Note: Nagano-san passed away in September 2015, a huge loss to the culinary world as his approach to sushi (especially as a Hokkaido native) was truly unique. In mid-2016, Amamoto-san opened his own sushiya to immediate critical acclaim, similar to the style of Umi. One of the apprentices from my visits is now the head chef, and the shop has retained its two-star Michelin status, but I have not returned since these changes.
- Cost: JPY 21,000, before drinks
- Size: 10 seats
- Reserved: About 6 weeks in advance
If the stereotypical Tokyo sushi chef is most like a zen monk, then Nagano-san and Amamoto-san at Umi are probably best likened to a tag team of luchadores, shouting commands and exclamations at each other, their itamae, and anybody else within earshot. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
Typically, a sushi omakase starts with lighter, cleaner flavors and slowly progresses into richer and heavier bites. The progression is analogous in some ways to the zen-like arrangement of kaiseki meals, which themselves are modeled around Buddhist principles of harmony and balance. Omakase at Umi, on the other hand, is a bit more like a well-designed amusement park ride with surprise bursts of flavor and color around every turn. My meal, for example, started with uncured cod roe (tarako) and a rich chutoro nigiri - an excellent one-two punch to awaken the palate to the flavors to come.
Umi is known for serving a dizzying variety of 30-40 tastes that sometimes alternate otsumami with nigiri, which is also likely the reason why some incorrectly describe Umi as being in the Shou school of sushiya when in fact it is very different. It might be for this less-traditional approach that Umi's tabelog ranking is not in the "top" sushiya in Tokyo, but in my opinion the quality of ingredients and precision of technique is certainly on par with shops that are consistently ranked in the "top 10" on that site.
It's difficult for me to describe my meal at Umi particularly because it was laden with familiar and traditional flavors, while at the same time it included so many new types of tastes; for example: the cubed young gari served as an accompaniment to the nigiri, or a sweet/salty onion sauce used for dipping with the smoked katsuo. A piece of omelette-style (dashimaki) tamago thatmamoto-san cooked while we waited and arrived steaming hot was the best I have ever had.
If anything, Umi highlights the fact that at the highest level of sushiya, technique and ingredients are all excellent, and people will choose their favorites based on how much they enjoy the shop's idiosyncratic style and approach to omakase. For me, Umi was certainly one of the best sushi meals I have ever had, and that is enough for me to recommend it.
Minato, Minami-Aoyama, 3-2-8 1F