I had the opportunity to have a seat at the side counter of Saito, run by chef Shunji Hashiba. The chef has been working at Saito for less than three years. Like you, I was very curious to see how good it is, given the incredible hype: Saito is ranked the best restaurant in Asia by the review-aggregator OAD.
I was happy to be at the side counter instead of the main counter. This is because I agree that the design of the main counter is not consistent with Japanese taste. I am also skeptical of the over-concentration of the chef, which reinforces the stereotype that sushi happens when it is pressed, whereas 90% of the work is done behind the scenes: "There are actually almost ten staff in the back kitchen (from interview)."
Saito's recipe for success and hype is, in my opinion, the most traditional of all: keep prices reasonable, yet never compromise on quality. With several lunch and dinner seatings, the chefs are working very hard. I like that Takashi Saito said: "When I serve sushi to my customer, I don't want them to just think that it is good, because making good food is the minimum we can expect from a restaurant. For example, I want them to tell me things like: I had a hard day today, but eating your sushi gave me power to be motivated to keep working until the next reservation. Hearing that my sushi makes people feel good is much better than hearing that it is just tasty."
In my opinion, Saito’s reputation is well-deserved. The best sushi restaurant is a question of taste, but it certainly is one of the best experience I have had. The otsumami (small dishes) were extremely sophisticated and the way the flavors work together was extraordinary. Each otsumami had something remarkable or out of the ordinary, a warmer taste for the crab, a sweeter squid with eggs, a perfectly balanced grilled tachiuo. The sushi was equally remarkable.
The host of Arry was able to translate my questions. The plate in the corner was a gift from a customer, and the rice is not a blend of several varieties, but it does change over time. I truly enjoyed the attitude and hospitality of Hashiba-san. I am looking forward to, hopefully, being able to see him evolve over time and follow him in his journey.
Reservations: I got my reservation through Arry. Otherwise, the only way to go to Saito is to be invited by a regular who made a reservation at their last meal. Reserving on the phone or through a concierge is not possible. Some regular customers have their own time slot every month, making it impossible to get a reservation. However, even with Arry, it will not be easy to get a ticket, but over a couple of months you should be able to get one. They sell out almost instantly.
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