Harutaka 

Harutaka
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Many of you may know, but I was supposed to eat at the 3 star Michelin restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro Honten during my Japan trip.  We knew someone who knew someone who secured a reservation for us.   The Annoyer and I loved the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” the film that really skyrocketed Jiro’s popularity.  Obviously, we were beyond elated to experience everything we saw in the movie.  Of course, I heard many negative aspects to dining here, such as the uncomfortable speed at which you are forced to eat. Meals at Jiro are completed in 20-30 minutes.  The service isn’t the warmest since Jiro nor his son speak English.  Then of course, there is the high price tag.  Despite all that, we still wanted to try it out.  To make a long story short, our reservation fell through so we were connected to Harutaka instead.  Harutaka Takahashi trained with Jiro for 13 years before opening up his own restaurant in 2006.  It garnered 2 stars in 2011, but lost it in 2013.  It regained it in 2015, but lost it again in the latest Michelin guide.  We didn’t know much about this place before dining here, but the someone someone we knew gave this place high marks.

We were probably 5 minutes late for our reservation, but things in Japan wait for no one.   As we were seated I noticed someone who looked very familiar sitting at the far end of the bar.  The man in the red sweater was none other than Masuhiro Yamamoto, the food writer/critic interviewed in the Jiro documentary.  I have a good eye for recognizing even the most obscure “celebrities.”  Mr. Yamamoto shined us a big smile when he found out we recognized him from the movie.  He spoke to us in English asking where we were from. And that’s Harutaka, but I won’t say much about him since he barely interacted with us and just plopped the sushi on our plates and got back to business.  I doubt he spoke any English.  His staff and apprentices spoke a decent amount.
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Dashi Broth
A nice way to warm up from the cold evening.
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Grouper
Lightly seared.  Fantastically flavorful with just a few squeezes of citrus.
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Fugu fugu skin, fugu roe, shirako
This was my first time eating blowfish.  It tastes pretty clean, like a white fish.  But it has some textural similarities with squid, being a little bit chewy.  The skin was a bit crunchier.  The roe added some smooth cool texture.  The idea of shirako (male cod sperm sacs) kinda grosses me out but I had to keep reminding myself that uni is just as gonadal.  The ponzu sauce brought all these components together.  It was a really great dish.
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Tai radish broth
The fish was perfectly cooked.  The broth was sweet in that vegetal quality.  I feel like I tasted some hints of yuzu or some subtle citrus notes.  Another really strong appetizer.
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Torigai
Cockle is another delightful first for me.  It is in the shellfish family and might be referred to as heart clam or surf clam.  Chef Harutaka slammed it on the table and it was still moving. It was served with some ginger and soy sauce.  It had the texture of geoduck, but more supple and slimy.
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Sawara garlic, leeks, soy sauce
While I always thought aji was Spanish mackerel, sawara is also Spanish mackerel.  It’s confusing.  This did not have much of that fishiness typical of mackerel.  Rather, it had a smokey bacon like flavor.  The relish of garlic, leeks, and soy sauce just added more layers of flavor.  This was probably my favorite of all the appetizers.
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Abalone
This was the most tender abalone I’ve ever had.  It was served very simply with wasabi and soy sauce.  The wasabi in Japan is so much more mild that the reconstituted from powder stuff we use in America.  The water content from the fresh grated kind mellows it out.  I noticed as it dries out it does get more kick.
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The appetizers were really strong and I was really impressed.  I was looking forward to some amazing sushi.

Grouper
Delicious.  Clean.  Fresh.  What I noticed was how salty and vinegary the rice tasted.  It was not my favorite rice.  It was also a bit on the dry side.
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Aorika
The interesting think about sushi is Japan, is the different variety of fish served as sushi.  I think Harutaka is accustomed to foreigners because they have a special sushi book to help translate the fish names.  It was extremely helpful.  It would be easy to just tell us this was squid, but “aorika” actually translates to “bigfin reef squid.”  It had all the same qualities of the wonderful squid we had at Sushi Daiwa.
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Sayori
Needle fish or Japanese halfbeak is not a common fish in America.  I had it once at n/naka.  Here it was very delicious.
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Akami
As the sushi progressed, I noticed Chef Harutaka’s technique when making sushi.  He would slice it and let it sit out for maybe 5 minutes or more.  I found that a bit odd, but I noticed that at MF Sushi too.  The next part was baffling.  He would pat each piece dry with his towel before making it into sushi.  I guess pat is a bit of an understatement.  He would wrap it in his towel and then wipe the counter down with his towel with the fish wrapped inside.  The end result were very dry pieces of fish.  The tuna here was very clean, but lacked moisture.  Compounded with the rice which was already on the dry side, just made for an overall dry mouth when eating.  I imagine Harutaka uses this technique the concentrate the flavors of the fish?  I really did not like it.
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Chutoro
Amazing.  Clean.  Fatty.  Wonderful.
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Otoro
I’m not sure how I missed out on this picture.  I guess I must have gotten too excited.  It is safe to say that the toro in Japan, any cut really, is going to be better than anything in America.  You just can’t top the freshness.

Kohada
If there was something better here than at Daiwa, it was the gizzard shad which was not over vinegared or too fishy.
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Kobashira
I thought this was little bay scallops but it turns out to be surf clam.  It wasn’t chewy at all.
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Amadai
Tilefish was reminiscent of madai.  The flavors were clean and fresh, but the flavor of the rice was so distracting that sometimes it overpowered the delicateness of some of the fish like this one.  He also sauces the fish himself, but his sauce is extremely light so that didn’t help either.
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Kuruma
Jiro is very famous for his wheel shrimp.  I wasn’t too impressed with this.  It looks like a big hunk of shrimp but its mostly rice beefing up the mass.  Still good, but no surprise that it was drier than it needed to be.
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Kasugo
Young sea bream had a similar flavor to madai but softer texture for sure.
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Uni
I have no complaints of the uni I ate anywhere on my trip.  Delicious.  At least he didn’t dry this one out.
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Saba
I don’t like mackerel.
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Anago
I was so full here.  Anago is too soft for me.  I miss the crispy fattiness of unagi.
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Tamago
This leaned more cakey than eggy.  I liked it.
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The fish was surely fresh and amazing, really not so different from the fish at Daiwa.  There was just more variety.  The appetizers were definitely the highlight.  But my love for those first few dishes was so easily overshadowed by the rice and strangely dry fish.  The rice was too dry and too vinegared and salty.  To add to that, the fish was robbed of all its moisture with his strange technique of airing it out and patting it dry dry dry.  I really wonder what Masuhiro Yamamoto thought of the food that night.  It looks like he came alone so perhaps he was reviewing the place?  Luckily this meal was on someone else’s tab, which was extremely generous and unnecessary.  Of course I was very appreciative, but I am glad I didn’t have to pay for this meal, because it was the most disappointing one of the trip.

10 – You NEED to eat here
9 – Awesome 
8 – Very good
7 – Good (factoring in the appetizers)
6 – OK (based on sushi alone)
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT eat here

 

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