Sometimes the best “anything” comes by surprise–and that’s always such a delight. How many times are we recommended something–being told, “You have to have it, it’s the best”–only to be disappointed when we finally do try it? High expectations will do that to you. But then, once in a great while, you stumble upon the “best”-something totally by accident–and it blows your mind.
Case in point, Tokyo, June 2016. I had just arrived in town and was starvin’ Marvin. It was nighttime and I didn’t feel like going far for food. My tripadvisor app actually sent me a notification of “restaurants nearby,” and I picked the closest sushi joint. What was to follow would be nothing short of mind blowing.
I actually walked right past Sushitakahashi. I blinked, and I missed it. I circled back and finally found it: such a tiny storefront with not even a sign out front. Super mini. I slid a bamboo door to the left that exposed the restaurant, which was the size of a bedroom. And completely empty. I wasn’t even sure if they were open. It was also quickly apparent that this was not a tourist joint–I’d successfully infiltrated the local Tokyo sushi scene and I didn’t know if I was excited or scared.
I was greeted in Japanese and took a seat at the sushi bar, where a waitress brought me tea and I attempted to communicate with the sushi master. After a rough start, soon we were in business, as he proceeded to make me piece after piece of sushi–nigiri to be exact.
How do I describe the sushi I had at Takahashi? Let me preface by saying I consider myself an expert sushi-eater. I eat sushi at least once a week (sometimes up to three), and have had sushi thousands–yes, thousands–of times. How am I not dead from overdosing on mercury?
I’ve had amazing sushi, I’ve had gas station sushi, and everything in between. But this sushi–the sushi at Takahashi–was the absolute best sushi I have ever put in my mouth my entire life…by a mile. By 100 miles. Simply put, I had never had any sushi even close to what I tasted that night at Takahashi. Not even in the same realm. This sushi must have come down from the sushi-heavens.
How best to explain this amazing sushi? The fish was the most tender, the most flavorful, and the most robust nigiri I’ve had in my life…the flavor was so intense, yet not overbearing. How can I explain it, except that it tasted like no other sushi I’d ever had in my life. Not even close. I’m not sure if it was the freshness, or the quality or fish, or some secret ingredient that the chef infused in the rice–but what I ate was without a doubt so above and beyond than that of any other sushi I’ve ever tasted–there’s no doubt Takahashi gets the “Best Of” award. Every single bite was like taking a hit of some kind of out-of-this-world drug, that over-stimulated all of my senses at once, in some sort of sushi-euphoria. Tastebuds, sense of smell, the texture–I could honestly compare the feeling of eating this sushi to how I felt during my first kiss: alive, with sensory overload, wanting this feeling to last forever; but sadly, like that first kiss, the experience was cut way too short, leaving me begging for more.
One by one, the sushi master created different pieces of nigiri for me. Some names of the fish I understood from the chef’s introduction: tuna, yellowtail, etc. Others I had no idea. My two favorite were the tuna, which was absolutely amazing; and a kind of fish/sushi I had never heard of: bonito, which was the fish with the most kick to it. One after another, I dunked these little guys in my soy and wasabi and devoured them, and it seemed like hours in between the one-at-a-time servings. I don’t know if they even served sushi “rolls” here–there was no menu with pictures, just a big guy in front of me creating the most delicious Japanese morsels of rice and fish I’d ever eaten.
After my meal, I tried to reason with my senses that I was in Japan, so of course the sushi was going to be great, everywhere, duh! But alas, that simply wasn’t the case. My next three sushi meals around Tokyo were fine, but on-par with American sushi, and not even close to Takahashi. Not even close.
I wish I would’ve taken more pictures. But it was so quiet in there, you could hear a grain of rice drop. No one else entered the establishment the entire time I was there. Just me, sitting in front of the sushi master, and the waitress standing in the corner–probably observing the strange American eating his sushi just a little more enthusiastically than most. Everything seemed so proper and respectful, I couldn’t bear being the rude tourist taking selfies and snapchats of my meals, even though I really, really wanted to document the hell out of this hidden paradise.
Communication wasn’t easy during my time at Takahashi, but the food was well worth the challenge. I did manage to learn how to say “thank you” in Japanese, thanks to my chef. Nice dude.
Then, I did something so super amateur; I was so disappointed in myself. I am ashamed to admit that I failed to do proper research on Japan before arriving, and suddenly found myself in a panic because I did not know Japan’s tipping policies. To tip or not to tip? I would’ve felt worse if I was supposed to tip and didn’t, than if I wasn’t supposed to tip and did…so I discretely left a folded five dollar bill under my plate.
Three minutes later, as I was already blocks away on the way back to my hotel, I was startled when someone tapped me on the shoulder. Alarmed and on-guard, I turned around to discover it was only my sweet waitress, who must have had to run to catch up to me; just to tell me I had accidentally forgot my money on the table, as she presented it back to me. It was an awkward exchange, as I tried to explain that the bill was her “tip.” And by “explain,” I mean using some made-up sign language/charades/Win Lose or Draw-type communication. She finally accepted the bill and how horrible did I feel upon returning to the hotel, finding out via google that tips are actually an insult to the Japanese. Nice work bonehead!
Chiba Bldg. 1F
UPDATE: November 2018
I’ve spent the last few years dreaming of Sushitakahshi. No sushi, even in Japan, has ever come close. And what’s so frustrating, is that I don’t think anyone believes me. I’ve had a handful of friends visit Japan, and even though I sent them this blog, they didn’t bother to go pay my guy a visit at this special secret sushi place. Did they not believe me? Did they think I was exaggerating? Did they not trust me? I’m mean, c’mon, Ramblin’-freakin’-Randy wouldn’t steer you wrong. I was beginning to feel like Christopher Columbus, when no one would believe him that the world was indeed round. “No one believes me!!!”
But alas, finally, a friend of mine took it upon himself to try my secret place. I almost didn’t believe that he was really there…
I could not believe Tony was actually there. The hairs on my arms stood up and a warmth came over my body.
…and by “block” I meant blog.
There are now two of us.
I asked Tony to take pictures. I kicked myself for not documenting more when I was there in person, but I didn’t realize just what an experience I’d had until I left. I was having a genuine “moment.” It’s like I didn’t realize what hit me. Here are Tony’s snaps:
I was so happy Tony and his wife got to experience what few people in the world have. At least one person would now believe me!
UPDATE: NOVEMBER 2018:
Make that two people. So Tony told our mutual buddy Mike. And Mike went in!!!
Now there are three of us. Three Americans–all in the music/entertainment industry, by the way–that know about this secret spot. I asked Tony if he gave me credit when he told Mike about this place…