March 17, 2023

Everything everywhere all in my tummy day 7: 10 at Saito

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We didn't get ourselves out of the hotel early enough this morning, so my plans to stroll around the 'hood and check out some cherry blossoms had to be shelved. Instead of having coffee at some quaint little café, Foursheets ended up getting her caffeine dose at the Japan Rail Cafe inside Tokyo Station. Interesting experience, as it's kinda like a ticketing office which also serves coffee and snacks, which makes it a popular place for people to meet. It even has a tatami (畳) room at one corner for tourists who want to pose for pictures.

We checked out our hotel and left our luggage with the bell desk, and dashed to our lunch appointment. The Dining Austrian had booked out the main counter at Sushi Saito (鮨さいとう), and had kindly allowed me to invite a few friends to tag along. I'm grateful to be able to share the experience with Fergie and others. Foursheets was supposed to come in March 2020 for her first experience, but with the start of the pandemic of course we cancelled our trip. We've waited 3 full years for this!

We kicked off with the otsumami (おつまみ) part of our meal:

Japanese glass shrimp with sea urchin (白海老 雲丹) – nice seasoning as the soy sauce integrated well into the sea urchin.

Red seabream eggs (鯛の子) – the sauce was really lovely. It was on the sweet side, which is typical here at Saito, but not too much for me.

Firefly squid (螢烏賊) – so happy to be here during firefly squid season. Nice and light smoky flavors from the tentacles of these little babies.

Bonito (鰹) – very, very tender. Very well-marinated and actually the marinade was a little more heavy than expected.

Pen shell (平貝) – hot off the grill and taken with the nori (海苔) as usual.

Steamed Japanese bluefish (黒睦酒蒸し) – the Japanese bluefish (黒睦) was soooo tender, with a texture that was almost jiggly, after being steamed in sake. That texture was pretty close to what I experienced with the grilled rosy seabass on my first visit here - an experience that almost brought tears to my eyes. The dashi (出汁) was very clean and pure, and the shredded leeks on top complemented the fish nicely.

Grilled rosy seabass (焼き喉黒) – there was a lot more charring today than on my previous visits. Still pretty tasty but no tears today from this piece.

Then came the nigiri part of our meal:

Red seabream (鯛) – the red seabream was marinated with kelp via kobujime (昆布締め). Being the first piece, there was the immediate hit of warmth in the shari (シャリ), and the salt here was more noticeable because I had been drinking Champagne and had cleansed my palate with the gari (がり). Not surprisingly the neta (ネタ) was on the firm side.

Cherry salmon (桜鱒) – really, really, really soft. Very fatty, too. So good.

Gizzard shad (小肌) – good balance between the salt and the acidity, as always.

Marinated lean tuna (赤身漬け) – one of the few occasions when I allow myself to eat bluefin tuna, out of respect for the chef.

Medium fatty tuna (中トロ) – this one got the crunchy texture that reminded me of chewing on bamboo piths. So much fish oil that my fingers were covered with it.

Fatty tuna (大トロ) – this time from the jabara (蛇腹) part of the belly, and pretty thick cut.

Squid (墨烏賊) – from Kagoshima (鹿児島). Very thick cut, just like last time. Amazing texture where it was tender yet firm at the same time.

Japanese tiger prawn (車海老) – nice and hot. Good flavors from the tomalley.

Horse mackerel (鯵) – thick cut as always. Pretty nice, but texture just wasn't as soft as in the past, off by a touch.

Clam (蛤) – the tare (タレ) was very sweet, and the fragrance from yuzu (柚子) zest was very nice.

Japanese green sea urchin (馬糞雲丹) – from Hokkaido. This was soooo nice.

Conger eel (穴子) – lovely texture. Just the right amount of tare.


Egg (卵焼き)

Futomaki (太巻き) – not as many ingredients as the ones made by Kubota-san in Hong Kong, but no less tasty. Plenty of kanpyo (干瓢) here.

I know how much Saito-san likes Champagne, so I decided to carry a magnum from Hong Kong, through Fukuoka and onto Shinkansen to Tokyo. I knew this wasn't enough for the 10 of us, but I chose to share it with everyone regardless. This resulted in others opening up magnums from the restaurant wine list...

Krug Grande Cuvée, fifth generation label, (159ème Édition), ID 411037, en magnum - really awesome, absolutely beautiful nose with lots of toast, brioche, and a little honey. After almost 1½ hours this was amazing, with notes that were almost like coffee. So, soooo happy I brought this.

I loved watching the bubbles come up in the glass.

Next up was another magnum of Champagne - this time a pretty old Charles Heidsieck. I think the wine list said this was from the 1970s (or maybe 1970) and after doing some research, I do think the label was used sometime between 1952 and maybe as late as 1970. Curious that after the passing of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth II did not re-appoint Charles Heidsieck with a royal warrant. Very, very happy to drink old Champagne as always!

Charles Heidsieck Private Reserve, ca. 1970, en magnum - a little savory with that salted plum nose I love so much. A little mineral. Drinking very nicely, too.

1996 Jean-Michel Gaunoux Corton Renardes, en magnum - nice on the nose with eucalyptus. Not lking the tannins being left on my tongue, though...

This was a pretty happy meal again, as I've always loved coming to Sushi Saito. So glad I could finally bring Foursheets here, and also meet some new friends.

We rushed back to the Shangri-La Tokyo and collected our luggage, then pushed them next door to board our Shinkansen to Kyoto. A couple of hours later, we got off the train at Kyoto Station. It was already nightfall, and Kyoto Tower was glowing in some weird green...

Once again we are staying in a hotel next to the train station, and The Thousand Kyoto is literally across the street. We were lucky that during our short stay, the hotel featured an interactive light projection by Mitani Tadashi (三谷正) on the steps in the hotel atrium.

I didn't make any plans for dinner, and it's Friday night. All the places that were suggested to me or the ones I found on Tabelog near our hotel were full. So we ended up going to Isetan (伊勢丹) at the station to check out places that still had seats. We ended up at a branch of Mimiu (美々卯).

I didn't manage to book any decent places for tempura (天ぷら) on this trip, but I was more than happy to have cold soba with spring vegetable tempura (春野菜の天ざる). We've got bamboo shoots, butterbur buds (蕗の薹), Japanese angelica shoots (タラの芽), ostrich fern (こごみ)... etc.

We also ordered the assorted tempura (天ぷらの盛り合わせ) just so we could have more vegetables.

It's been a long day so we picked up a few things from the convenience store and called it a night. Another big day tomorrow.

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