Jiro Dreams of Sushi
If I had to choose one food to eat for the rest of my life, it would be sushi. (Or fried chicken.) (No … sushi.) I guess that’s cheating, isn’t it? It’s like saying “I’d like French cuisine,” or Cajun, or Mexican, or Swedish smörgåsbord. So sushi would be the one type of food I could eat for the rest of my life. It is incredibly varied. It’s a hell of a lot more than a hunk of maguro tuna and a California roll.
I’ve eaten sushi at fancy and expensive bars in Hollywood and New York, but the best I’ve ever had was in Vancouver, B.C. It was in a little storefront on Broadway a few blocks east of Cambie. I was in town for a month doing re-writes on Millennium with Philip Borsos. (It didn’t work out.) We went there half a dozen times. There were three or four small rooms where parties of people could gather to sit on the floor, but we never went there. The place to go was the six-seat bar, where a man named Tojo (no relation to Hideki … I think) served the best sushi in town. What you would do would be to sit down, smile, and say “Tojo, feed me!” And he would smile back and start setting out the most amazing creations, things you would never see on a little boat or a choo-choo that circles around the bar. You wouldn’t even see them in the fancy places in Hollywood. Tojo was a master, an artist, and made up half of his dishes. Plus, his standard nigiri and maki items were the best I’d ever had as well. I sure would like to go back there, but I’m pretty sure it’s gone.
Jiro Ono (no relation to Yoko … I think) is 85 (90 now, if he’s still alive) and has worked at the same job for 75 years. That job is sushi, from his boyhood of cleaning the equipment to today when he runs what is probably the smallest Michelin three-star restaurant in the world. (Three stars is as high as they go.) There are a few other three-star sushi bars in Japan, but Jiro’s is the most famous. It’s in a subway station. There are only ten seats. You have to book a month in advance, and it will cost you ¥30,000 (about $300) to get a seat. From there it might cost you more, depending on what’s on the menu that evening. For that you get twenty courses, which is quite a bit. All in all, it’s not an outrageous price. Jiro is not getting rich; he really doesn’t care about money.
This is a fascinating movie. Jiro’s oldest son is 60 now, and has apprenticed to Jiro all his life. He reminds me a bit of Prince Charles, waiting for the old lady to die so he can step out of the wings. But both men are already a bit old. Still, number one son doesn’t complain. At his age he still rides a bicycle every day to Tokyo’s sprawling fish market. There, Jiro and son patronize only the best tuna man, the best eel man, the best shrimp man. They buy their rice from the best rice man in Japan. Everything has to be the best, and at 85 Jiro is still always dissatisfied with what he produces. He feels one can always get better. He is such a fanatic, has such attention to the smallest detail, that when he notices a patron is left-handed, he re-orients the pieces of sushi 90 degrees to make it easier to pick up. (Jiro is left-handed, as am I.)
It is a visual feast here. I wish it could be a real feast, though I’m sure my pedestrian American palate would not be able to appreciate the full gloriousity of the food. Still, I’d happily spend $300 to try his left-handed sushi. I would walk in, sit down, and say “Jiro, feed me!”