Ticket to Japan

January 18, 2018

A real Japanese sushi bar has a particular scent that’s more spa than restaurant; it’s a clean, green aroma with a touch of cedar.  This is partly because sushi bars don’t cook: unlike most of their American counterparts,  a sushi bar in Japan limits it repertoire to raw fish.

Of all the sushi bars I’ve been to in America, Ginza Sushi Onodera most resembles the ones I found in Japan.  You sense there is something different here the moment you walk in the door: it smells right. Then you watch the chef slice the pickled ginger, take a taste and smile; it’s the best you’ve ever eaten.  The wasabi, of course, is the real thing, grated from a great fat root.  And at the end of the meal, when it’s time for miso soup, you get an elixir of startling intensity. The devil’s in the details.

This is a stunningly expensive sushi bar; an omakase dinner here runs  $300 or $400 a person.  But at lunchtime the $100, $130 or $150 experiences offer an equally pure pleasure.

Our meal began with one of the most stunning textural experiences you can have with food: shirako. The Japanese euphemism for these exquisite tidbits is “children of the clouds” which is about as poetic a description of sperm (cod sperm sacs, to be exact), as you’re likely to find. Think savory custard of the sea: very soft, slightly sweet, with a note of brine.

Then there is a parade of sushi (all the fish is imported from Japan), each piece prepared with enormous care, brushed with a measured amount of soy and placed on your plate.  Eat quickly, while the fishh is still quivering from the knife and the rice is still warm. (I’ve included links to some of the fish, mostly because I was astonished to learn how many different references the internet offers for sushi fish. This is a small sample.)

This is kinmedai – golden eye snapper

This is shima aji

Wild yellowtail

red snapper

Japanese baracuda –  kamasu


Kohada – gizzard shad, which is vaguely related to herring.  One of my favorites.  In the early days of American sushi this was translated, to everyone’s bewilderment, as  “young punctatus.”  Cured in vinegar, here it is topped with cured egg yolk.

tiny white shrimp, piled onto rice

And finally toro, which I neglected to photograph.  (I also left out the scallop, which came much earlier in the rotation.)

Beautiful salmon roe on a little pillow of rice.

My idea of dessert – uni and tamago.

Miso soup came next, spectacular miso soup, followed by this adorable little dish;

which opened to reveal the most delicious little smidgen of green tea custard.

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