I never thought that I’d be awake at 7:30 am while on vacation, but that’s where I found myself on Day 2. Dragging ourselves from the warm beds of the Century Hyatt Tokyo, we groggily dressed and headed out the door. Destination: Omborato.
Now truth be told, this restaurant wasn’t even on our radar when planning. However, by the end of the trip this place had become our second home. Almost exactly on schedule, we’d crawl out of our beds and make the arduous trek down the elevators to be welcomed by the quasi-genki waitresses.
Why did we do that? What was it about Omborato that attracted us its tranquil existence? Was it the Zenness of the place? Perhaps it was the eloquent juxtaposition of traditional Japanese decorations set in a modern décor… or the great food. Perhaps.
Then again, we’re simple men and simple things attract us; things like free breakfast vouchers. The deal was that we could use these vouchers at the only two restaurants in the hotel open for breakfast. At the restaurant-that-shall-not-be-named, we had the American-style buffet representing. From soggy bacon to chewy scrambled eggs to overcooked pancakes – if you were looking to torture your stomach with overly greasy excuses for food, then this was the place. In corner B, we had Omborato representing a breakfast tray with a certain quiet confidence.
From left to right, top to bottom, we have some steamed vegetables and tofu; Spinach Gomae (Gomae just means sesame sauce by the way, so if you want to avoid looking like a total ‘tard in a restaurant, order Spinach Gomae or Toro Gomae or whatever.. not just Gomae); salted fish eggs; grated Daikon; a poached egg; random pickled vegetables; salted Black Cod with random tofu bits; Red Tuna with Yamato-imo; congee (rice gruel); and finally, miso soup. From the mildness of the tofu to the saltiness of the fish eggs to the smokiness of the cod, most things were up to par.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule and I thus direct your attention to the Tuna and Yamato-imo. Yamato-imo is… an acquired taste – it’s slimy, it’s smelly and it’s just something you don’t want in your mouth.
On the bright side, if you can somehow manage to choke it down, it’s really quite good for you – being rich in vitamins and all. With our first meal of the day behind us, we headed to the subway station to begin our day. First stop, brunch at Tsukiji fish market.
Tsukiji Market – Dai Wa Sushi (the good)
Located just minutes away from the Tsukiji-shijo stop, the market is to Tokyo what Granville Island is to Vancouver. Hailed as the largest fish market in the world, there is an incredible ecosystem that guided by Adam Smith’s invisible hand distributes each day’s catch to thousands of restaurants and merchants.
No matter what type of fish you are looking for, if it can be found in Japan then Tsukiji is the place to get it. With a plethora of merchants and restaurants in this area, it can be overwhelming trying to decide on a place to eat.
Pulling a Toucan Sam, we simply followed our noses and within minutes, found ourselves lining up in front of Sushi Dai. Ok, I lied. We’d read about Sushi Dai ahead of hand, we had to ask for directions and it took us twenty minutes to find the place when it should have taken five (tip: turn right at the train station exit, then turn right at the Shell station).
Located right by the docks, Dai Wa Sushi is a tiny restaurant that seats only a handful of people and serves up the freshest sushi in the world. They’re open only for breakfast and lunch and wait times can range from twenty minutes to four hours (on the weekends) so get there early.
As you may remember, we got up early for this so our wait time was only thirty minutes or so. Sitting down, one of the first things you’ll notice is that the sushi chefs place the sushi directly on the counter in front of you. In Japan, you don’t need no sushi plates!
With breakfast but a memory, we ordered the Omakase (chef’s choice) set which includes 10 pieces of Nigiri (rice with rice ontop), 4 pieces of roll and finally, a piece of your own choosing. When sushi is served, a chef will typically start with a lighter fish such as Maguro (Tuna) and progress to fishes that have a stronger taste such as Saba (Mackerel).
The first piece we got was a beautiful piece of O-toro (high grade Tuna belly). For readers less acquainted with different types of Tuna available, there are various cuts much like beef. The “normal” cuts are analogous to something like a sirloin. It’s cheap, it’s not too fatty and you can get some pretty decent sirloin.
The next step up is Toro which is the worst cut of the Tuna belly. Significantly better than “normal” Tuna, Toro will have a higher fat content with larger flakes that will be visible. You might encounter an occasional sinewy bit here and there.
Of course, once you’d had the middle of the line, you’ll want to try the really good stuff which is Chu-toro. If Toro is Grade A Angus Filet Mignon, then Chu-toro would be Grade AAA Filet Mignon. Melt in your mouth goodness, you’ll think that this is the best fish there is.
That is, until you try O-toro! Going back to the beef analogy, many people will go through life never having tried Kobe Beef and they’ll be perfectly happy with their Grade AAA Angus. One bite though and you’ll never be able to go back. I’d had O-toro before in Vancouver, but this piece put everything I’d ever eaten to shame. It was fresh, it was sweet and it was melt-in-your-mouth tender. The sweetness of the fish dissolved in my mouth the way a rich custard would. No chewing involved (except the rice). Yes, it was that good!
|Next up, a big block of Tamago (sweet egg). It wasn’t significantly better than the stuff here in Vancouver, but it did come out hot which was a nice contrast to the cold that we were used to.|
|The poor cousin of Blue-fin Tuna, Bonito is what you’ll eat if you can’t afford O-toro. As it is related to Tuna, the taste is pretty similar with a firmer texture.|
|For those that don’t like slimy, Shiori is not for you! Made up of tens if not hundreds of baby shrimp, the slight slimy texture was offset by the sweetness of the fresh shrimp.|
Our stomachs satisfied, we headed off to Ginza where the shops were expensive and the tourists had more money than taste.
Random Basement Restaurant in Random Ginza Mall (the bad)
Finishing up at Confectionery West, we shopped for a little bit longer and decided to get a snack at a restaurant in the basement of a mall. Being a little on the hungry side (it was 4pm after all), I decided to splurge with some sushi and ramen.
The Deep Fried
|The meal started off easy enough. Some starches and a random stringy green vegetable. They were a decent representation of what Tempura should be.|
|Next up, the prawns. Fresh with a light batter, they were fried to perfection. Eating these was no problem, tail and all!|
|The next fish dish that came was a deep fried Eel. The meat was good, but the thing that really made this dish special was the deep fried spine. Delicious!|
Overall, the meal was quite satisfying though I think everyone agreed that the meal was a little much in terms of what could be eaten. Our wallets 5,000 yen lighter and our stomaches 10 lbs heavier, we slowly made our way back to the hotel. Next up… Satou Beef.