In 2011, I watched a documentary that would change my views in life - about eating, the appreciation of food, and the art of gastronomy.
Fast forward 11 years, and I found myself at the door of Sukiyabashi Jiro, herded in despite being 15 minutes early, and glimpsing at the great Jiro himself before pinching my arm for the third time that evening.
Growing up, I had this odd relationship with food - I wouldn't call it an eating disorder, but upon reflection, it probably was. I ate hot cheetos for breakfast in high school, and in college I'd create a little competition with myself to see how many meal swipes I could save by the end of the quarter. Looking back, it was quite embarrassing. I'd be hungry but I wouldn't indulge except for the things I knew I shouldn't have indulged in.
It wasn't until after college that I met and lived with some great people, and they introduced me to fine dining. Not any kind of fine dining - the type where you'd save your pennies for months to enjoy a meal that lasted 3 hours - the kind of meal that made you "full but not full". Over the years, my palette has changed, and my love for food has grown significantly. I haven't watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi in almost a decade, but I still remember how I felt the first time I did.
When I found out I was going to Tokyo a few weeks back, I started to do some prep (work on the visa, download offline maps) and saw on google maps that I had a few locations starred. I "star" anything that might interest me so that when people ask for suggestions I can just pull my maps up and tell them!
For reference, this is my LA map. 🤣 Lots of stars!
I figured - why not try to get a reservation to Jiro? The wait list is probably a few years long but if I don't try, I'll never know. I went on the website and it clearly stated DON'T CALL US.
So I reached out to the concierge at my hotel and asked if they could do it instead. The response I got back was a little depressing - they told me that Japan was observing a holiday called Obon and that many places would be closed. We have a similar holiday in Chinese culture so I understood how big of a holiday it would be (many of the trains were essentially empty during those days!) and I gave a 2 week range to the concierge to see if they could accommodate any other day. If the range was outside of my initial stay, I'd try to change my flight to make sure I could go.
After a few back and forth emails, they did it! I got a nice little letter stating that my reservation was confirmed, with a few caveats:
- Don't be late or you'll be charged the full price
- Don't miss the dinner or you'll be charged full price
- Don't cancel less than 7 days before the dinner or you'll be charged the full price
- Learn how to eat sushi correctly or you'll insult the staff
- Dress nicely
The day of the dinner, I tried on multiple outfits. WHAT IS SMART CASUAL. The concierge said "no short skirts", and "a collar is preferred for men". He even suggested I wear pants. But since all I brought to tokyo were dresses, they were going to have to deal.
I left at 6 to get there for my 7pm reservation, and laughed when I got to the station 40 minutes early. Google did me dirty and did NOT take me the right way, so it wasn't until I saw Jewelpie's blog post with directions that I finally felt like I was going the right way. Her directions didn't get me there so here are my tips:
If you get a reservation:
1. Leave early. The address for Sukibayashi Jiro is Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo City, Ginza, 4 Chome−2−15 塚本総業ビルB1階
2. Navigate yourself to the Ginza Station, exit toward C6 but DO NOT go all the way out to the street. There are double doors before you walk up the last staircase out onto the street - go through them and Jiro will be on your right side! I walked up and down those C6 exit stairs 4 times before I tried the door. Don't be me!
No photos inside so please enjoy my brain dump:
- I walked over to the shop and watched as three 5 other people entered before me. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to wait outside or if I should have walked right in, so I waited until one of the employees walked out and herded me in. Literally herded me. I felt like I was late even though I knew I was 15 minutes early for my 7pm reservation.
- As soon as I walked through the curtain, I saw him. Jiro! The only other time I've ever felt this nervous was on my wedding day.
- The staff had me check in my purse and my cell phone and said I could take my wallet out after the meal was over.
- They sat me in the middle of the two other groups - a group of 3, then me, then two others - I was right in front of Jiro!
- As soon as I was seated, I was handed a warm hand towel and tea was poured for me. And then the food came.
- Jiro served me and occasionally served the two people to my left.
- His son served the three people to my right, and his apprentice (I think?) served the two on my left.
- Truly an amazing experience.
- The sushi is served edo-style, which means that in the past it was served in stalls, for people to eat quickly with their hands, drink tea, and depart. My meal lasted probably 20 minutes, with a 10 minute wait afterward to pay for the bill. I was home by 8pm including travel time (my reservation was for 7).
- Karei - Flat Fish
- Karei is in the flounder family. It's almost always the first dish because the taste is mild and the texture is firm. Since this was my first dish, I was a little taken aback by how rough it was to eat. After chewing it a few times, it really started to blend in with the rice and wasabi, so it was much more enjoyable.
- One of the books says "you're in for a treat when this shows up on your menu" - apparently they are hard to find!
- When I saw this on the menu, I was half expecting some sort of chicken. Then I saw fish skin and had no one to talk to about this. This one was marinated in vinegar but I didn't taste it! Probably a good thing.
- One of my favorite pieces. I grew up thinking abalone was so expensive - something I'd never be able eat every day - so to have half of a whole abalone over a bed of rice was not only eye opening, it was like unlocking a new memory and a new taste of abalone - not a chewy, firm texture, but a soft, pliable, and tasty one. The abalone is simmered in sake and water for 3 - 4 hours.
- I love shrimp but for some reason this wasn't the "best I've ever had" shrimp. It was just ok.
- This one blew me away. I think I'd request this one again if I had a choice to eat one more piece. It is typically smoked over a bed of straw and I could swear it was giving me a hug while I was eating it. I am still thinking about this piece.
- Like buttah.
- This one was wrapped in seaweed - which apparently they roast themselves! Delicious
- I have never been a fan of roe but this one was like eating savory boba! Would definitely try again.
- This one was the one I was looking forward to the most. It takes an hour to cook and despite the presence of shrimp and yam, it tastes like a mochi cake without the chew. Pure bliss.
- no one talked. The restaurant was silent but it was a beautiful silence.
- the rice was a star that shone in every dish I ate. It was so good that if there was a way to package it or learn how to make it and bring it back here to the states, I'd make a killing selling it. It is 100 out of 10 the best rice I've ever had.
- Jiro put sauce on every piece of sushi and wasabi on the inside of every piece of fish before laying it on the rice. I am terrified of wasabi but this was really, really good.
- Tea was refilled every time I drank anything past 60%. The most attentive restaurant I've ever been to. I felt like there was a guy behind me just watching me drink my tea so he could refill it.
I still think about this night. One of the best experiences of my life and truly one of a kind. 1000/10, I'd eat here again.