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Discussion about Tablelog

Thanks for the comments. It's also a wonder how these small 8-seat restaurants can be ranked so high... But all restaurants are pretty damn small anyway! I just find it fascinating that the general public in Japan is so amazing. Is there just a good culture of eating? Etiquette is important in Japan, so does that lead to more respect for the chef? It's just incredible to me, cause there is no place in the world where the dining public is so smart. Perhaps France is, but I don't think it's anywhere near as close. Could you elaborate on why the dining public is this way? My only explanation would be that people have great respect for each others professions and each other. No one feels like they are entitled to things.

Obviously in America and most everywhere else, the diner is completely different. People in general feel entitled, special requests are common, and people are very uninformed with how restaurants work. People give 0 stars over really minute things: he didn't give me any extra soy sauce, sriracha, or ponzu, my sushi chef couldn't even give me a bowl of rice. I'm curious cause it makes me wonder how chefs and restauranteurs can build a better, more informed clientele.

Jul 17, 2015
AustinLineCook in Japan

Sushi Saito second counter?

May I ask what hotel you're staying at? A Hotel that can get through is rare, one that is informed enough to know about the 2nd counter perhaps more so... When will you be in Tokyo?!? Sounds exciting!

Jul 16, 2015
AustinLineCook in Japan

Sushi Saito and Sawada questions from first-time traveler to Tokyo

No wasabi is a common request, even in Japan. I would actually encourage you to politely ask rather than suffer any discomfort. Everyone is different, but any chef is going to want to make you happy, and it's a very easy request to accommodate. Now if you ask for sriracha or ketchup, that's a very different thing...

Jul 16, 2015
AustinLineCook in Japan

Discussion about Tablelog

Tablelog is, as most explain it, the "Yelp" of Japan. But there seems to be more to it than that, and I was hoping some chowhounders with extensive Japanese dining experience could elaborate.

In the US, Yelp has hardly any correlation with the newspaper critics and the Michelin guide. If Yelp had decisive restaurant rankings for NY, than I don't even think Per Se would crack the top 5. It's not a reliable restaurant guide at all and does not reflect what the best establishments in NY really are. I really look at Yelp reviews to get the restaurant details (hours, takeout options ect) and to also determine some sort of competence from an establishment, but I listen to the NY Times and Michelin guide first.

But Tablelog seems more geared toward fine dining, and I would say there is certainly some correlation between that and the Michelin guide. It's a very reliable guide for finding incredible, high-end restaurants that accurately reflect what the best restaurants Tokyo have to offer. Is this really run solely based off of public reviews? How does a restaurant with only 8 seats get to the top of the list?

It's hard for me to believe Tablelog ratings are based solely off of public reviews, because that means Japan's general public is incredibly savvy, jaw-droppingly so. Often, it's not about how good a restaurant is, but how good their patrons can be.

Jul 16, 2015
AustinLineCook in Japan

Sushi Saito and Sawada questions from first-time traveler to Tokyo

I'm surprised you were even able to get a hold of anyone!

Jul 15, 2015
AustinLineCook in Japan

Sushi Saito and Sawada questions from first-time traveler to Tokyo

Wow, did that mean you were able to score one or did they tell you that they were booked solid until the next ice age. :)

Jul 15, 2015
AustinLineCook in Japan

Mori Sushi Premium Omakase + YOLO = YOLOmakase

Onodara is confirmed for a NY location, but don't know when they will open. I think you're misinformed about how sushi zu works. It's like making a brine for chicken. Things like humidity do not affect a brine recipe. Thereshould be no calibration for a sushi zu recipe. Now cooking of the actual rice is different, and yes, things like the age of the rice, the grain, the weather, the seasons can make a difference. And its mostly due to super high heat gas rice cookers. Flames in general are finicky. But sushi zu should always be the same recipe.

Mori Sushi Premium Omakase + YOLO = YOLOmakase

Thanks for the correction. Onodara is one place I could be wrong on, as a place with a Japanese outpost could operate very differently. But it would be very disappointing to me if they did not at least use the same sushi vinegar. It would be like Shake Shack using different hamburger buns in their international locations. I'll admit the Paris location in particular seems to be different...

I don't think this is so for Hawaii. Contrast that to Yoshitake's Hong Kong location in which he even imports the same water to cook the rice.

Mori Sushi Premium Omakase + YOLO = YOLOmakase

Yes, Mori, Urasawa, Masa, Yasuda, Shiro, even Nobu and Morimoto, all Mizakan brand, FACT. Some even use the exact same variety, (Urasawa and Masa use different varieties surprisingly).

We can sit around and discuss "why" all day long, but that's just how it's done. The best explanation I can give you is that that's what these guys have grown up on for 10-plus years, just like growing up on California rice. It's a chef's signature, and they're not going to change it on a whim. And no one makes it from scratch.

The only people I see NOT using Mizkan are the new guards coming in with no strong ties to the old USA guards: Nakazawa (though he's likely Mizkan), Onedara, Yoshizumi. I don't know much about these guys; all my experiences have been with the old guard (10-plus year establishments), and the sushi world is a very small place.

As for Yokoi brand akazu, when you're skilled in understanding what products sushi chefs use, you just know. There are no other brands of akazu I have come across used by sushi chefs that will give your rice that brown color. Do I know Yoshizumi is using the same thing for a FACT? No, but I would put any amount of money you wanted to on it.

So yes, there are some inferences I am drawing from. But when I know I'm going to be right over 90% of the time, I feel comfortable saying it is so. It's like my saying Matsuhisa uses IMP for fish. Do I know for a fact? Nope. Am I comfortable enough to make that statement off the top of my head? Absolutely.

Mori Sushi Premium Omakase + YOLO = YOLOmakase

I'll just have to say that I stand behind my statements. What you linked to is not a US distributor but just a channel a distributor can pull from. It does not mean that there is a supply of that in the US the same way as there is a supply of "X" vinegar in a Mutual catalog. That company is solely based in JP, but yes it does mean that there is a way of getting it if I want it. I can also get koshihikari from Japan if I want it as well.

I won't go into factual specifics about exactly who is using what (Mizkan offers many varieties as I have said), as I don't want to be disrespectful.

But there are super few exceptions though, so I'll admit I am wrong when I say "all". I should have said "a vast majority, more than 99% considering how many sushi restaurants there are in the US". The obvious exception is Onedara who is going to be using the exact same vinegar recipe as their Tokyo outpost, down to the exact brand of salt and sugar. I wouldn't be surprised if it came to Hawaii already blended by their Tokyo outpost. Perhaps Yoshizumi, and perhaps someone in Omaha Nebraska is using something different. I don't know everyone's business.

But I do know enough big names using Mizkan to know that nearly all the top guys are using it. And all the top guys know everyone's business. "Hey, WTF is Urasawa using these days" is not an uncommon conversation, and the purveyors give that info liberally.

15 East without Masa discussion

Not been to Cagen, though I do respect him a ton as he was my ex-chef once upon a time (before Cagen). He was the first chef to introduce to me what real edomae sushi rice should taste like, not the soda sweet (and sushi vinegar is literally soda sweet if not more) concoction of standard USA sushi rice. It was my first time having sushi rice like that and my mind was blown. Couldn't stop eating it.

As for looks of a fish, I remember showing someone a picture of a hamachi cause he didn't know what hamachi is. "It looks just like a normal fish", he said. I wanted to follow up with a "WTF were you expecting it to look like? A F'n goldfish?!?".

Jul 09, 2015
AustinLineCook in Manhattan

15 East without Masa discussion

I certainly agree that Masa's skill in fish selection is beyond excellent, perhaps the best in the country now that I think about it. And it's not "random fish box" stuff either. It's all really thoughtful. He's not going to only rely on the creme-de-la-creme stuff the way Masa Takayama would (which makes his fish selection very predictable), and he's not going to use any local stuff that's really not that great like Nakazawa. He's a happy medium of the two, and to me that takes great skill.

A great sushi chef is always much more concerned with "how do you choose your fish?" versus the commonly asked question, "where do you get your fish?"

Jul 09, 2015
AustinLineCook in Manhattan

Mori Sushi Premium Omakase + YOLO = YOLOmakase

I know because well... I've been in the business hence my name. I won't delve in other details, but you can always ask the chef.

Importing vinegar is much more difficult than you would think. Volume is an issue. Importing a 20kg box of vinegar (standard size for a restaurant) is expensive. Special dry goods are a completely different ball game than getting fish. There are FDA procedures in place that make things difficult. It's not just vinegar, it could be a specialty tea, dry noodles or whatnot. For these you need some sort of direct connect from a franchise like Onedara. Notice how Asian grocery stores have an english sticker naming the ingredients despite the whole package being in Japanese? FDA stuff.

The sushi world is very small, and everything is a proper judgement call. The "spare no expense" bravado of an itamae can be very overstated. Even Akiko's will shell out the money for some Keiji Salmon and whatnot, but we wouldn't put them anywhere near the top of the sushi pantheon.

Mori Sushi Premium Omakase + YOLO = YOLOmakase

I almost feel bad about letting the cat out of the bag on this, but yes, all the top tier places are using Mizkan brand (Masa, Urasawa, Yasuda, etc). Now Mizkan does have many varieties from "made in the USA" stuff to "made in Japan" stuff. But the good "made in Japan" stuff will fall on just 3 different varieties, each with different levels of akazu. Nevertheless, it is all Mizkan brand. And it is certainly VERY GOOD, but not what the greats in Tokyo use. It's a relatively small bottleneck for US sushi, like not having the Tsukiji Market in your back yard or not having rice grown in Ohma Japan. But it's certainly a bottleneck nevertheless. I wouldn't say it's exactly "cutting corners".

What you add to the vinegar (salt, sugar, Kombu ect.) drastically changes the flavor and is MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than the brand of vinegar. That's why you have spectacular variances in sushi rice from place to place, even if some might use the exact same vinegar.

So why Mizkan? Mutual Trading. Mutual is such a huge importer of dry goods for all of the US, and Mizkan is what they predominantly offer. It's what every sushi chef in the US grows up on, no different from the habit of using California rice.

As for the vinegar brand KK has below, I am sure that's the exact same vinegar Onedara and Yoshizumi uses to get their rice so dark in color. That stuff is soy sauce dark and incredibly strong, so no one uses it straight up. And as I said before, your additions will be much more important. No way Akiko's rice will taste like Onedara or Yoshizumi even if they're using a bit of the same vinegar.

Just because you have more Akazu in your recipe, that doesn't mean your sushi rice is going to be better. It just depends on the chef. I think akazu pairs really well with tuna, but it can be overpowering for lighter fish. It just depends on the sushi chef's style. I've had incredible rice on both ends of the spectrum. Even Jiro's rice isn't particularly dark...

That's what makes sushi rice such an art. Unless you're just copying your master's recipe, it's IMPOSSIBLE for anyone's rice to be the same, even if you're using the EXACT SAME stuff. Even the variety of salt and sugar has a dramatic effect. So the vinegar issue is completely different from the fish issue. Any dope can just buy a great Tuna and many have the skill to cut it beautifully. But making your own great sushi rice is a skill only the great few have.

As for my opinion of NY vs LA, I think NY dominates. If Shunji, Q, or Zo are your next bests after Mori, I don't think they compare well with 15 East, Nakazawa, Yasuda, Ichimura, Soto. Mori to me is the one spectacular exception. But if you're asking me if anyone in NY can compete with a westcoast trifecta of Mori, Onedara, and Yoshizumi, oof that's tough, as I haven't been to the latter two. For me, it's Masa and Mori at the top of the pyramid, with Nakazawa and 15 East just under. We'll see what happens when Onedara opens up in NY!

Mori Sushi Premium Omakase + YOLO = YOLOmakase

Thanks for the post! I absolutely agree with the chowhounders here, as I think Mori is by far the best sushi on the west coast, perhaps the best in the country. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone other than Mori on the WC can compete with NY's top places (Nakazawa, 15east, Masa, Ushiwakimaru ect.). Mori is just particularly spectacular, though I've never eaten at Urasawa before.

I wanted to give you a tidbit about the "akazu" that is more often used in Japan/Hong Kong since you commented about it. It's not just the fish that's more available, it's also the different vinegars that are available. Japan has a TON!

In the US, the variety is significantly slimmer. Everyone uses Mizkan brand, of which there are many varieties available, but good sushi restaurants will choose from only a variety of 3, all of which offer different balances of akazu. Of course everyone has their own mix of salt, sugar and whatever secret mumbo jumbo you want to add in (citrus peels for example). But at the end of the day, you're using Mizkan brand, whether you're Nobu, Uchi, Urasawa, or F'n Kona Grill. It's important to note because it's one of the more limiting factors of how high US sushi can go, though Mizkan brand isn't bad at all. It's just not the best in the world. Of course, chefs can make special orders for vinegar from Japan, but it takes knowledge of what you're looking for and is very expensive. Nearly no one does it.

The only exception I have come across is Onedara in Hawaii and Yoshizumi, as none of the vinegars offered by Mizkan will turn sushi rice that deeply brown.

Jul 07, 2015
AustinLineCook in Los Angeles Area
1

Chilantro is underrated

I don't think they're underrated. They put out good food and do good business. Their trucks and restaurant are pretty damn busy...

Jun 07, 2015
AustinLineCook in Austin

Silo on 7th - Bang for your Burger Buck

Not a fan of the place. It almost looks like a sports bar but it's not. It looks like a burger place but the burgers aren't good, especially in such a competitive market. It's really just seems like another lazy east side joint that doesn't do anything well. Not a bad place, but probably the most mediocre place that I could think of in every way, which is probably worse than being outright bad.

Jun 07, 2015
AustinLineCook in Austin

Kerlin's BBQ Best in the Country?

But they have The Best sides and bread made in house! And I like their meat variety as well. If you're looking for the holy frail of brisket, than there are better places. But if you're like me and can't stand awesome meat that's served with crappy white bread and weak beans, than I think Micklewaith is a favorite.

May 31, 2015
AustinLineCook in Austin

2014 - Best Sushi Omakase

Uchi is very "Caucasian" for lack of better word, LOL. Don't get me wrong, I believe it is the best restaurant in Texas all things considered. Texas didn't even have "destination restaurants" before Uchi, and they've set the bar for service ever since.

But it's certainly more kitchen oriented, and they are most proud of selling beautifully composed sashimi dishes and crudos. And it's as delicious as anything you'll have in the country too.

But their sushi is just OK. It's about on par with Nobu-status stuff. You aren't even served sushi rice in their signature omakase tasting, so you can see where their strengths are and are not.

They're one of the exceptionally rare restaurants that market themselves well and serve sushi, so it can create hype for the wrong reasons. Uchi can make the cover of Bon Apetite, a guy like Urasawa can't. Could you imagine guys like Masa, Ichimura, or Mori making a Bon Apetite cover or winning Food and Wine Best Chef? Hardcore omakase sushi is just a completely different ball game.

2014 - Best Sushi Omakase

Good point. Just trying to find an excuse as to why Mori isn't packed as it should be, but I think it's just cause of the LA scene. Correct me if I'm wrong, but LA just seemed like a very "chill" type of place. People like to go at their own pace. They will not line up for the newest, hottest thing like, say, 2+ hours for a "cronut" or 4+ hours for Texas BBQ. The lack of social media buzz doesn't help either.

@dndicicco, I noticed your previous comments about wasabi. Yes, there are different grades: fake, real fresh grated, and pre-grated frozen. For pre-grated frozen, they run the gammut from 100% real wasabi to a mix of horseradish to almost all horseradish. Honestly, quality of wasabi is not much of an issue for me; it's the least important component of a traditional piece of nigiri afterall.

My preference is actually frozen, pre-grated real wasabi. They grate wasabi after freezing it in liquid nitrogen to keep it from losing their volatile aromas, so it's a very consistent product. Fresh grated is best, but it will lose all its flavors and spice very quickly. It will lose half its potency in 10 min and is literally not worth eating after just 20 minutes. I think fresh grated is overrated for the price, but customers love the show and itamae like to brag about it.

Likely when you start off a meal in a good (not great) sushi place, the sushi chef will have some leftover grated wasabi he didn't want to throw away, and it won't taste much of anything. Hopefully he will grate a fresh knob for important pieces like tuna or uni. Just a slice of helpful info for you.

About white fish and Shunji: There's no doubt Shunji is getting a "mystery fish box". The good news (for the chef at least) is that it's very cheap and consists of a random selection of fresh catches of the day. The bad news is that the fish comes in random amounts and is usually at least 60% white fish. You can understand why some places serve a seemingly endless amount of various white fish. You usually cross your fingers and hope for at least one yellowtail-membered fish in the mystery box and a couple of hikarimono. Super-fine dinning like Urasawa, Masa, and likely Mori won't bother with fish boxes and will strictly order "a la carte", as they only want to carry the creme de la creme when it comes to sushi fish.

2014 - Best Sushi Omakase

I recently made a trip to LA and ate at Q, Shunji, and Mori. I've worked in the sushi profession before, so I have a pretty good knowledge of sushi in the USA, even in very high end places. I've had a lot of sushi in NY (15 East, Nakazawa, Masa, ect.), and I was wondering how LA, the birthplace of sushi in the USA, stacked up.

Q-I was disappointed unfortunately. I was hoping for a traditional sushi experience on par with Ichimura in NY. Despite all the PR of delivering traditional OG sushi, I didn't feel the experience was more traditional or authentic than any other top tier place. The rice was very traditional in philosophy(strong, no sweetness at all), but wasn't particularly good. And you can't be giving me Norwegian Mackerel at that price point. It's the standard variety that any chain uses, and any good place will be using Japanese Mackerel. There were so many disappointing things from his weak choice in fish to his weak choice in chef knife (a Global Stainless Steel Yanagi? Really?). Honestly his investor (beautiful space in downtown) is more impressive than the chef.

Shunji-"Nice" is the only way I can describe it. Nice variety of fish, a good standard place. But I don't think it beats out any of the top tiered places in NY that have Michelin stars.

Mori-To me, there is a HUGE rift between Mori and the next guy in LA (maybe Urasawa is close; never eaten there). I thought the rice at Masa NY was the best I've ever had, but Mori edges it out. Sublime in both philosophy and approach, which is how I judge a sushi restaurant (I just hate blowtorches at sushi bars for example). Everything was exquisite from top to bottom. The unity between fish and rice, the work done with the fish, everything was as good as it gets.

The only negative thing I can say about Mori is that it's dumpy-looking, especially in image-conscious LA. I can see past all that because of my personal experiences with sushi (as a patron and as an itamae), but I don't think that the average person would. Mori deserves a much more beautiful space and much more customers; it may as well be the best sushi restaurant in the country.

I'm so glad I found a place like Mori, cause the LA sushi experience (at least top-tier wise) would have been disappointing. But what I love about LA is the large sense of Japanese community here, something that I didn't find in NY.

Picasso (anyone been recently?) and tasting menu question...

I think tasting menus can be overrated. For two, I I usually prefer ordering a la carte and just sharing each of our courses. We just make sure we never order the same thing. 1) You end up getting what you really want, 2) It's cheaper, and 3) Given that tasting menus usually force the two of you to eat the same thing, it's only a couple courses less of things you wouldn't be able to try.

But some restaurants are really built off their tasting menu such as Guy Savoy and Alex. But for places like B&B or Bar Charlie, I'd be happier going ALC

Dec 31, 2009
AustinLineCook in Las Vegas

Dining in Vegas: Restaurant etiquette question!

I'm going to dine in Vegas and I'm trying to coordinate going to Vegas shows but still have grand tasting menus at some restaurants.

The question is, is it proper to order an approximately 5-course menu that will likely last about 2 hours at a time of 9:30pm when the restaurant closes at 10:30? How do things like that work? That's what I'd like to do when I eat at Twist (YES!).

Is there usually a cutoff time in which restaurants won't be serving grande tasting menus? I'm a chef myself, so I know what it's like when people order lots of food 5 minutes before closing time. But at the same time, I'm not working at a place like Joel Robuchon. I'm sure I could walk in and order the 4-hour tasting menu at 9:00, but I don't want my food being cooked by a pissed off kitchen eiither. Or is it all good since this IS a 3-star michelin place and you ARE paying $500 pp for a meal?

Dec 30, 2009
AustinLineCook in Las Vegas

Seafood downtown - Eddie V's or Gumbo's the Best Choice?

Not a fan of Eddie V's. Eddie V's and Truluck's are very similar and almost sport the same menu and prices. Both are very popular though, and I would pick Truluck's over Eddie V's. I've never never eaten at Gumbo's.

But my pick would definitely be Perla's, which is a bit south of downtown. It's a great place.

Sep 24, 2009
AustinLineCook in Austin