Judging a good sushi restaurant

A reminder to those of you lucky enough to live in a town with good sushi: This is tuna season! Tuna that is caught in colder waters now has a lot of fat on it, so if you like the fattier cuts such as chu-toro and o-toro, then this is the time for you.

While we are at it, here is how I judge a good sushi restaurant, wherever it is.

  • Any restaurant should be clean, but a sushi restaurant should be impeccably clean. The windows should be sparkling, the counter and neta case (fish display case) spotless, and above all there should be absolutely no 'funny odor'. No oil smell, and certainly not a fish smell!
  • While it's possible to have inexpensive Japanese food, sushi is by nature expensive because the fish is expensive, and it's also very labor-intensive. So, in my opinion there is really no such thing as a cheap sushi restaurant. You can have acceptable sushi at a reasonable price in a city with a lot of sushi places, but you can't have good and cheap sushi.
  • The more popular a restaurant is, the faster the turnover, and the fresher the ingredients.
  • Mr. Kondo, the chairman of Tsukiji Sushisei, always used to get an order of some kind of simple sushi roll such as cucumber roll (kappa maki) at a sushi place he wasn't familiar with. A roll is a good way to judge the quality of the shari (sushi rice). The quality of the shari is the main indicator of the quality of the sushi and the skill of the chef.
  • The sushi shari should be proportionate to the neta (fish or other ingredient) on top of it. I am not a fan of jumbo-sushi. The shari should not be packed into a tight dumpling - the rice ball should be firm enough to hold together loose enough to fall apart in your mouth.
  • Generally speaking, the more Japanese expat locals you see at a sushi restaurant the better it is.
  • Finally, when it comes to sushi I am a traditionalist, so if a sushi place has exotica such as spider roll and hamburger roll, it's not for me (unless I'm in the mood to try the exotica). Generally speaking the more elaborate rolls are listed on the menu, the less likely that the sushi would be of top quality.

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