April 4, 2012
Weekly contributor Stuart Thornton once wrote virtually an entire 900-word food review about a wrap he loved from a now-defunct Alvarado restaurant called Serendipity Cafe.
The headline was easy: "Wrap Star."
The relevant point for the purposes of this piece, however: The guy knows something tasty when he finds it—and isn't afraid to wax poetic about it. Over the years we've cracked crab at Portuguese Hall and over newspaper in his shoebox kitchen, talked the subtle art of hush puppies (he's a Southern gentleman) and stared into the fiery soul of The Sushi Challenge at Harumi (then he stared as my forehead sweat began to boil).
The other day he came across a movie Time magazine is hailing as a foodie's dream night at the movies, Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
"Critics have placed Jiro Ono’s 10-seat sushi joint on par with the restaurants of Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsay," Thornton writes. "
Check out an understanding of why—and why Thornton gives the flick three stars—below. The movie opens Friday at Osio Cinemas.
(In a related nibble: Sure, I get it, food is non-negotiable part of our existence, but that doesn't stop me from loving it when it surfaces in the movie section with sushi, or in the news section, as it did twice last week, with Kera Abraham's look at a new, creative and fresh marketplace at the Independent in Sand City and her peek into a whole new controversy around the fish food that made Monterey in the first place, sardines.)
Every night, 85-year-old sushi chef Jiro Ono serves a menu of just sushi to only 10 lucky guests inside a tiny sushi bar located within a Tokyo subway station.
Even though the restrooms are down the hall at Sukiyabashi Jiro, the restaurant has garnered multiple 3 star reviews from the Michelin Guide, which places Jiro’s unassuming establishment in the same league as Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville and Gordon Ramsay’s intimate, eponymous first restaurant in London.
Director David Gelb’s documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which looks into the daily workings of Sukiyabashi Jiro and at Jiro’s unwavering devotion to his craft, is a piece of art as meticulously crafted as Jiro’s sushi. Thin as a piece of sliced ginger, Jiro oversees everything in his establishment from the placement of his guests to the tenderness of the fish he will be serving that evening. But, sometime in the near future, his oldest son Yoshikazu will be taking over. At one point, a past employee of Sukiyabashi Jiro notes that Yoshikazu will have to make sushi twice as good as Jiro to be seen as the equal of his father.
While the burdens of living up to oversized expectations is one topic explored in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it’s also just a fascinating look at the preparation of sushi. The film leaves the sushi bar to accompany Yoshikazu on his daily trip to Tsukiji Fish Market, where a tuna dealer inspects the texture of a piece of fresh tuna with his fingers to determine how the rest of the fish will taste. A few minutes later, the market erupts with noise as auctioneers ring bells and theatrically sell the fish. It’s a glimpse inside another world.
Back at the sushi bar, Gelb documents the extreme dedication that apprentices must have to advance at Sukiyabashi Jiro. A new employee’s first duty is to simply provide a hot wet towel to diners. We also learn that it takes 10 years for an apprentice to be trusted enough to cook eggs in the restaurant.
Some of the most arresting scenes in the movie are Gelb’s exquisite close-up shots of Jiro’s sushi. A recurring shot of lean tuna (akami) looks almost like a near translucent gemstone perched on finger of rice.
The son of the manager of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Gelb includes several instances where the film describes the way Jiro runs the restaurant in musical terms. At one point, Jiro is compared to the maestro of an orchestra. In another beautiful segment, Japanese food writer Yamamoto says that Jiro’s sushi course is like a concerto. As Yamamoto explains how the three courses are similar to a concerto’s three movements, classical music plays as Jiro serves his guests.
Like good sushi, Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a small thing full of distinctive flavors. Good luck trying to resist wanting to hit up a local sushi bar after taking in the visual feast of Gelb’s documentary.