So at my friend’s request, I managed to reserve a dinner at Harutaka 春宝. Booking at Jiro’s was tough, as they take reservations at the beginning of the month before your reservation, which for November started around Sunday and a holiday when they’re closed. Anyway, before 5 days went by, the entire month of December was booked. So I decided to check out some alternatives, and was able to get a reservation the day we wanted. The chef at Harutaka had worked for years with Jiro, so while we may not have eaten with Jiro, we came at a close 2 degrees of separation. And it was still pretty amazing.
At around $220 per head, which included omakase nigiri and sake, I thought it was a great deal. We had about 15 courses of fish and were so full by the end, which was the trademark-pressed tamagoyaki cake. We were served two types of uni, one from Hokkaido and another from Aomori, salmon roe that was soft and didn’t pop, which my friends appreciated (am I the only one that enjoys popping fish eggs?). From what I understood, the way they flavor the salmon roe is with a sort of vinegar made from a soy sauce mixed with cooking wine concoction that’s left out for a long time. Apparently, soy sauce is what hardens the salmon roe skin and makes it pop. We also got 3 levels of tuna, maguro, chuu-toro, and oo-toro, 2 kinds of shellfish, hamaguri and something I’ve forgotten, hirame, sumi-ika, two pieces of prawn (because it was so big!), buri (adult yellowtail), saba, anago, and others that I can’t remember off the top of my head.
The best part of the experience is talking to the chefs. Jiro’s student seems like a hardened guy, but is actually pretty easy-going, and his assistant is this teddy bear-like guy who was really comfortable around non-Japanese speakers. Once I had some sake in my system, I started to open up, asking them where our sake came from, where the fish came from, and translated my friend’s questions and their answers. We learned that the name for baby yellowtail, “hamachi”, actually comes from Kansai, and is used to describe farmed yellowtail in the West. In Kanto, they actually call it “inada”.
I think it’s a great experience for Japan visitors to do Edo-mae sushi and experience what great fish tastes like. However, as tourists, I think it’s also important to understand that regular folks don’t go to edo-mae sushi on the regular. Paying maybe 5000 yen at the most for omakase maybe once a month sounds reasonable, but at 20,000 to 30,000 yen per head, it must be a very special occasion.