- Cost: 24,000 JPY/person, before drinks
- Size: 7 seats at counter
- Style: tsumami + sushi omakase
- Reserved: 8 weeks in advance
The concept of a young chef in Japanese cuisine is a bit different than in the western world. Cultural reasons aside, the precision and pride at ultra-high standards that are endemic to washoku are really only able to be attained over time through intense practice and repetition. Arguably, these requirements are amplified when it comes to the most basic skills (such as preparing a dashi or sushi rice) since the simplicity in these procedures truly lays bare the chef's experience and competency. Not only that, but the wealth of experience and knowledge that can inform decisions on seasoning and preparation in relation to diner preferences and the changing of ingredients through the seasons is an attribute that can really only be absorbed through continued experience, regardless of an individual's inherent skill.
For this reason, even the youngest highly-regarded chefs in Japan (Yuichi Arai is 32 years old) often have significant experience before venturing out on their own. In Arai-san's case, it was more than 15 years of working in some of the most prestigious sushiya in Tokyo - Kyubey and later, Sushi Sho under Keiji Nakazawa (in fact, during my visits to Sushi Sho a few years ago, Arai-san was there at the counter).
Despite its prime Ginza location, the atmosphere, décor, and food at Arai evokes less the "modern Tokyo" style of many new shops but rather a more traditional presentation that is found in the shops in the neighborhoods closer to Tsujiki like Shinbashi or Shiodome. And in line with tradition, the meal progression is quite simple, with some typical tsumami and a bit of sashimi, progressing on to simply-adorned nigiri that are on the larger side.
No doubt Arai-san will continue to evolve; when his first opened, he was serving two batches of shari in the style of Sushi Sho (akazu and gomezu-seasoned), but had stopped doing this in favor of a single akazu-gomezu blend when I visited a few months later. The shari, by the way, is excellent. Quite strong in flavor and with a medium firmness, whilst retaining distinct texture . It reminded me a bit of the rice at Shinbashi Shimizu, which is a favorite in Tokyo for its simple, traditional style and bold-flavored sushi. Arai-san is clearly focused on the consistency of the shari, as it was changed out 4 times in the course of my meal.
The tsumami contained a few nods to classic items at Sushi Sho - beginning with a duo of sashimi that included ara (grouper), and a square of buttery ankimo with a slice of pickled melon, referencing one of Nakazawa-san's signature nigiri. Whilst the execution was not flawless (the one misstep being a komochi yari ika that had been cooked to the point where the roe had dissolved into a liquid), overall the tsumami was very enjoyable and simple, a great set of appetizers to build excitement for the sushi.
On the sushi, the progression and selection of items was straightforward and with top-quality neta (for example, Arai-san served Hadate brand murasaki uni, which is often the priciest and highest-regarded brand at Tsukiji). This is really one of my favorite styles, especially with the fairly strong shari and large nigiri. Despite very subtle seasoning, the sushi really makes a big flavor impact in this format.
For me, one of the best sushi experiences is getting high-quality items in an unpretentious and straightforward format, and Arai delivers that perfectly. It is certainly a place I will return to on that basis.
Sushi Arai 鮨あらい
Chuo, 8-10-2 Ginza, Ruan Building B1F