The Great Noodle Tour: Uni Donburi at Tsukiji Fish Market

If you are a foodie…or even a person, really…you need to visit Tsukiji when you go to Tokyo. It’s the world’s most famous fish market. We took a fabulous guided tour (for another post) and by the time we were done seeing gigantic tuna, live scallops, and eels wriggling around in buckets, it was time for lunch. Tsukiji has some of Tokyo’s freshest, most reasonably priced sushi, and though it may not be Jiro, it is pristine and fantastic.

20150422_233401 After winding our way through the alleys, kitchen shops, and multiple restaurants that surround the large fish market, we ended up climbing the stairs at just one of dozens of spots promising mouth-watering chirashi, sushi, and the like. We emerged into a beautiful, upscale restaurant that belied its humble exterior. It looks similar to Sushi Yasuda here in NYC – blonde wood, quiet, fastidious service, and a clientele that is almost entirely Japanese. There is a brief English menu and the servers, who aren’t necessarily fluent in English, are phenomenal at somehow delivering exactly what you want to eat. And what we wanted to eat was donburi, a classic Japanese dish of rice covered with various toppings. Katsu, vegetable curry, eggs, or – in our case – premium raw and cooked fish.  20150422_234703 Tuna, toro, uni, and ikura donburi

I’m crying looking at this. It is beyond merely delicious. It is perfect. Each fish compliments the other. The tuna is fatty but not overly so, to allow the buttery, delicate flavor of the toro to shine. The uni is creamy and SO mild, letting the almost fluorescent ikura handle the salty, briny component. There isn’t too much toro, since that would overtake the entire dish. The ikura itself is gently cured so it retains some brightness and isn’t at all bitter.

And that uni…YES. Hokkaido uni now reigns supreme even over Santa Barbara uni in my book. It’s really that sweet and clean tasting. Even the ginger is excellent, a nice palate cleanser in between bites of seafood.

20150422_234713 Tuna donburi

An embarrassment of riches. Similar to the above lunch, but this time with different cuts of tuna, each highlighting a different aspect of this impeccably fresh sashimi. The tekka is smooth and lean, with a mild, not metallic taste. There are no odd sinews or bloodlines as there are in other sashimi. The maguro is much fattier but it doesn’t taste fatty. It just tastes…lush. No other way to describe it. Not too rich, but certainly more full and deep than the tekka. Then the toro. That buttery, smooth, decadent toro that needs just a hint of fresh wasabi to make it a full flavor experience in one bite. This is excellent.  20150422_234723 Broiled seafood donburi

Salmon, red bream, scallops, Botan shrimp, and sea urchin. This is usually made with tuna but my mom is allergic to that and through a flurry of Google translate, rudimentary Japanese, and hand motions, the server somehow understood this and substituted salmon (which I think is what all Japanese people assume that Americans like to eat). It’s just amazing at what lengths the servers went to accommodate my mom. At one point, during the rather busy lunch rush, there were 3 servers bent over my mom, smiling, chattering in Japanese, and trying to figure out what she wanted. It was much appreciated and so amazing to see this level of service in the equivalent of a hole in the wall restaurant.  20150422_235025 Tsujiji Itadori Bekkan is a GEM. Lunch like this isn’t cheap – each bowl averaged between $18 and $25 – but the portions and quality of the food make it worth it. Big time. The surroundings are lovely, the service is fantastic, and the food is just what I dreamed it would be in Japan – simple. Fresh. Delicious.

Don’t worry, there’s lots more about Asia coming up next week!