For a person visiting from USA (or Europe) it is not easy to find a particular restaurant in a Japanese city. The address system is surprisingly confusing. Only big streets have visible plates with English spelling of street names. Sushi Imai is a Michelin star restaurant and we were armed with Michelin guide, but still the restaurant was not easy to find. When we finally succeeded, we were only able to make a reservation for the next day, even though there were only two patrons sitting at the counter at this time. The reservation appears to be essential. Sushi Imai is a small sushi restaurant in Kyoto which accepts probably no more than 7 guests all seated along the counter watching how chef works. The fruits of his work are magnificent sushi, which tasted better than any sushi we tried elsewhere. Are they the best sushi in the world? We have not travelled wide enough to make such a statement, but one of the patrons told us that his work takes him to a lot of places and the best sushi in the world are served in Sushi Imai and for a fraction of price you pay in other places. It is not cheap, by the way, but you will pay three times more in famous Tokyo sushi establishments and the quality of fish is worse there. The owner/chef of the restaurant is crazy about sushi and all his life is about serving the clients the best quality sushi possible. Since preparing raw fish does not involve a lot of cooking, it all, I guess, comes to the selection of the best and freshest fish available and expert rice preparation. Large grain rice is from Kyushi. Wasabi is a real wasabi, not the colored horseradish from a tube that masquerades as wasabi the world over. You watch how chef grates it from wasabi root before your eyes. We have ordered dinner sets and it was quite an entertainment to observe the process of sushi preparation through the evening. The quality of sushi was superb. The dinner took about 3 hours. The bill came to 18,400 yen for 2 dinner sets with several beers (about $230).
Through most part of the evening chef was the only person working in the restaurant, making sushi, serving drinks and chatting with clients. He does not speak a word of English and our Japanese is not existent. Never mind, there is always somebody speaking English who is happy to serve as a translator. Chef apologized for not being able to accept us the night before. It is quite understandable, since he only can serve limited amount of clients. Later in the evening he was helped by one member of staff who served as a waitress. All together it was an unforgettable evening, the best sushi we ever had and a real adventure in eating.
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