When I stumbled into Yutaka on Friday night without a reservation and was told I'd have to wait an hour to sit at the sushi bar, I wasn't disappointed. I left my name at the stand and walked two doors down to Sharaku, the Izakaya owned by the same folks who offered the sushi I was craving.
I sat at the bar of the Izakaya, drank Sapporo and ordered grilled slivers of beef tongue, chicken gizzards and charred smoky green chilies. The meats were served with juicy lemon slices and everything was impaled on little bamboo sticks. They were salty and fresh and great with cold beer. It made for happy snacking, and it took me about an hour order, eat, and nurse my beer. My table back at Yutaka was ready just as I finished paying my tab.
Yutaka offered a chef's tasting, with five pieces for $20 -- a little overpriced, sure, but I did it anyway. I received a plate of sushi for the timid: tuna, yellowtail, scallop, eel hit with a blow torch, and a red snapper window pane, draped over a single sisho leaf and rice like a translucent quilt. Yutaka seasons their rice with a ton of rice vinegar and sugar. I could taste it in each finished piece.
As I ate I watched the chef, a young but serious fellow, assemble plates of sushi with a stylized flare. His movements were sharp and staccato, a sliver of garnish perched with chopsticks, just so, a quick flick of the wrist as fresh, raw fish was pressed into sushi rice. He looked like he knew what he was doing, so I decided to order more. The first plate, though boring, tasted fresh and clean. Let's see what this guy can do, right?
I chose toro, mackerel, squid, uni and sweet shrimp. The first four came out together on a single plate, all clean and nice. The shrimp came second, on its own plate. I wondered if they'd originally been forgotten but it didn't matter. My meal was singing now.
The toro was perfect and fell to pieces in my mouth, melting into a fatty, rich taste of the ocean. Mackerel, which can be terrible if it's not perfect -- oily fishes break down quickly and mackerel may be one of the biggest greasers from the sea -- was also clean and delicious, with shimmering silver skin. The uni was a bright, orange, oceanic cream, and the squid, an exercise in texture more than flavor, tasted pleasantly of nothing.
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It was all so good I was about to order again when a third plate came out on its own. The chef had fried the heads of both shrimp in a glistening and super-crispy tempura batter. They had black, beady eyes and crunchy legs that shattered like glass and made me smile when I chomped. Their insides were meaty and textured and tasted of custardy, cooked shrimp.
The two bites were so good they erased every bit of stress I'd carried with me when I walked in. I'm not one to cry over food, but my eyes may have misted for this one. Or maybe they were glassy from the cheap sake I'd been drinking. Either way, I was riding a serious food high.