inner circle sushi
April 23, 2007 8:20 PM   Subscribe

I've been admitted to a very exclusive, yet humble, sushi-ya. What should I do and avoid, to become a star customer?

In my small neighborhood there is a hidden sushi-ya. While many are denied, I was admitted and seemed to bring enjoyment to my hosts. What do I need to know to enhance and preserve this relationship?

I can easily repeat my performance as an easy guest, but I'd like to do better than that without coming off as too eager. This spot is a few steps from my house, somewhat secretive and notorious for throwing folks out based upon small (and very American) infractions.

Any ideas?
posted by cior to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This probably isn't the advice you're after, but it's the most honest answer I can give you.

Be yourself.

Treat it like you would a first date. Anyone who rejects you for being you dosen't deserve you.

And quite frankly, who the would want to eat at any place that ejects people based on, as you say "small infractions"? I know I wouldn't want to be on edge while eating. I want to relax? Fuck, what is this place trying to be? The sushi-nazi?
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:25 PM on April 23, 2007

One thing to avoid would be acting too American.
posted by nomis at 8:32 PM on April 23, 2007

This site has some advice from a pereson who spent several years in Japan.
posted by katemonster at 8:38 PM on April 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by Dizzy at 8:39 PM on April 23, 2007

Practice good Japanese etiquette.
posted by plokent at 8:47 PM on April 23, 2007

You might find these threads useful.
posted by YamwotIam at 9:23 PM on April 23, 2007

There's a useful short discussion of how to become a beloved regular at a good sushi place in the first chapter of Turning the Tables by eGullet founder Steven Shaw. Anthony Bourdain specifically cites that section in his approving blurb on the inside front cover, for what that's worth.
posted by mediareport at 9:46 PM on April 23, 2007

Just remember that any good sushi place will offer you small bowls of salt outside the front entrance in case your soy sauce was not as salty as you would have liked. You are encouraged to partake of this salt as your needs allow.*

* Video proof! -- via previous MeFi
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:04 AM on April 24, 2007

In my experience, getting to know the itamae is a great way to be remembered on future visits. If he doesn't speak much English, that could be a problem, but small talk works wonders.

I have no idea what a "humble" sushi place that throws people out for "small infractions" is, but I'd much rather patronize a restaurant where I felt comfortable and relaxed, and where the owner/itamae welcomed me. If they throw you out for "being too American," then I wouldn't advise going there again. (It's not as if you can just stop being American...)
posted by armage at 6:05 AM on April 24, 2007

Use your fingers when you eat the nigiri.
Chopsticks are, of course, necessary with the sashimi, but never with the nigiri.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:10 AM on April 24, 2007

I highly recommend picking up The Zen of Fish: The Story of Sushi, from Samurai to Supermarket. It comes out in June and is absolutely fantastic. It's written by the guy who did The Secret Life of Lobsters. Well researched and full of trivia.
posted by Atom12 at 6:19 AM on April 24, 2007

Buy the itamae a beer. Kanpai!
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:42 AM on April 24, 2007

I'm sorry to get all meta but what is a sushi-ya? I googled but came up with a bunch of restaurants called sushiya. Is there an actual sort of secret sushi rooms regulated by soup-naziesque standards where it is common to ban or refuse entry to patrons? I'm really curious about this, can someone point me to a source that describes such an establishment? Or, better, could the OP provide a bit more detail about this place or other places like it?
posted by necessitas at 6:45 AM on April 24, 2007

Sushi-ya (寿司屋) is just Japanese for "sushi restaurant."
posted by armage at 6:51 AM on April 24, 2007

Oh! Here I was thinking I had stumbled upon some sort of velvet-roped sushi rave!

If it is such an exclusive place that entry is considered an honor bestowed upon "guests" rather than "customers, perhaps bringing some sort of temiyage would help enhance the relationship (as a display of awareness about Japanese culture, not as a bribe).
posted by necessitas at 8:12 AM on April 24, 2007

OP providing more detail: The spot is very old, run solely by an old married couple. She's the waitress, he's the itamae. It's nothing like a sushi rave.

My guess is that being old and very traditional has granted them a lot of leeway in terms of how they run their business. That amounts to a lot of people being turned away at the door and/or discouraged in various ways. People who speak at a normal volume are hushed, those who ask for delivery are denied, large groups are turned away, vegetarians are invited to leave with grunts of disaproval by the itamae, no one but the most-favored is invited to sit at the counter.

Yet, on the flipside, several known guests were treated with a huge outpouring of love and respect upon entry. I would like to become one of those patrons. I've got a decent sense of Japanese restaurant etiquette, this question is more about how to enhance my relationship with this couple and their business.

Would temiyage be too much? If not, what would be a good idea for a gift? Are there other things I can do or bring that will help win favor?
posted by cior at 9:03 AM on April 24, 2007

Not to be a jerk, because I love my neighborhood sushi-yas, but is this place so small and secret that the health inspector doesn't know about it? You are, after all, eating raw fish amongst other things. I'm a stickler when it comes to food prep safety.
posted by thecjm at 10:37 AM on April 24, 2007

Since they seem territorial about their restaurant, I would treat going there equal to being invited into their home.

I would suggest bringing fresh, nicely wrapped fruit - meaning its in a box with tissue paper. Not a whole bushel of something, like 2-4 beautiful pears/apples/oranges/etc when you come in. (something akin to Harry and David which doesn't seem to have a store in San Fran.. gah)

Offer it while holding the gift with both hands, bow and say:

Tsumaranai mono desu ga
(This is an trifling thing, but please accept it.)
posted by spec80 at 11:26 AM on April 24, 2007

You get that kind of relationship after time. To get there, you act polite, like a guest in their home, and with some awareness that you are honored by their acceptance of you.
posted by KAS at 12:07 PM on April 24, 2007

Ah, yes, gift fruit.
posted by mek at 6:06 AM on April 28, 2007

Yikes. Eliot was right: I don't dare eat a peach!
posted by Dizzy at 11:08 AM on April 28, 2007

Spend lots of money there, Silly.
posted by GIRLesq at 2:58 PM on May 2, 2007

Please don't listen to the insistence that you eat with your hands.

Only old men eat nigiri sushi with their hands. And I've only seen them do it in their home. In all of the dozens of times I've been to sushi places in a wide variety of cities in Japan, I've only seen someone eat with their hands one time.

In direct reference to the question, don't worry about being so perfect and formal, they don't expect it of you I think. They just don't want you to be noisy and disturb other customers, like American tourists sometimes do.

If you want to be a "star customer" either learn Japanese, give them really good business, or both.
posted by fan_of_all_things_small at 10:40 PM on December 4, 2007

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