“The French have foie gras, the Japanese have ankimo,” I am told, as I begin my two hour course that quickly becomes a lesson in all things fish at Gyotoku’s Daikoku Sushi. My unsuspecting professors are the three well-seasoned Japanese gourmets at my table, as well as the head sushi chef, his wife (who prepares all the cooked dishes), and his son, also a sushi chef. They are correct about the ankimo of course (pictured below). As I press the cool, smooth monkfish liver against the roof of my mouth, I note that despite its creamy similarity to the French delicacy, it is surprisingly light and fresh tasting with its topping of shaved scallions and tangy sauce.
We move on to the seared katsuo, topped with shaved myoga ginger, daikon radish, and onion, and served in a cool, sweet sauce. A classic dish, and one that I had always thought I disliked until trying Daikoku’s version. Because it loses its freshness after only one day, katsuo was a fish truly sought over in the Edo Period, and it was even fashionable to borrow money just to purchase it, says our presiding gourmand. There seems to be a lesson about each course, and I am starting to instinctively reach for my notebook.
We move on to a delicious nuta: sashimi and wakame seaweed in a thick yellow miso sauce. From there, we dig in to a immaculately presented sashimi plate (pictured above), served with a side of boiled intestines of the tsugai shellfish whose sashimi we also enjoyed. Highlights of the sashimi plate included the raw fin of hirame (grey sole), as well as the aoyagi shellfish, also known as bakayagi (essentially, “stupid clam”, due to its habit of biting it’s own tongue). At our particular table, this is followed by a discussion of how to tell hirame from kare, which, while I won’t go into the specifics, results in the sushi chef bringing out whole, dried fish as visual aids to our lesson. I just hope I won’t be quizzed later.
We then feast on arani, the steamed parts of fish that don’t get used in sashimi, and hamaguri (Japanese clams, distinguishable by their curved, not flat, shells), and dobimushi, a fragrant soup of matsutake mushrooms, lime and shrimp. We drink the smoky hirezake, a sake with broiled blowfish fin that you light on fire briefly before drinking (see photo below). All were unusual and flawlessly executed.
And yet, we still have yet to taste any sushi. But at last, it arrives, on a simple traditional wooden plate, classic and easily palatable to any casual sushi eater. Of course it is impeccable, but my highlight is the care behind the second tray that arrives: fearing for the inexperience of my foreign tongue, the sushi chef has prepared a plate of yakitoro sushi (slightly grilled tuna) just for me.
Each time I visit Daikoku, I learn something new about fish and inevitably try dishes I have never heard of. On the wall is a large wooden plaque, listing the fish vendors with whom Daikoku has exclusive relationships, as well as the other Daikoku restaurants around Japan. This is not simply one of a chain, however, rather a network of apprenticeships. After spending years studying and working at a Daikoku, they will allow the budding chef to use the Daikoku name when he or she opens their own sushi shop.
In the way that it does business, in its family atmosphere and kind service, Daikoku is a truly traditional place. This is the ideal place to trust the experts and just ask for omakase (chef’s choice). Your wallet may not thank you, but it will be a meal not easily forgotten.
Chiba-ken, Ichikawa-shi, 2-12-13
Near Gyotoku Station, Tel: 047-395-0009