Off Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles’ Sherman Oaks neighborhood, Chef Kiminobu Saito’s sushi operation is both extremely serious and not-so-serious. Saito’s Sushi Note, open summer of 2018, manages to blend a hang out atmosphere with millimeter-perfect cut sushi, a wicked wine list and what are essentially rice tater tots (topped with fresh fish, naturally).
But don’t mistake Chef Saito’s whimsical restaurant for a casual approach to Japan’s most famous cuisine — he has been at this for decades, and his gear shows it. Namely, his knife, which he bought more than 20 years ago and is still going strong (he sharpens it weekly). From an indestructible knife from a famous bladesmith to a sharkskin wasabi grater, these are the things Chef Kiminobu Saito couldn’t live without.
Honyaki Yanagi Knife
“My favorite knife is my Honyaki Yanagi. I purchased it in 1997 in Japan. It’s made using the same technique used with Japanese swords. You can even see the impressions left by the heat and pounding process. My father had a passion for swords and ceramics, and I grew up with an appreciation for this style of craftsmanship. It’s the knife I treasure the most, and I use it as my main knife. I use it for sushi, sashimi and especially for breaking down large fish and turning them into smaller filets. As for care, I keep it very simple; I sharpen all my knives once a week, spending about 30 to 40 min on each knife. Then I keep them dry and in a case when not in use to avoid rust and dings to the knife.”
Tenzo Sharkskin Wasabi Grater
“One essential tool in the kitchen is my wasabi grater. Made of shark skin, the fine surface makes for a creamy wasabi paste. I prefer using fresh wasabi root, as opposed to powdered wasabi, to keep the traditional flavors intact. Not to mention, there are many unnecessary additives in powdered and tubed wasabi. I use fresh wasabi for all my sushi and sashimi, but it can also be used for steaks. One of my favorite recipes is to mix fresh wasabi into soy sauce, then use that mixture when searing steak. You can also add a pinch of the fresh wasabi on top before serving. The root is much milder and will not be overwhelming to the dish.”
Yamakawa Rice Warmer
“The rice warmer is one of my most essential tools in the restaurant. It’s an electric warmer that holds its temperature for as long as you need. The older styles were not electric, which meant you had to keep the lid on as much as possible and cover the rice with a towel. And once the temperature went down, I wasn’t able to reuse it. I now have peace of mind knowing that I can work an entire service without my rice being compromised.”
Electric Seaweed Crisper
“I want my seaweed to be as crispy as possible, which I achieve using my electric seaweed container. It’s very low tech (it heats the seaweed with a small light bulb!) but it makes a world of a difference. In fact, any store-bought regular seaweed can get much crispier using this. Once you open a bag of seaweed, the moisture in the air will make it soggy, but this container stops that from happening. Many other Sushi Note chefs have actually broken their seaweed when making hand rolls because of how crispy it is.”