Sal DiBenedetto is an encyclopedia of dining recommendations. Researching restaurants is his passion, and snagging reservations is his superpower. It’s no surprise that while planning his trip to Japan with ANA, Sal zeroed in on the ever-enticing world of Japanese cuisine. As a result, he curated an itinerary that reads like a menu of Japan’s most beloved dishes and creative chefs. Congruent with both the Japanese culinary scene and Sal’s interests, a highlight of his trip was a chef-led sushi experience.

This particular meal starts with an inconspicuous door and an elevator ride. Sal has found his way into Tokyo’s Hakkoku and recounts the experience in exquisite detail — describing the restaurant as “a space that embodies simplicity, with zen yet masterful details.”

This isn’t a typical dinner reservation. Hakkoku seats just six guests and serves sushi omakase, Japanese for “I leave it up to you,” meaning the dish selection is left entirely to the chef. Dining this way is guaranteed to be a memorable experience, especially with the highly regarded Chef Hiroyuki Sato in control. 

“With only six seats at the chef’s table, this seat is a coveted place in Japanese cuisine. The energy in the room is light-hearted yet the cuisine is serious, bringing together moments of sophistication and culture told through food.”  

“I’m a firm believer that if you seek the truth about an island, you must know its shores. This experience laid that out with thoughtful precision,” says Sal. 

Complemented by carefully crafted rice, each cut of sushi expressed Chef Sato’s mastery of this iconically Japanese cuisine. The menu consisted of 30 pieces of sushi intentionally paired to showcase the chef’s heritage and passions.

For Sal, the honor of dining with a sushi master and engaging in conversation throughout the meal was a moment of awakening. 

“Crossing this monumental moment off my Japanese bucket list didn’t feel like an accomplishment but rather the start of a beautiful passion for omakase experiences. It opened the doors to a culinary world of Japan that you often hear whispers of but rarely get to experience. Each slice of sushi unlocked a piece of a Japanese culinary puzzle and when complete was a full circle of heritage and cultural dining,” says Sal. “It also taught me the essence of zen through crafting cuisine, a tier of Japanese culture that is often missed on the global cooking scene.” 

It is perhaps no surprise that Sal would eat at Hakkoku again. Describing it as “a sushi lover’s dream,” what made the meal sublime was more than the mouth-watering flavors and enticing delicacies — although they are not to be dismissed. A key part of this dream was “diving into the local bounty while simultaneously experiencing a Japanese tradition.” According to Sal, this meal and the overall experience is every foodie traveler’s dream come true. 

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