It’s easy to get a good meal when you’re paying a lot for a renowned chef to prepare your freeze-dried foie gras, but perhaps a bigger challenge is finding casual and affordable food that’s done well. Above, pork belly ramen that my brother refers to as “crack cocaine” at Hashigo near his office in downtown Tokyo. I can see why: the flavors we could pick out of the rich broth were sesame, yuzu, garlic, and soy sauce, but Hashigo likely guards its recipe closely as “the best ramen” is always of great debate.
Michelin stars don’t always mean a fancy experience. The buttery (often aged-for-tenderness) fish we enjoyed at Sushi Saito—which has three Michelin stars—was served up in quick succession in an austere room. You could be paying the check in less than an hour. But the two-star Édition Koji Shimomura and one-star à nu retrouvez-vous deliver the traditional white-linen experience. Both Chef Koji Shimomura and Chef Shohei Shimono, respectively, trained in high-end French restaurants, and each brings a personal approach to the cuisine by using Japanese ingredients and honoring local taste preferences, but—as you’ll find—their interpretations are distinctly unique.
More than once during my trip to Tokyo my brother Matthew would point to a drab building with no signage and tell me it was one of the best restaurants he had tried in his two decades of living there. Just as it took us 10 minutes of circling a nondescript office building to find the three-Michelin-starred Sushi Saito, yet another unadvertised delight was tucked inside what looked like someone’s home in a residential neighborhood.
I thought I had reached a sushi pinnacle when I dined at Kyubey the last time I was in Tokyo, but Chef Takashi Saito—who once worked at Kyubey—has taken it to another level at his seven-seat Sushi Saito. While Kyubey has a warmer atmosphere more conducive to lengthier meals (if desired), Sushi Saito serves what could be considered a “quickie lunch,” albeit an extremely high-end one delivered with the utmost care.