Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Itacho Sushi (Bugis Junction): two and a half out of three ain't bad...

Itacho's paper mat teaches you how to eat sushi properly
I'm a big fan of sushi and because of that I can be quite demanding when it comes to judgement, so before I start the post proper, let me just say that Itacho is a great Sushi Restaurant and that anyone who claims to like sushi will not likely regret trying it out.  It does not score on every level, but it hits more than enough yardsticks to put it on a class far above that of a particular popularized conveyer belt sushi restaurant (hint: think green logo) that is well received in Singapore for reasons unknown...well, maybe it's because most of us do not actively seek out good sushi and hence don't really know better; if that's the case, then please allow this post to show you what sushi should really be like.

When it comes down to it Sushi is a really simple dish, and therein lies the farce.  Simple it may be, it is also extremely difficult to get right.  The less ingredients a dish involves, the less factors one has at one's disposal to control its taste.  That means that every phase and ingredient involved in its preparation must be done as expertly as possible in order to produce a delicious meal.  Of course, that goes for almost every type of food, but these matter especially so in cooking simple foods.

I believe that there are 3 key factors when it comes to preparing Sushi, namely:
1. Freshness of the ingredients used
2. Quality of the cuts used
3. The skill and effort put into crafting the sushi. 

~3.5. (and of course cleanliness is a universal factor)

Itacho scores well for the first two criteria but perhaps not so much the third.  I will explain why below.

Quality and Taste:

Fatty Tuna with Spring Onion Roll ($6.50)
This was the first dish that arrived on my table and it is also the prime culprit for my impression on Itacho's lack of skill and effort in crafting Sushi.  As a disclaimer, I did notice that the Rolls in Itacho Sushi are not freshly prepared but are instead taken out of foil wraps from their fridge then put neatly onto plates when ordered.  However, that does not mean the dish will be judged with special leeway.  Any dish that appears on a Restaurants menu should match their standards, if not Restaurants might as well put a (beware of lower quality) sticker beside their lousier dishes.

Roll breaks apart when simply lifted
So, why do I say that this dish is not properly prepared?  First off, there is a lack of balance in its flavor, in that the tuna used was inconsistent and some of the rolls had an overwhelming taste of seaweed.  The rice was cold, again disrupting the delicate balance of the dish.  Lastly, there was a clear lack of physical strength put into rolling the sushi, resulting in a brittle structure that easily falls apart.  The tiny air pockets trapped between rice grains also affect the overall taste slightly.  

With that said, the Sushi does score on many other factors, all of which remained consistent with the other dishes I ordered.  The rice used was of good quality (which is precisely why it shouldn't be served cold to demean its taste).  It had just the right amount of stickiness, chewiness and fragrance. it was also seasoned well by the chef(s) to have just the right mix of vinegar, salt and sugar, resulting in the subtle but sophisticated style of smooth, ever-so-slightly sour-sweetness that any properly done sushi rice should have.  The Tuna was also of good quality, with a robust, fatty taste that melts in your mouth and leaves a delicate lingering aftertaste in your mouth.

Left: Fatty Tuna and Spring Onions Gunkan ($2.80)
Right: Roasted Kagoshima Beef Sushi ($4.80)

This was the second sushi that came.  The components of the sushi are close to exactly the same as the previous roll, but the presence of warm rice made it almost twice as delicious.  The warm rice mixed with the slightly cold Tuna really does work well to complement each other to leave a satisfying feeling on your taste buds.  The balance of ingredients here was better, although a little too much minced tuna was used, disrupting the overall taste of the sushi.  This again owes to what is possibly lazy crafting of the Sushi. 
The second Sushi on the plate was the Kagoshima beef Sushi.  This one was great!  The beef used was undoubtedly of high quality as its tough, marbled fats made me anticipate the flavorful natural juices that leaked out with each and every bite.  The addition of some ginger and spring onions really helped to compliment the beef too.  Besides for the mere quality of the beef used, the preparation here is also deserving of praise.  The meat was served as two slices atop the rice rather than a whole piece; this helped with chewing the Sushi due to the natural toughness of the meat and hence its difficulty to cut by teeth.

Left: Fatty Yellow Tail Sushi
Centre: Swordfish Sushi
Tuna Sushi:

Good things come in 3

The Yellowtail Sushi was mild and tender and as with most good Yellowtails, the texture was smooth and just a little tougher than tuna, making for an irresistible  choice for those who prefer lighter flavors.

Some people don't seem to like swordfish due to its rather dense texture and resilience to the bite whilst offering not as much flavor as Tuna.  I however love it for its meatier texture and extremely light salty taste which is best enjoyed with eyelids shut and mind clear over long chewing sessions.  Itacho did not offer what I would consider as extremely good swordfish, but it was delicious nonetheless.  The solid texture was not as apparent here and might be preferable to some who dislike the toughness of normal swordfish. 

Tuna...the epitome of Sushi
At last, we arrive at the Tuna, the fish that truly defines sushi and best reflects the ability of any Sushi Restaurant to pick good fish.  The slice of tuna that Itacho served was definitely from a Tuna that was a notch above most of his friends in the fish market.  The Tuna was subtly flavored-as it should be-and had no stench to it; it was very fresh and had a dense but delicate texture.  The amount of wasabi put into the sushi -as with most of Itacho's Sushi- was just right if not just a little less than ideal.  I wouldn't say this is top notch but it is surely one of the better Tuna Sushi's I've had in Singapore.

The higher price tag of Itacho's Sushi may scare off more casual Sushi eaters but the quality of the ingredients they use does justify its pricing.  The prices here won't win any over the top bargain awards but it is definitely more than acceptable.


Plastic plate feels just a little cheap
The ambience at Itacho was decent.  Besides the soft, Japanese music in the background, the Restaurant had a clean and refined design that involved lots of lightly colored wood which offered a sense of elegance when paired with the average dim yellow lighting.  However, the cheap looking plastic plates they used for some Sushi did contradict the overall feel a little. 

Chefs hard at work
A bonus point to mention however is how clean the place is.  I was sitting at the counter and noticed how the chefs made a good habit of cleaning up their workstations and equipment after making each Sushi.  This is always good to have at a Sushi place.

Itacho Sushi nails the freshness and quality of their sushi very well but the amount of skill and effort put into their Sushi is a little half hearted.  Whilst some of the Nigiri were well prepared, such as the Kagoshima Beef, the laziness of the Tuna Roll is a definite offset for their rating. 

Ultimately though, Itacho is a Restaurant that serves up good quality Sushi that most Sushi lovers will most likely love. 

As for those who have only eaten at a certain Sushi chain store I mentioned earlier (think green again), I would highly recommend that you try Itacho out and decide for yourself what Sushi really is. 

Quality & Taste(75%)
I find it hard to give them anything closer to a solid 8 due to some inconsistencies but its great Sushi nonetheless
Value (15%)
decent value that is more than acceptable
Ambience & others (10%)
7.0 Ambience is pretty good though cheap looking plates hold it back from higher scores
Easy choice for any Sushi Lover

Operating Hours:
Mon - Thu: 11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Fri - Sat: 11:00 am - 11:00 pm
Sun: 11:00 am - 10:00 pm

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