Far off the beaten path, Tokyo gourmands are flocking to the coastal city of Toyama to taste the sushi served by the “rock-n-roller” chef. Even after two failed attempts, no one could stop Izumi Kimura from opening his third Sushijin with a vision to shake up the industry. Born out of love for his hometown, the original Edomae menu features beautiful seasonal gems caught off the local shores.
Located in a quiet residential area about a 10-min car ride from Toyama Station, you will spot a traditional Showa-style house with bamboo shades and a blue noren curtain hanging over its entrance. When you slide the door open, you may recognize Kimura’s smiling face from the Esquire magazine interview. But instead of his favorite black leather jacket, he is wrapped in a crisp white chef suit with his long hair neatly tied underneath the hat.
The word about the little restaurant began spreading from about three years ago. Now, about 8 out of 10 guests come from Tokyo, seeking to savor the famous shari, vinegared rice, and the superb selection of local seafood. The atmosphere inside is warm and homey, making every guest feel wholeheartedly welcome. The open counter fits ten guests while there are eight more zashiki seats with low tables on a tatami flooring.
Purely self-taught, the chef always has a lot to say about food. As soon as you begin conversing with him, you will come to realize he seems to have an opinion about practically everything, and he isn’t afraid of doing things differently. For example, he always leaves four seats empty every night, just in case someone decides to show up last minute.
Dedicated to support Toyama produce and craftsmanship, he also works closely with a local brewery in curating a fine pairing menu with their artisan sake.
Every dish at Sushijin is made with a meaning
Every dish at Sushijin is made with a meaning. The first course, despite the season, is always a cup of chawanmushi, or steamed custard, made to warm and coat your empty stomach. But instead of the typical cream-colored egg custard, Kimura’s recipe is bright pink, made with Kishu plum. Using local spring water and Yoshino kuzu starch, every spoonful feels smooth and mild on your tongue.
Next dish is what Kimura considers his business card—an introduction to his culinary style. Mimicking the symbolic colors for prosperity, he pairs red and white shrimp sushi on a plate. The white shrimp, a Toyama delicacy, is rested overnight between sheets of kombu seaweed and mounted generously on the vinegared rice.
In devising his original menu, he even considers the subtle difference between male and female fish. The meat of the female blackthroat seaperch, for example, is soft and delicate so he likes to use it for shabu shabu. While the male fish has a leaner and stronger texture, it is his favorite pick for skewers.
Shabu shabu is one of the best ways to enjoy the delicate flavors of local white fish, Kimura explains. The day’s catches are kelp grouper and blackthroat seaperch, quickly boiled to trap the umami inside. The warm pieces of fish are accompanied by daikon radish, grated using onioroshi or the “devil grater.” The wooden grater, handmade by his wife’s father, adds a wonderful chunky texture. Drizzle some citrus ponzu sauce for a fresh finish.
The male blackthroat seaperch is grilled on a skewer with flavorful negi green onions. The meat is cooked slowly over bincho charcoal until golden brown on the outside, and spiced up with some sansho peppercorns. On the side is a piece of sushi with a thick and juicy piece of boiled snow-crab, adding a beautiful contrast to the dish.
Now, the nigiris. At the heart of Sushiji’s sushi is the shari, the shiny rice grains with the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. Every day, he cooks two fresh batches of the aromatic rice, which are refined with a special blend of red and rice vinegar. The nikiri sauce that is brushed on top of the fish is made of Hata’s soy sauce and Masuizumi’s junmai sake.
The beautifully-marbled tuna, sourced from one of the country’s top vendors Yamayuki, falls somewhere between otoro and chutoro. Sweet, soft and deep in umami, the generous slice simply disappears on your tongue as it melds together with the perfectly-flavored rice. The piece of bigfin reef squid is so soft. Caught in Toyama, the mollusk is first frozen at -50 C to break down its tough texture. Then, he adds countless fine slits across each slice to soften the meat even more. The belly of wild yellowtail also melts on your tongue and leaves this lingering sweetness.
Committed in promoting his hometown, Kimura is all about getting his hands on the best local catches. He strongly believes that procuring the best ingredients depends entirely on your relationships with vendors, and continues to invest his time in visiting them. Sourced by Yamayuki, a key vendor in Toyosu, the tuna of the day is a local catch that weighed as much as 100 kg. The chef looks forward the season for tsuyu tuna, or summer tuna, that come through the seas of Toyama. Feeding off sardines, the meat has a such a rich, deep flavor.
The rice is grown by the wife’s family, right here at the foot of the Tateyama mountain range. Going against the popular trend for aged vintages, he likes to use new rice. Using a hagama rice cooker, he cooks the freshly polished large-sized grains for just ten minutes, making sure they are still al dente. The vinegar is a mix of red and rice vinegars. The salt is made by Suzu Seien Salt Making, located at the tip of Noto Peninsula.
Kimura stocks an excellent local sake selection, made up of at least ten different vintages of Masuizumi, a brewery located just half an hour away from the restaurant. He curates a sake pairing menu with only Masuizumi sakes, including his favorite junmai bottle that he recommends all his guests to try. The brewery has also produced a private label for the restaurant. “Our roots grow in the same soil,” he says. “Their sake and our food go so well together.”
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥4,000
- The price includes our booking fee of ￥4,000