Mamoru means to protect, and in this case, it is to uphold the art and tradition of sushi making. To me, it also seems to serve as a reminder to preserve the passion for the highest quality. It sounds like an easy thing to say, but serious diners will be able to discern whether that is a slogan or a promise—one that takes a lifetime of daily, painstaking hard work.
In the sushiya’s own words, it says, “The seasonal omakase menu preserves this history while telling a story of the fragile environments that provide ingredients for Chef Chiba’s craft.”
Indeed, during the meal we were made more aware of the overfishing of bluefin tuna. In its stead, we were introduced to an alternative that was line-caught in Ireland. Yuriage’s prized akagai is similarly closed for fishing in July and August. The gems of the ocean that we love have to be carefully managed for sustainability.
Fish talk aside, our meal was truly phenomenal. Each piece was beautifully presented with utmost freshness and a delightful balance of flavors and textures. The omakase starts with three sashimi courses and a steamed egg with nori. Ten pieces of sushi follow, with occasional refreshments in between, and ends with soup and dessert. Despite the apparent simplicity with which each sushi was made, I was left amazed at how they could taste so exquisite.
In addition to fish pieces and sushi crafting that are practical embodiments of perfection themselves, what is worth noting to me is Chiba-san’s openness to requests and his willingness to engage. Having a meal with Chiba-san is a wonderful experience. He has his diners at heart.
I was also mesmerized by the interior design of the sushiya, which was covered in light polished wood throughout and had a slight slant in its ceiling that made it feel like a little den in the middle of a snowy place. The experience was truly distinguished.
Thank you, 千葉大将. We will keep returning.
Chitahantou’s starry flounder has a delicate texture and exquisite flavor despite being mild, definitely one of the best of the white-fleshed fish. A real star.
Shirakawa tilefish from Ehime’s Yawatahama was a luxury. As it was half-grilled, the fat melts a little and the aroma from the skin and flesh gets released. The texture is heavenly.
Hokkigai was grilled with shottsuru, a kind of fish sauce with deep flavors of the ocean. You get some subtle flavors of fermentation, too. An interesting way to enjoy southern Hokkaido’s surf clam.
At first sight, this looked like Kohada, the shiny, photogenic fish that is so representative of traditional Edomae-zushi. But Chiba-san explained that it was a bigger kohada called nakazumi, caught in Kumamoto’s Amakusa. I loved its fragrance and the lingering umami in the mouth. This must be a top piece from the market.
Cuttlefish is my favorite. This one is from Izumi in Kagoshima. It’s nutty and chewy and soft but firm. The texture and flavors are unbeatable. I know it sounds unconventional, but this was my favorite sushi of the meal.
The cuttlefish’s tentacles are also wonderful with some yuzu pepper and unagi sauce. After all, where do all the tentacles go if customers only have the body? Freshness aside, the bite was a sharp crunch with absolutely zero chewiness. Nada.
Tokishirazu is chum salmon, available off-season. For some reason I always found its name charming (“a fish that knows no time“—like a dreamy fish that is a little lost in the big wide world). This piece comes from Hokkaido’s Kushiro, and the shari used with this piece was separately prepared from the rest. I heard that these salmon fish are very precious, as only a few of them are caught every day along the shores. The flavors were naturally rich and scrumptious.
As mentioned above, the population of bluefin tuna needs to be managed carefully so that we can restore them to historic levels. Here we have an attempt at a similarly beautiful cut from one that was line-caught in Ireland. I can’t say it was the best akami, but with the marinade bringing out even more flavor and intensity it was among the best.
Fatty fish is not always my favorite, but this chuu-toro was an exception. The fat has a sweetness to it that is quite irresistible and rests in your mouth for minutes after it’s gone.
This was another great piece. Among raw seafood, I have a particular love for non-fish types, because they have a rounded flavor and squishy texture that is so different from the slightly acidic and more or less consistently soft texture of fish of all sizes and species. They also have a natural sweetness that is quite unique. Of course, proper handling is key, otherwise the chemistry that takes place would create unpleasant aromas and mushy textures. This shiraebi (from Toyama Bay, of course) was quite the jewel. It had a memorable mellowness and was soaked in kelp for an even deeper taste of the rocky shores.
Murasaki sea urchin (from Yoichi in Hokkaido) soaked in salted water is always a winner. The pure sweetness contrasts beautifully with its briny umami and if you are mindful it creates an experience in your mouth not quite like any other.
Yuriage’s red clams are known to be the best in Japan, and July and August are closed fishing seasons. We came on July 1st and managed to have some of the final pieces. It was so fresh and tasteful. It was the best.
This was wasabi stem marinated in soy-sauce. These precious plants were grown by Shuji Tashiro-san in Gotenba, Shizuoka, who was nationally recognized for the quality of his wasabi plants. The wasabi plants take five years to grow before they develop the best flavors for consumption and with so much demand they are terribly difficult for even locals to get hold of. And yet we had the pleasure of eating its stem. The stem was served with some katsuo shavings and sesame. The flavor was slightly bitter and piquant, but in a most delicate and pleasing way.
The classic kind. Very good.
Finally we have a kampyo-maki and another maki with cucumber and the bits and ends of Yuriage’s precious final red clams. Kampyo is a traditional Edomae-zushi maki and while it seems like a simple pickled vegetable, the preparation process is pretty demanding, so I appreciated it even more. And the sugar in the marinade made it very sweet and toothsome. I absolutely love the kampyo-maki. The akagai maki was similarly nice. I appreciated how Chiba-san made a chibi version for me, so I could enjoy it without being overly full.
The soup is one of the best you can have. Trust me.
Dessert was a bit more simple today. A youkan, a classic wagashi.
The omakase menu was $1380+10% per person.
G/F, Guardian House, Wan Chai/ Causeway Bay