Sushi Jin: Self-taught master serves only the freshest fare

by

Special To The Japan Times

Toyama Bay boasts some of the very best seafood in Japan. Thanks to its unique geology — it’s one of the deepest bays in the country and is fed with snowmelt flowing directly from some of Japan’s highest peaks — it is home to an abundance of marine life forms, some of them rarely found elsewhere.

Just because the city of Toyama lies on the edge of this remarkable ecosystem with its ready supply of the finest, freshest fish, that doesn’t mean you are bound to find superlative sushi there. But you will at Sushi Jin.

Owner-chef Izumi Kimura has been here since 2005, slowly building up a reputation and devoted clientele in his hometown. These days, especially since the arrival of the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line, word has spread and customers are finding their way to him from much further afield.

With its discreet quarter-length brown noren curtain and weathered wooden sign board, Sushi Jin looks entirely old-school. Inside, though, it is welcoming and warm, with none of the intense formality found at many traditional Tokyo sushiya. This reflects both Kimura’s own character and his desire to give his restaurant a strong local identity.

Ask him where he trained or if he adheres to any particular sushi lineage, and he will smile and tell you he is self-taught. He used to work as a salaryman in the capital, but after realizing that so much of the good seafood he ate in Tokyo actually came from Toyama, he packed in his job and headed home. His goal: to support and promote the food of his prefecture.

The set lunch menus offer an excellent, affordable introduction to Kimura’s style of sushi. He uses a local red rice vinegar in his shari (sushi rice), imparting a gentle acidity and russet hue. And the neta (the seafood on top) is beautifully prepared, each piece lightly brushed with sauce, so no further dipping is required.

But having come all this way it’s really worth exploring Kimura’s full repertoire. Just drop a word in his ear — ask for otsumami (starters) as well as the sushi — and he will pull out the stops.

Golden Week is a great time to be in Toyama as it’s the very end of the season for one of the local specialties, hotaru-ika (firefly squid). These tiny cephalopods, each little more than a bite, appear on menus throughout the country but are always best when freshly caught. Kimura likes to pair them with uni (sea urchin), crab meat mixed with sushi rice and nori, topping them with a creamy white sauce made from shirako (cod milt).

Whether it’s delicate, translucent shiro-ebi (white shrimp), also straight from Toyama Bay, or nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) briefly swished in dashi soup stock, the quality is first-rate. He also has a superb take on chawan mushi egg custard, which he covers with a film of tart bainiku (pickled ume plum).

Instead of miso soup, he serves a thick broth boiled down from the unused parts of his seafood known as kabusu-jiru in the local dialect. But Kimura likes to call it “Toyama bouillabaisse.” It’s a strong and memorable way to draw the meal to a close.

Nearest bus stop: Nishidenshigata; lunch from ¥3,000; dinner from ¥8,000; Japanese menu; some English spoken.