Bangkok’s Sushi Masato & Chef Masa’s favorite Tokyo restaurants

 

When David Gelb – the director of the salivating chef documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – was asked at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival where the best sushi in New York City was to be had, his answer was met with surprise and applause.  Sushi Yasuda in Midtown East was a candidate, but his pick was 15 East in Union Square.

At that time, the restaurant was a partnership among Marco Moreira, Joann Makovitzky and Masato Shimizu, whose sushi master’s master was the famed Jiro’s master.  (For some background, Jiro Ono is the head of the world’s only three-starred Michelin restaurant dedicated 100 percent to the raw fish, and the amount of time to get off the wait list at his small Tokyo joint can exceed a year.)  Chef Masa quickly earned a Michelin star at age 29, the youngest at the time to do so in New York.  Then he got married to a Thai-Japanese wife, relocated to Bangkok and decided to go omakase style in the spirit of Jiro, taking just two dinner seatings of 10 persons, six days a week.

Chef Masa’s arrival to Thailand did not go unnoticed, prompting those running his corporate website to state the following before the January 2016 grand opening:

Dear Valued Guests

Thank you for your interest in dining at Sushi Masato. Due to our limited number of seats, we regret to inform you that our restaurant is fully booked until the end of March. On Tuesday March 1, We will begin to take reservation for April and May.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused and thank you for your understanding.

 Sushi Masato Team

By the time I got my act together, I found myself in a futile attempt to get on the waiting list for all of April, May and June with no bites.  So when an 8:30 p.m. slot opened up on a Sunday in July, I grabbed it, not knowing when my next opportunity would arise.

While behind the sushi bar at 15 East, Chef Masa enjoyed chatting with his customers beyond the usual pleasantries, inquiring about cuisine preferences and sprinkling culinary educational tidbits.  This personal rapport was evidenced even before seating, when several diners from the previous serving happily posed with the chef for photos.  Our own group was equally in the know, with a Japanese couple at the far left end celebrating the woman’s birthday, the patron to my immediate left maintaining a website called ThaiGastronomy.com and related social media accounts, a young Japanese man to my right who travels frequently to Thailand on business, and a quartet of Thais wondering out loud to him in English whether he had been to Chef Naomichi Yasuda’s restaurant in Tokyo.  (Like Shimizu, Yasuda also eventually left New York, headed back to Asia and opened his own sushi restaurant that is equally difficult to book.)

Chef Masa deftly switched between Japanese and English to chat with all 10 of us, his cuts of the knives matching that sharp precision.  He said that he prefers to change his omakase menu every other month, but discovered a couple of differences between the Thai and American markets.  For starters, he cannot source his seafood locally not only due to low quality and quantity, but because Thais would not pay up for such meals if they found out that their fare did not come from, say, Tsukiji Fish Market.

“I remember,” I said, “at 15 East when you gave us a choice of sea urchin.  Two of those choices were from Japan but the third was from California.”

Chef Masa seemed pleased that I remembered this from a New York meal consumed about four years earlier.  This particular evening, no choice was to be had: all three uni would come from Japan (two from Hokkaido, one from Kyushu).  More head scratching resulted from the chef when he added that lighter-colored uni is popular in Thailand, whereas the darker variety rules in Japan.  Why was this the case?  No one at the table could answer.

Although the name and the lone signage outside the restaurant boast the word “sushi,” the meal starts and ends with anything but.  Chef Masa’s aim is to offer more than 20 small dishes during any given seating.  On this particular date, he prepared the following:

  • Edamame
  • Rock oyster from Aomori – the season for oysters, says Chef Masa, is typically winter, but the varieties he served are available during the summer
  • Three types of uni: two from Hokkaido and a seasonal offering from Kyushu
  • Eel with shiso flower
  • Cherry tomato from the Petchabun province in Thailand (a rare locally-sourced offering, and a clever palate cleanser)
  • Shima Aji (striped jack fish)
  • Squid with rock salt
  • Fish from Kyushu topped with liver
  • Sardine from Osaka
  • Red snapper, slightly seared, from Chiba
  • Short neck clam skewer
  • Tuna
  • More tuna
  • Shinko (gizzard shad) – three fine pieces
  • Larger shinko

(It was at this point that Chef Masa brought out two giant twitching shrimp. “Very fresh!,” he exclaimed with glee as they squirmed. He said the topping for the final result would be made possible by…squeezing the poor guy’s head.)

  • Abalone
  • Shrimp
  • Eel
  • Uni bowl
  • Fish head soup
  • Minced tuna with semi-seared seaweed
  • Sponge cake
  • Palate cleanser
  • Tofu dessert

Between freshly prepared bites, I asked Chef Masa whether he remembered a list of his favorite Tokyo restaurants that he handed to me from behind the bar at 15 East; I had inquired because one of our reporters at the time was relocating to Japan.  He said he did, and that his list – addresses accurate as of 2012 – had not changed.

Chef Masa’s favorite Tokyo restaurants

Sukeroku, 6-22-8 1F Kameido, Kouto-ku (note: this is Masato’s master’s restaurant, hence its listing at the top)

SUSHI

Aoki, 6-7-4 Ginza Takahashi Building 2F

Sushi Sho, 1-11 Yotsuya, Yorindo Building 1F

Umi, 3-2-8 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku

Harutaka, 8-5-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Kawabata Building 3F

Sawada, 5-9-19 Ginza, MC Building 3F

Miyaha, 2-11-8 Hamamatsu-cho, Minato-ku

Nakahisa, 7-8-4 Roppongi, Minato-ku

Kanesaka, 8-10-3 Ginza Misuzu Building B1

Sushi Taichi, 6-4-13 Ginza, Asaki Building 2F

Sukiyabashi Jiro, 4-2-15 Tsukamoto Building B1F, Ginza

Mizutani, 8-2-10 Ginza Chuo-ku

Kosasa Sushi, 8-6-18 Ginza Chuo-ku

Sushi Saito, 4-2-2-2F, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

TEMPURA

Kondo, 5-5-13 Ginza Chuo-ku

Tankou, 3-1 Kagurazaka Shinjuku-ku

KAISEKI

Koju, 8-5-25 Ginza Chuo-ku

Morikawa, 3-21-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku

SOBA

Kanda Yabusoba, 2-10 Kanda Awaji-cho, Chiyoda-ku

Toshian, 5-17-2 Shiroganedai, Minato-ku

Sasuga, 1-19-12 Riken Building B1 Ginza, Chuo-ku

STEAK / TEPPAN-YAKI

Ukaitei, 2-14-6 Akatsuki-cho, Hachijoji

Dons de la Nature, 1-7-6 Ginza

YAKINIKU

Jojoen (Yuugentei), 6-1-24 5F Roppongi, Minato-ku

TOFU

Ukaitei, 4-4-13 Shiba-kouen Minato-ku

ODEN

Otafuku, 1-6 Senzoku Taito-ku

Otako Honten, 2-2-3 Nihonbashi

YAKITORI

Torishige Honten, 2-9-17 Shibashi Minato-ku

UNAGI

Ichinoya, 4-1-6 Nishiazabu Takatsuka Building 1F

ITALIAN

Aso, 29-3 Sarugaku-cho Shibuya-ku

Three satisfying hours later, after I rose to leave, Chef Masa said he hoped to see me again soon, then added with a regretful sigh that he wished diners could just be able to walk in, bypass the whole reservation process and enjoy his food whenever they wanted.  But it was way too late for Chef Masa to fulfill that simple wish, with his reputation long preceding the opening of his restaurant.  Shortly after my meal, the notice on his website was replaced with the following:

Dear Our Valued Guests 

Thank you for your interest in dining at Sushi Masato. We regret to inform you that we are now fully booked throughout 2016. Therefore, we decided to temporary pause the booking process until the end of the year. We will begin to take reservation again for next year 2017 by the end of November or beginning of December 2016. 

If you wish to be in our waiting list for this year 2016, please email us at [email protected]  with your name, contact number, your preferred date and time(if you have anything specific), and a total number of your party. We will make sure to contact you as soon as the seats become free.

We apologise for any inconvenience caused and thank you for your understanding.

 Sushi Masato Team

Sushi Masato is located at 3/22 Soi Sawasdee 1, Sukhumvit 31, Khlongtoei Nua, Wattana, Bangkok 10110, within walking distance of the Phrom Phong BTS station.  It is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 17:30-22:00, although note that seatings are timed.  For reservations, call +66 (0)2-040-0015 (the line is open between 12:00-16:00) or e-mail [email protected] For more information, visit sushimasato.com.

Photos: Sushi Masato – Bangkok, Thailand
all photos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine