We went to dinner last Saturday at 8:00 PM and arrived to a half-empty restaurant. Sat at bar.
Tojo started off by telling us that he would prepare us food we’ve never had before- amazing, different things that would surprise us. “Bring it on!” we thought, as we ordered some cold sake and settled into our seats. First up- chunks of tuna dressed with a ponzu sauce swimming in grated yamaimo (mountain potato) and topped with fresh uni. Delicious, fresh, subtle. Similar to dishes I’ve had but a fantastic version. The next dish would definitely count as something neither Jesse nor I had ever experienced before- morel mushrooms that size of golf balls, stuffed with a mixture of shrimp and scallops, flash fried and topped with a sauce. First of all, I’d never seen morels so large in my life- the ones here, if and when you can get fresh ones, are tiny in comparison. They were slightly crispy on the outside and the tender filling was the perfect foil.
Things just got better with a bowl of barely-cooked, thinly sliced octopus. Minus one suction cup at the very top, the slices were smooth and clean so it was hard to tell that it was octopus at all. Each piece was super tender and lightly dressed so the flavor of the seafood really came through. We were pretty happy at this point, but oddly getting kind of full.
Here’s where things started to go downhill, at least for me. No, the quality of the food didn’t fade (save for one soy-paper roll that was just inedibly soggy- we left it). Our sushi was all fresh, the toro was the best I’d ever had, the sweet shrimp succulent and tender. The problem was Tojo. Smiling, beaming Tojo. What could I possibly have against this sushi master? Here it is- his constant banter about what a sushi master he truly is. Between each course he couldn’t help but mention how people travel from far and wide to eat his food. Oh yes, he was on “No Reservations” of course. Isn’t this the best (fill in the blank) you’ve ever eaten? “Tojo’s food is the best! Tojo creates dishes like no other!” Look- I can appreciate when people have pride in their work, but this was too much. I started to feel obligated to give some over-the-top reaction and roll my eyes back in ecstasy every time I took a bite of something.
The real bummer came with this story that he not only told in detail but actually kind of acted out. He told us about one of his regular customers who was recently diagnosed with cancer. The customer called Tojo and said he wanted to eat his last meal at Tojo’s, so of course Tojo complied. Tojo then looks at me and Jesse, pretends to be this dying guy and motions with his hand like he’s picking up a piece of sushi, slowly brings it to his lips, puts this pretend sushi in his mouth, closes his eyes, sighs, then says “I can now die a happy man.” He then followed with “A LOT of people want to eat their last meal at Tojo’s.”
For the love of God, if someone is THAT good at what they do, is there any need to constantly run around telling everyone? It didn’t bother Jesse as much, but being Japanese I was stunned to witness such bravado from a fellow countryman. The melodramatic reenactment of this man’s last meal was enough to make that one meal at Tojo’s MY last meal there as well. I mean, what would Bourdain say? I guess I’d like to hope that he have a sarcastic comment up his sleeve for this sort of behavior but then again he’d probably tell a no name blogger (aka ME) that everyone has their quirks and the guy can cook so who cares?
For the record, the meal was the most expensive I’ve ever had at any restaurant- sushi or otherwise- other than Urasawa. No joke. Yes, the food was good, but certainly not worth the price. Nor the commentary.