UOh dear Sushi Arai.
I went the evening before they earned their first Michelin star. I wish I didn’t go as it was the worst sushi meal in Tokyo during the trip. I even sat at the main counter, and while I had Arai’s sous chef serve us appetizers, Arai also served most of the nigiri. While the appetizers were excellent, the nigiri took a bad downward spiral trip.
Fast forward to the Michelin era present
- unless you are a regular or VIP, you cannot sit at the main counter with Arai san. Booking services or locals who are not regulars will get the private room with a different chef.
- If you are VIP and regular, you will get the best cuts of tuna and maybe cuts you rarely come across, but you will not at the private room
- Arai san continues to be loved by regulars and Japanese instagram superstars (some of them are super famous as well known, and world traveled) who continuously shill for him on Instagram
- Arai claims to be one of the kings of tuna in the Tokyo sushi world and uses the top bluefin supplier from Tsukiji
- Arai worked at Sushi Sho and Kyubey before (not sure which came first) and he has been doing a number of different things. It is in the end his style but it’s not something I get at all. He went from using two different kinds of sushi rice, to one
- Mark Wiens was able to sit at the counter thanks to his friend David at The Hungry Tourist who runs a business organizing group meals at super hard to get into restaurants, and of course most of the high end places all know David.
Most recent trip back to Tokyo I consumed bluefin at other restaurants who use the same supplier (and different ones). I can honestly say that luckily top grade wild bluefin tastes brilliant at other places, but what I was given at the main counter at Arai that evening was completely flat and no profile.
The sushi rice at Arai that night was overly super sour and salty, which he was trying to do Shimizu style. However it threw the balance off of every piece he served. Only overpowering items like uni and anago could kind of mask the overwhelming flavors in the rice. He didn’t do any aging of fish at the time, and for items like kurumaebi, his sous chef cut off the head of the prawn and Arai tossed it away without extracting any of the miso (the delicious juice and stuff in the head). I was shocked.
Sake pours were made into these cups that were better used for iced coffee and very large at that. Looking back the sake were tasty by themselves, but were not solid pairings.
I’m not going to discount the experience of others. But there is just too much hype and some of it unwarranted of this place. In some ways this place is like Sushi Saito. There is also a back room with another chef but the experience is different. If a restaurant gives you differing quality and you as a non regular pay the same price as VIPs but get something completely different, that is wrong, regardless of whether the excuse is the chef not being able to communicate with customers or doesn’t want to deal with customers who don’t know the culture etc.
Sorry end of rant.