trip we already experienced some mid to high range sushi (Kyubey, Sushiso Masa and Sawada). As many, I fell in love with Sawada's sushi during a quick lunch there.
              Fast forward to 2013 and, back in Tokyo, I wanted to try a mix of different kind of places. We ended up doing Taichi, Sawada, Yoshitake. As with all good restaurants, they're all fantastic, but very different.

              I went to Taichi first as I wanted to start with "midrange" sushi and I read Ninisix rave about it. Turned out it was even better than expected. We were unfortunately not feeling well that day, so we only had a very light dinner, but everything we tasted was great. I especially loved the rice. Quite vinegary (red vinegar isn't it?) and relatively firm. It is "no-frill" but quality is very high. Taichi seems very nice. I believe he speaks some English too, which can help. So if you've never experienced Japanese high-end sushi, this is a perfect starting point. More so than more sophisticated sushi joints whose appeal you can really understand only once you've already had the very-good-but-classic ones.
              You can look at pictures from my meal there: https://plus.google.com/photos/113873...

              I also felt that Sawada can be an excellent place to go to for tourists like me, because the (set) menu is so extensive. The sashimi courses are reason enough to book a trip to Tokyo. His nigiri are great, but not perfect for me. Still is one of my favorite restaurants in the world!

              Can't comment on Saito, as I never managed to get a reservation there...

              1. re: olivierb

                Thanks, that's very helpful! Pics look awesome :) I guess my only thing is, it might be a while before we return to tokyo to try the 'next level'

                Well, definitely some food for thought...

                1. re: analogarsonist

                  Analogarsonist, yes, sushi Taichi is a high quality sushi-yasan, and the counter is very small and intimate so you will be able to interfer with the chef !!
                  Sawada-San is a grnious especially for hid speciality of tsunami/sashimi/sea urchin combination, the nigiris were not as good(rice balance!), and the second time It confirmed it !

                  1. re: Ninisix

                    Hi Ninisix, interesting reading your posts. You seem to have eaten in quite a lot of sushi restaurants. Which ones are your favorites ... top 5?

                    1. re: CaLBeaR1227

                      There is some rumors that Araki San is back, and is looking for a new location near Azabu Roppongi, this one is my best.. Sushi yasan that cost more than 20,000yens, I only go once or twice a year, after I choose for myself the ones that are more affordable,.. so yes, these are Sushi Kimura, sushi Iwa, sushi Taichi, Sushi Ookawahara, sushi Shimizu(lunches every time).. and I do repeat some local sushi yasan, maguro doesn't come from the coast, the red vinegar seasoning rice resemble sushi Yoshitake, but these sushi yasan are not perfect but their menu are under 10,000yens, and they serve good products..

                      1. re: Ninisix

                        Cool. I know very little Japanese, but when I was at Sushi Saito a couple times this year, I overheard Saito-san talking to his other customers about Araki-san trying to sort things out for work in London ... perhaps it didn't happen, most likely visa problem I'm guessing.

                        1. re: CaLBeaR1227

                          Araki-san was said to open in autumn ... But with visa becoming more and more difficult to get by - plus all the things around in Europe, I start to wonder. Anyway, if he really can't start there, I will be glad to see him back!

                        2. re: Ninisix

                          If Araki does return to Tokyo. I would like to try it.
                          I have had sushi but since I had my first "real" sushi experience in Tokyo last December, I feel like I have become an extreme sushi lover. I had Jiro once, Mizutani once, Sawada twice and Saito twice. I see that you mentioned before about Ookawahara's long list of tsumami and sushi ... does Ookawahara's omakase menu gives more tsumani and sushi than the others?

                          1. re: CaLBeaR1227

                            As a long time resident in Tokyo, I take a different view with what constitute a high end experience.. and I have had some sushi monopoly, Jiro San has been my model teacher for nigiris where I attach (vinegar taste, warm shari, ..), the rice of Ookawahara-San is short, so you've like it to be firm.
                            That said, if you've never tried sushi Iwa, I recommend it.

                            1. re: CaLBeaR1227

                              Okawahara San, the menu, yes, is very copious. The chef doesn't speak English, but his wife does speak some it seems. It's not the show as at Sawada-san, but there is a funny to observe kind of SM relationship between them, with his wife having obvious difficulties to follow The Big Chef...
                              The counter is about 10 seats, I had to say stop to the tsumami/sashimi as I wanted to enjoy the nigiris. I often recommend it over sushi Sho. Here the menu, last year in november including more tsumami/nigiris :
                              - ikasumi misozuke
                              - ankimo, his speciality served, with ponzu and iwanori
                              - shishamo
                              - kue no shio kombu (white fish, family of the 'merou')
                              - tarako wasabi (lightly grilled)
                              - ezo awabi (abalone)
                              - raw maguro sashimi (akamo + chutoro)
                              - katsuo sashimi (bonito)
                              At that time, I asked him to switch to nigiris :
                              - kohada (one day gizzard shad, juicy!)
                              - akami (maguro)
                              - shime saba (aburi, half pink macquerel)
                              - chutoro (maguro)
                              - kama toro (roast with wasabi)
                              - sumi ika with naizo miso zuke (squid with a nedaillon of his internal stomach marinated in miso).. I looved it, i asked for one more !!
                              - ikura zuke (salmon roe)
                              - uni donburi (sea urchin on rice)
                              - anago (sea water eel)
                              - tamago yaki with some tsukemono (omelet, soufflé like, accompanied with tsukemono)
                              Impressive for 18,000yens, .. Hope you didn't get lost in my translation ?!! Hihi !!

                    2. re: olivierb

                      Dear OlivierB, thank you ! I am glad you've had a good diner at Sushi Taichi !! That said, I would like to be as 'gastronomad' as you do, It is not the first time I am reading your blog, and I have to say I do agree with your comments, and especially regarding sushi Sawada !

                      1. re: olivierb

                        Olivierb, how much was Taichi? What neighborhood is it in? Thank you!

                        1. re: OC Mutt

                          Sushi Taichi is located in Ginza 8-5-15 2nd Floor in an alley behind blocks, the land mark is the Reiko shop in the Sotobori Avenue. The lunches are at 2520yens(week days), 5250yens(my choice), and 'omakase(menu)' is from 8300yens at lunch, diner full menu is around 17000yens.

                    3. re: Ninisix

                      Just went to Sushi Taichi after reading the boards and the multiple recommendations. I could not find much written about it anywhere else, but I think it was definitely a strong recommendation. I had an outstanding weekday lunch -- went with the 8400 Yen lunch which offered 16 pieces of outstanding nigiri. I made a reservation just one week prior to arriving in Tokyo through my hotel concierge at the Westin. There are only 8 seats in the 2nd floor joint.

                      As olivierb says, the rice was really good and a bit different. I do think he used red vinegar -- the rice had a red tint to it, which I've never had prior. The chef speaks English quite well -- his place was full with locals, so he did not speak any English to me during the meal, except when I took photos and forgot to turn the flash off (my bad). I was the last one left at roughly 2pm. At that point, he started chatting in English. He used to work in Australia (for over a year), so he picked up a fair bit of English. He can certainly carry a conversation just fine.

                      I tried to explain that I found him on Chowhound... he didn't know about it, but he said "thank you, Chowhound." Place has been open for about 5 years -- go pay him a visit. Well worth it and definitely a local type of find. I especially enjoyed the red clam (aoyagi, I believe), anago and definitely the best uni I've had. Finishing piece was a tamago that was unlike any I've had before -- super light, almost soufflé like, with a browned crust. Great way to finish. He had one assistant -- service was excellent and quite even. Go enjoy!

                      I also went to Daiwa Sushi at Tsukiji at 5:30am -- good and super fresh, but no comparison.

                      Thanks to everyone on the boards (especially Ninisix) for the reco!

                      1. re: lohrider

                        Thank you for your review, glad you've enjoyed it. I have just had lunch recently, the chef Ishikawa Taichi San will be invited next year to France, for a month or more.. he will need to close for short time.

                        1. re: lohrider

                          Can you please post the address for Taichi and which neighborhood it is in?

                      2. As for specific recommendations, I defer to the local posters. However, I'm in Tokyo in less than two weeks and was sweating it out for a reservation after reading so many "book 6 months in advance" comments. Not to mention that I'm trying to book a spot for four people.

                        I stumbled on a couple blogs, including Luxeat's "Top-30 sushi spots according to Tablelog" post. Used that list as a reference for research and figured out what I wanted from there. Didn't bother with Jiro, Sawada, Mizutani or Saito as I figured they'd be booked already (not a comment on the places specifically). Was able to find spots available at Daisan Harumi, Sushisho Sho, Sushisho Masa, Kansaka etc....not always for the times and # of seats I needed, but there was availability within two weeks.

                        So my recommendation would be research a few spots and work through your concierge to see if you can get a seating.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: grandgourmand

                          Cool, I think we're in similar situations! I'm trying to book for 4 people as well - which is more than half the seats at many of these restaurants...

                          Other problem is that we're staying at a cheap hotel, the concierge won't help us with reservations! And it seems that there are some places (at least Sawada, anyway) that will only take reservations from the concierge (we've had our Japanese friends call with no luck).

                          I guess I'm at a point where I'm giving up on Saito and Sawada, will try Taichi, Sho and Daisan Harumi next :)

                          Thanks for the advice!

                          1. re: analogarsonist

                            I mention this every time now because I think the chef, food, setting, and experience are very good for newbies to Japan- check out Hatsune Sushi in Kamata.

                            The neighborhood (at least that side of the station) is not interesting or in central-central Tokyo, but is easy to access by train. The chef is a 4th generation sushi chef that serves the best of the best in terms of sourcing and prep (i.e. Oma maguro, cooks and picks crab meat right before serving, etc.). His wife operates the restaurant with him....The room is lovely, very Japanese- you sit on cushions with legs tucked under counter not on a stool, some antique furniture, etc.

                            The meal takes a couple of hours and the very friendly master is always in teaching mode. He enjoys providing an "experience" it seems rather than just a meal. I believe he can get by in basic English. He seems like he would be amenable to a small group of foreigners and the location outside of central Tokyo probably means a reservation is easier to take. He has two Michelin stars.

                            There's no sashimi, it's all omakase nigiri. Also, he will make each item one by one and hand them to patrons one by one. Because of this type of service, he gets knocked by locals on Tabelog. Nevertheless, he's a sweet nice guy and I would think for a Japan newbie a nice introduction to world of temples of sushi....

                            http://tabelog.com/tokyo/A1315/A13150...

                            1. re: Silverjay

                              Hatsune is a good suggestion. I feel like since he's gone on a diet he's not quite as cheerful (I guess power walking a couple of hours every morning with a bag full of weights will do that) and the portions have shrunk somewhat, but still among the great places. I thought michelin took away one star but I could be misremembering.

                              His English is far better than basic at this point.

                              1. re: Gargle

                                Haha, that's actually pretty funny. I've only eaten there once and just used Japanese, chatted about baseball, etc. There was also a long time regular there dining at the same time who would occasionally interrupt the choreographed proceedings to make wise-cracks, usually about his chubbiness. Chef took it in a good natured way but like anyone in that situation, you could tell it bothered him a bit. Still, he joked that he got that way from taking "tsumami" while making the sushi, which we all agreed, was not necessarily without merit.....The long timer mentioned something about two Michelin stars. I don't think that should matter. This is one of the better shops I've been to...BTW, he didn't use akasu the day I went but apparently that is part of his signature shari prep.

                        2. I'm extremely grateful for all of your thoughtful recommendations, thank you so much!!!

                          Decided to go to Taichi, Hatsunezushi, and Dai - seems like it will be a good variety of experiences :)

                          We successfully made reservations at Taichi, could not get through to Hatsunezushi yet - will try again tonight. If Hatsunezushi is full, Iwa is our next choice...

                          Thanks again for all of your help, will definitely provide an update once I get back!

                          1. Just got back from Tokyo...

                            We landed, checked into our hotel, then went straight to Sushi Taichi. Incredible meal, at that point it was the best sushi we had ever tasted - excellent quality fish, perfect rice, expertly prepared... And almost as important, the chef was super-friendly, was joking around with us all night, gave us detailed explainations for every piece of fish - where it was from, how it was prepared, when it's in season; we also had fun chatting with the other people at the table (we were a group of 4 english speakers, and there were 2 other patrons that were locals/regulars). Highly recommend this as an introduction to high-end sushi!

                            Then, we went to Hatsune a few days later, and in my very unexpert opinion, this place was just in a different league. It was the best meal of my life. The quality of ingredients was just remarkable, but the way that the flavours were elevated by the chef's precise preparation methods just absolutely blew me away. For example, the o-toro was submerged in soy sauce that was 2 degrees colder than the chu-toro to match the temperature of those parts when the fish is alive. And how the flavour of the o-toro changed dramatically before and after it was allowed to "breathe" for 30 minutes. Just could not believe that sushi could taste like this.

                            But the atmosphere at Hatsune just took it over the top for me. As SilverJay mentioned, the chef goes into teaching mode, and really gets into some passionate explanations about the ingredients and the preparations. And we were joking around all night, he was presenting all of the fish on plates and posing for the camera (apparently pictures are usually not allowed). We sat next to a couple regulars who have been to Hatsune many times, and they say they've never seen the chef have so much fun before - he gave us big hugs when we left. Such a great time.

                            Anyways, thanks again for the amazing advice, I'm really really fortunate to have gotten such great recommendations from all of you, I never would have found these places on my own... Can't thank you guys enough!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: analogarsonist

                              Hey thanks for reporting back. So glad to hear you enjoyed both Taichi and Hatsune!