If you are familiar with the New York dining scene and live for Anthony Bourdain, you will have heard of Chef Naomichi Yasuda. Bourdain calls Chef Yasuda “my master, my mentor as far as all things related to sushi” plus a whole lot of praises. In summary, Chef Yasuda opened a sushi restaurant in NYC, it swiftly became a sushi institution then sometime in the late 2000s he left NYC and his restaurant, moved back to Tokyo, and opened a tiny basement restaurant. Before my trip, I wanted badly to visit Chef Yasuda and splurge out big time on his sushi. Afterall if Bourdain says he is good, he must be.
No, not really. Sushi Yasuda turned out not only to be a disappointment but an expensive lesson learnt: don’t follow blindly a single person’s recommendation and always research research and research even more a place before going crazy over it. The Omakase set turned out to be expensive to the point of exorbitant if one wanted a full experience. Second the preferential treatment was too obvious to ignore. Sushi Yasuda was our trip’s biggest disappointment.
It took some effort to visit Sushi Yasuda so you can imagine how high my expectation was. Before we flew to Tokyo, we emailed Sushi Yasuda for a reservation only to be met by a quick reply of full-house but we could call back on the day itself after 3pm to enquire again. On the day we arrived in Tokyo, we decided to try our luck and called for three seats. Lo and behold, there was a table for us! It wasn’t counter seats but who cares, we got a table at Sushi Yasuda! With the Sushi Master himself! A friend on Instagram commented that her husband had 30 pieces of sushi during their visit. Woah nelly! It must have been good!
We arrived at Sushi Mecca promptly for our 6pm reservation. Upon entering the teeny tiny restaurant with only one table, Chef Yasuda was already serving two at the counter seats but welcomed us with a warm smile. So nice, I thought back then.
We knew there was an Omakase set at Sushi Yasuda and it was to be my first. Ah. Who could ever forget their first ever Omakase? However Omakase at Sushi Yasuda meant something different. We were told upon sitting down that there was no fixed number of sushi to the Omakase set. Instead every sushi piece was a fixed price of 800-1000 yen per piece. One could order as many as we liked. Or however few. You might be wondering where the Omakase aspect came in? Well this was where I learnt that it is the Chef who determines the type of sushi you will get. Type, my friends, is very important. Not all seafood are created equal as I learnt painfully in Sushi Yasuda.
In total, we had twelve pieces of sushi each. The first three were good. The mildly-vinegared loose rice was a joy to eat! And the soy sauce which he swiped delicately on each piece of sushi was Chef’s own original blend. As the evening progressed, I realized it was all sushi-based (not even a piece of tamago. Boring) and most of the sushi was from outside of Japan. Take the Blue Tuna from IRELAND, Uni from Santa Barbara, CALIFORNIA and Red Shrimp from ARGENTINA. Anyone who has been to a Japanese restaurant knows these three seafood happen to be the core ingredients of Japanese sushi. However here we were, in the capital of Japan, eating them exported from across big fat Oceans.
After 9 pieces it dawned on us that this meal was going to get very expensive if we wanted to be full. Plus the “international” seafood got to me including Sushi #4: New Zealand Salmon. By that time I was damn sian. Hungry and nowhere close to full, we decided to order the last three sushi and call it a night at Sushi Yasuda. Chef prepared for us three cooked sushi. They were more satisfying.
As we were waiting for the bill, I saw Chef Yasuda giving sushi that was topped with “shrimp not exported from Japan” to the remaining guests. Then it finally hit me: one will only get the good seafood, those special ones from Japan, once you have first spent a substantial amount of money on the international fish. That is: once you have proved your wallet was deep enough were you worthy of Japan’s best seafood at Sushi Yasuda. WHAT THE BLOODY HELL! My blood was boiling at that point. By then I had already spent more than S$100 on sushi and nowhere close to Sushi-Nirvana. Plus as the 12 pieces proved, I was in Japan eating seafood from around the world… Ridiculous.
Sushi Yasuda is still painful till this day. If not for some solid meals subsequently (like a two Michelin Star Kaiseki), it could potentially have ruined our trip. Anyway check out the 12 pieces we had.
(From right) Blue Tuna from Ireland, Shimaaji (Yellowtail) and Hirame (Fluke).
(From right) Sake (Wild King Salmon), Iwashi (Sardines), Kinmedai (Golden Eye Snapper)
(From right) Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp) from Argentina, Uni from Santa Barbara, California, and Hokkaido Hotate (Scallop)
As my gf, SY, aptly put it: at least we experienced it. Otherwise we will forever be wondering.
For the record, we hit up Shibuya after this meal and found an Okonomiyaki and Monjayaki joint frequented by locals. It was delicious and satisfied us immensely! Will post on it soon.