Tokyo: A Shrine to Sushi


[trip style = food + wine + luxury + urban]

It's rare {get it?} for us to feature one restaurant, let alone an eight-seat sushi bar in a city where the seaweed-wrapped staple is peddled everywhere from conveyer belts to vending machines. Yet, when a chef enchants you beyond your taste buds {and you wish he would become your BFF-slash-personal cook}, you have tell the story. This is the case with Chef Yasuda, the one-man-show behind Sushi Bar Yasuda in Tokyo.


When I was in Japan's most major metro two months ago, I saved myself for Yasuda. Sure, I'd heard of the Michelin-famed Jiro and his equally talented son Takashi, two gents at the helm of Tokyo's most "es-steamed" chefs, but I felt more drawn to Yasuda's approach, choosing to run a small, side-street bar in an effort to semi-retire and focus on the joy of his craft.   

"Tonight, I can make 48 different kids of sushi for you" he tells me when I walk in. "Perfect, we'll go with the omakase menu", meaning 'chef's pick', I tell him {about USD$150 per person}. Who am I to argue with a man whose restaurant is booked weeks in advance, year-round? 


Believing so deeply that much of the world's sushi is done wrongmany sushi chef hopefuls in Japan are placed on rice duty for six-to-seven years before they graduate to cutting fishhe asks every patron "what fish do you hate?" Both Mr. Trip Styler and another sushi groupie at the bar, say "sea urchin." Yasuda's eyes sparkle and he replies, "great, I'll make you a few pieces of sea urchin sushi" intent on demonstrating that when fish is picked and aged rightfresh isn't always best in the sea of sushithe haters become lovers.   

While Yasuda could have a fancy high street address and a whole team of apprentice chefs dedicated to his teachings, he chooses the simple life. He alone makes trips to the fish market; he alone ages the fish; he alone serves interpretative menus for patrons {with this help of his wife in the front-of-house}.

Dining under Yasuda’s wing is an exercise in stomach stretching and in-depth sushi education. “There are 12,000 types of seaweed in the world, and I use the best in my sushi” he tells me as we’re discussing my meal. Upon further probing I learn he is the only chef in Japan to even attempt use this type of seaweed. {Most shy away from it due to its ultra-finicky and fragile composition.} 


I’m now hookedon the conversation and my radish-spout handrolland can’t stop asking questions between bites. I glean chef brews his own soy sauce and concocts his own miso soup. He then tells the guy beside me {who basically traveled to Japan to eat at Yasuda} where to find the best sushi knife in Japan. When you've reached the top of your game, why not share your secrets? 

As if the evening couldn’t get any more interesting, it turns out, the famed rice-and-fish aficionado is buddies with Anthony Bourdain (appearing on the 2013 episode of Parts Unknown: Tokyo), a friendship forged when Yasuda wowed this side of the Pacific at one of New York's most famous sushi restaurants. {Apparently, I was sitting in the same seat as "Tony" when he dined at the restaurant in for the show.}


As the night drew to a close and my appetite alerted me there was no wheelbarrow service to roll me to my hotel, I asked chef if I could take his photo. Instead of standing with his old-faithful sushi knife and a choice cut of fish, he opted for another pose: a Popeye-style bicep flex showing off his massive pipesseemingly not developed from moulding rice into rolls. Between visits to the fish market and soy sauce brewing, the 54-year-old works out with the gusto of an athlete half his age, and can karate chop like an olympic medalist. And yet, his burly hands craft sushi with the gentle touch of a geisha. 

A Tokyo Coffee Crawl

48 Hours in Tokyo {my article in the Expedia Viewfinder}

[photos by @tripstyler]