As gluttonous as I am, fine dining often sends me into a panic. Mention Michelin stars and I start to sweat a little. “A restaurant like…like the kind that involves forks?” I’m always tempted to ask while I mentally try to assemble an outfit in which I can drop a knife and wait for a waiter to pick it up without looking like an enormous asshole. Dim lighting and multiple knives might get some girls off, but if I have to eat with a fork, give me diner food with free coffee refills over The French Laundry, any day. Take me somewhere that provides chopsticks, and odds are you’ll make me very, very happy.
This can be somewhat awkward and difficult to explain to most friends, unless it’s a boyfriend on a budget. People think my discomfort can be chalked up to nervousness or politeness, and to an extent, they are right. Suppressing my characteristically crude personality while simultaneously trying to politely finagle a piece of blue fin tuna tartar topped with foie gras foam into my mouth tends to set off my anxiety. It’s not that I’m incapable of appreciating haute cuisine, I just don’t like how fine dining involves an obstacle course of inquiring waiters, cutlery of various sizes, and a tablecloth that seems to accentuate any crumb that falls on its surface. Navigating this while requiring me to be interesting, engaging, and possessing razor sharp table manners is like asking me to wheelie up a mountain side while chugging a handle of vodka. The idea is, you know, kind of stressful.
Sometimes, however, the stars will happily align. There will be no forks, no knives, and no annoying waiters. Great company, chopsticks, and a Michelin star will be provided. In late January I went to dinner with Adam at Sushi Ko, and had the best meal of my life.
A one hundred and thirty year old establishment nestled in Ginza, Sushi Ko – which literally, and appropriately, means “happiness” – is meticulously managed but surprisingly comfortable. Seating only a handful of customers, the setting is intimate yet respectful; there is as much opportunity to converse with the sushi chef as to have your own private conversations. There is no menu and ordering is almost done for you. “The omakase course?” I was asked, and I nodded, before turning to Adam. “I just…I kind of just ordered for us…”
Despite that initial facepalm moment [okay, there was another one where I asked “do you have sake?” and then had my “I’m not an idiot” card full revoked], our serendipitous luck continued as we were seated in front of possibly the only sushi chef in Tokyo who had been a serious amateur road cyclist back in the 1980s. On learning that Adam is pro cyclist, we talked about LeMond, racing in Japan, and mountainside crashes. All between bites of perfectly crafted sushi.
It is customary for most sushi chefs to ask if you have certain fish you can’t eat. Usually, I would definitively refuse to eat uni, or sea urchin. The orange, textured flesh, with its creamy texture and distinctive aroma, is an expensive treat that I habitually decline. “Ugh, uni,” I am known to say. “You don’t like it because you’ve never had good uni,” my father likes to tell me. I give him the response that all daughters are required to give their fathers: I roll my eyes.
Unfortunately, Sushi Ko proved him really, really right.
When presented with uni, which Adam wasn’t a fan of either, we hesitated. But determined to prove my father wrong, and figuring I could just hold my breath and swallow most of it if it was as unappetizing as I expected, I popped it in my mouth.
It couldn’t have been choreographed better. Adam and I both turned to look at each other in mutual shock and awe. It was completely, unbelievably delicious.
It wasn’t even the best part. We almost passed out in bliss later, when we were presented with sushi made from the broiled skin of Striped Jack. It sounds questionable, I know, and looked suspicious, but was possibly the most amazing thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. “I’m so happy,” I told Adam, “I’m just going to go lie down and die now.”
I still feel that I wouldn’t have missed out on too much if I had [okay those post-dinner waffles were good, but still]. Then again, I wouldn’t be alive to tell you all about it. And to insist that if you want sushi to change your life – and I mean that, because, as a Japanese person who loves sushi, it certainly changed mine – that you make reservations at Sushi Ko.
Sushi Ko Honten
6-3-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Tel: +81 (03) 3571-1968