Simple is best, but simple is difficult. That is Chef Yasuo Suetomi’s motto. It is also why he takes great pleasure in personalizing each guests dining experience and making individual touches that you may not even notice. Walking into Suetomi is like walking into a private apartment, understated yet elegant, much like Suetomi himself and his food. The style here is kappo and sitting at the counter allows you full view of the master at work, but if you are in a small group, there is also a six-person private dining room. There is no menu here. The food is driven by the season and Suetomi’s desire to make it memorable for you.
You will need a good map to find Kasumicho Suetomi, and even when you are standing right out the front, you will doubt whether this is the right place. It’s a somewhat aged, slightly drab-looking typical apartment building in a tiny backstreet just off the main road. But don’t let the ordinary building and entrance deter you – the food and service inside is far from ordinary.
The simple minimalist interior allows you to focus on Chef Suetomi’s craft. The space has simple lines and natural colors, seen in the textured shikkui plaster walls, the clean and cooling presence of the hinoki counter and the white linen noren discreetly dividing the chef’s workspace from the back kitchen. Because chef Suetomi is a lover of fine art and well versed in aesthetics, depending on when you visit, the small alcove straight ahead when you walk in may be decorated with original works by Kusama Yayoi or Rosanjin.
Eat Seasons of Japan at Suetomi.
Without any menu or extensive explanation, what comes next after you are seated may be unclear, but you know you are in for a treat. The courses always focus on seafood and vegetables, but the exact content is left up to the chef, omakase style. The very simplicity of the dishes is what makes Suetomi’s style so challenging, and the key to success is having the best ingredients in the peak season.
Chef Suetomi takes inspiration from the seasonal ingredients serving dishes following a traditional kaiseki pattern. You might start with an abalone sakizuke course, followed by a wanmono dish of fish and vegetables, sea bream sashimi with uni otsukuri, grilled freshwater eel, and lightly salted grilled baby sweet fish. The course culminates in the seasoned rice dish, cooked especially for each group in clay pots. Enjoy the warming and comforting flavors to your belly and heart’s delight.
Chef Suetomi quietly and thoughtfully cuts, grills, simmers and places the various components of dishes served to guests. He is soft-spoken yet deeply thoughtful, just like his food. He loves to observe and responds in unspoken conversations.
To get an even deeper sense of one season, you can select one of the chef’s special seasonal courses focusing on one ingredient in many forms: hanazansho (Japanese pepper flowers) in early May; hamo in summer; suppon (soft-shell turtle) and matsutake mushrooms in autumn; and crab, in particular, the prized Taiza-gani in winter.
Because the quality of the ingredients determines everything, a major part of Suetomi’s work is nurturing relationships with suppliers, constantly trying new ingredients, tasting and assessing. He may try one hundred purveyors before he finds one that meets his high standards. One supplier is a friend of Suetomi’s. Rather fortuitously, he is one of a small number of fisherman at Taiza port in Kyoto, famed for rich and rare Taiza-gani crabs. This relationship guarantees delicious product for Suetomi to work with, and a full crab course is highly recommended by the chef.
Because he uses the highest quality ingredients, Suetomi focuses on bringing out the best in their innate flavors with minimal intervention in his authentic and careful approach. That is the essence of washoku.
Some of the plates, bowls and sake cups are so exquisite you will be afraid to take them in your hands. An incredible collection of antique items to suit the ingredients, the mood, the customer. A Min Dynasty ceramic dish, a Bacarat crystal bowl, Wajima lacquerware, Edo period pottery, a delicate wooden platter daintily holding up two small sweet fish. Suetomi has great respect for the skills behind the items and the hard work required of the artisans to master the craftsmanship.