[Tokyo] Sushi Watanabe - Arakicho (adjacent to Yotsuya San Chome)


#1

Arakicho is an area adjacent to Yotsuya San Chome, Tokyo that has a very lively atmosphere as the sun goes down, and when the restaurants light up. Lots of drinking places, izakaya type eateries, kappo places, and specialist restaurants. Some say this is part of untouched old Tokyo stuck in time. There is an unspoken atmosphere and mood of some might say romance as you stroll down the main path, while watching the night life. You have to be there yourself to understand what I’m saying.

Somewhere in the area, is Sushi Watanabe. Not considered famous by any means, but has quite a bit of character, flavor. It’s unfair to compare them with Ginza, and is more of a locals only hangout. Those in the know come here for versatility, ease of booking, and the opportunity to sample seafood across the country. Excellent appetizers/otsumami and some very well stepped in washoku. If you can appreciate the sum of all these parts, the experience is quite satisfying. But if you prefer name recognition, prestige, and feel that quality of the ingredients trumps everything else then this place might not be it for you as a casual visitor to Tokyo.

Watanabe san has formal training in washoku and kappo cuisine from Kansai, and that is reflected in some of his appetizers.

I locate my reservation and seat, which is in front of Watanabe san. I was the only visitor that night, the rest of the customers were entirely local. Only a few spoke English, including Watanabe san, who were very friendly and warm.

To start, I picked out my starting beverages from the hand written sake menu (if you can read kanji and know names of sake, you are good to go)

The starter turned out to be the most impactful and worked best. The legendary Denshu Tokubetsu Junmai which is available in the USA, but i wanted to see how this fared in Japan and it was very excellent indeed.

Ni-tako from Akashi , note the gelatinous bits inbetween…super delicious

Sashimi of madai and matsukawa karei

Shimaaji, judging by its non pinkish looking flesh this was not a wild specimen

Modori katsuo, with ample fat

Kegani with crab miso, presented sunomono style, one of the best pairings with Denshu

The sous chef presented this as “udo ebi” which I have no further information. The surface stickiness and natural sweetness was incredible. Topped with some shiso flowers. Absolutely delicious

The lightly grilled shellfish threw me off a bit. Japanese tsubugai and ishigaki kai. Pristine specimens should be just eaten raw, but I suspect these were grilled for another reason. Either way quite pleasant as drinking food.

Chiba prefecture steamed Megai abalone with liver sauce

When I was finished with the abalone but had some liver sauce leftover, I got some sushi rice and slivers of shiro ika sashimi strips to soak the rest up, because why not make an abalone liver risotto with some texture? This is the proper way to do it.

Next sake: Abekan (ah bey kahn) from Miyagi Prefecture, Junmai Ginjo Genshu, and a fall release (Akiagari). Less impactful than the Denshu

Sawara saikyo yaki (Kyoto white miso marinated and grilled) with grain mustard and salted gingko nuts

Nodoguro and shimeji sakamushi (steamed in sake), the addition of mushrooms was a fantastic touch as it elevated the umami component!

Chef owner Watanabe san

Two kinds of ginger

Kawahagi (filefish) with its liver between the rice and the fish (there is actually a little shiso leaf inside there too)

Aji

Next sake: Hidakami Hiyaroshi (fall release) Junmai 60%, single pasteurized (Miyagi Prefecture)

Sanma

Wild Minmaya bluefin (Aomori prefecture) chutoro aged 8 days

Kohada

Shiro ika

Ikura handroll

Dashimaki tamago (entirely eggs and seasoning, no seafood or root vegetables added)

Shako (only had this twice out of 7 or so sushi meals, very lucky)

Kurumaebi

The bowl de resistance: a mini donburi of four kinds of uni (sorry don’t recall which is which)… Hokkaido, Aomori, Kagoshima, Kumamoto

Anago

Soup made with the flesh and bones of Kue, with Niigata mushroom called “shongenshi”

Kanpyo maki

Katsutera style tamagoyaki (made with shiba ebi)

House made oba (like a shiso) sorbet, absolutely delicious and refreshing

Houjicha

Total Damage: about 25,000 yen

Sushi Watanabe
160-0007 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Arakichō,
新宿区荒木町7 三番館1F


#2

Wonderful writeup.

I love the unassuming facades of these outstanding restaurants in Japan. It’s almost as if the great dining spots make a point of being purposely hidden and obscure on the outside. What’s inside truly is what matters, and the people who seek out this sort of value in their lives know that. Perhaps this is a cultural precept that applies to much of Japanese life.

Sorry to get all philosophical. Onegashimasu.


#3

Thank you sir! Yup you nailed it. Part of it may just be on purpose, and local culture. A lot of eateries in Arakicho are like that. In fact there may be some kappo kaiseki places I would want to explore next time in the same area.

This visit was more of an exploration outside of the typical comfort zone areas of gastro tourism.

The level of deliciousness varies and for sure some items were not as splendid as expected due to preparation or quality of ingredients, but in the overall grand scheme of things it was unique in its own way. And I love Washoku so I knew I’d get more mileage from the appetizers.

Value wise Sushi Watanabe can vary, I know I can go to Zoroku Yuzan and enjoy myself a whole lot more… but nonetheless this place is a good backup for mid tier upscale yet neighborhood.

I was just glad there were no Instagram Influencer types and jet setters at that dinner ruining things. Pretty sure they wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this also…


#4

Fantastic!

I like your style. It seems from all your journeys with food as well as sake that you are now more impressed with the simpler things and the local’s experiences than the swanky, designer food experiences. Very classy.

:sake: :sushi:


#5

Thank you as always for your support and readership!

To be very honest, I look for a complete experience when evaluating a place. Deliciousness is key (as with technique, ingredients, approach), but the satisfaction levels come from multiple components, including the chemistry between people within the restaurant (chefs / customer / staff interactions, and other customers included). It’s not about name dropping / getting special treatment (more power to someone if they work it and it works out but that’s very shallow), but achieving a mutual understanding, trust and respect for each other, making and maintaining that connection, and getting to that level while the passion of the restaurant (and their objectives) are in line with yours entirely, is … shall we say extreme next level dining experience.

They say the same thing about wine (and same goes for sake to an extent). You can have friends in food, friends in wine, and friends in food and wine, and then great friends in food, wine, with deep meaningful conversation (whether jokes or BS even) who share the same tastes, passions etc …which is the ideal situation. You’re not going to pop open a very special bottle of a cult classic if your dining companions cannot appreciate it (and the bottle might not even be an expensive one), even if you have the right food with it. Or they only show up if you pop open top of the line and that’s it…

Out of all the meals of my trip, only about a handful were soulfully satisfying, next level. Sushi Watanabe was actually and unfortunately not one of them, but that’s ok.


#6

Perfect! Well, except for not having the sought after soulfully satisfying experience at Sushi Watanabe. But as you say, that’s ok. :wink: It’s part of the journey.

You’re right @J_L. This is a philosophical thread, lol.


#7

What a fantastic write-up, @beefnoguy! It sounds and looks delightful.
My husband and I are of the same mindset as you when we dine out together. Fancy or what’s super popular isn’t as important as the overall experience and the feeling you get while at an establishment.
Love you analogy about wine/sake/food and friends. We have folks who come over that we would never bust out the good stuff for because they wouldn’t appreciate it. The ones who inquire about the private reserve never get an invitation to come back…because we know they’re not worthy of it.


#8

Great write up. I love it when two styles of tamago are presented. Very interesting progression though, serving the dashi-tamago before the (mostly) cooked neta. How was shari?


#9

I noticed the Japanese local customers got the side by side tamago tasting at the end, whereas I got two pieces of dashimaki tamago well before…a different progression. But I also had sake and perhaps he tailored the interpersing a bit to cater towards that…a very subtle but noteable change. I also did not get one item as the other locals did which was a bit puzzling.

The shari was a bit lighter seasoned than I preferred in comparison to other places, although a bit warmer temperature would have been nice (but not bad).