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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Now You Sushi; Now You Don’t

I try my best to expose myself to other cultures.

(And I don’t mean putting on a trenchcoat and flashing foreigners coming out of the immigration office downtown, either.

Not since they posted the new rule, anyway.)

I mean, I like to learn about what other everyday people in other parts of the world do, and wear, and watch, and listen to and eat. Especially what they eat. I might need a guidebook — and some serious caffeine — to sort my way through a kabuki show or an Italian opera. But you pop a shumai or a canoli in my mouth, and I can taste what you’re talking about. Even if I no speaky the language.

Luckily for the missus and I, we’re now living smack in the middle of a veritable cornucopia of varied culinary riches. I can walk outside our building and practically spit on cuisine from all corners of the planet — Mexican, Indian, Korean, Spanish, Israeli, Japanese, Venezuelan, French, Chinese, Thai, Turkish, Tibetan, you name it. I think a Martian place just opened up down the street, and the Tatooine place around the corner always does a brisk business.

(Those guys can make womp rat taste like bantha steak. The Force must be with their spice rack.)

The point is, I enjoy sampling exotic cuisines when the opportunity arises. Especially when the opportunity arises itself within about a three-block radius from my house. I may be adventurous when it comes to food, but I’m still a lazy American. Don’t make me walk all the way to another country for my dinner. Chef, please.

There’s nothing I like more than a good boatful of sushi, and we have a place right down the street that serves some of Boston’s best.

(Which is, like, California’s pretty good. Or Tokyo’s passable, from what I understand. It’s all relative. I prefer to think of it as Peoria’s ungodly spectacular.

To the true sushi elite, Boston’s raw fish glass is half empty. But for some Midwestern town in the middle of a landmass and surrounded by burger joints — not so unlike where I grew up, coincidentally — Boston’s sushi fare would be sublime. Call me naive or call me an optimist; either way, my uni runneth over.)

When it comes to the actual eating, my wife and I know our respective limits — I’ll eat pretty much anything that isn’t actively trying to eat me back, while she sticks to dishes made from animals she can actually picture in her head. I say that limits her when it comes to whatsit fish or crabigator or whatever Mothra relative might be on the menu. But that’s her choice.

(And probably, it keeps her safer from an angry mutant swearing revenge on those who ate his poor, helpless, delicious cousins. I think she could probably hold her own in a fight with a salmon. Even if it had three eyes and a little Cuato carp growing under its dorsal fin. I have faith in her.)

“Last time we went in, the waitress found us in our booth stripped down to our underwear with hot towel turbans on our heads, bowing to the sodium-free soy sauce.”

Where we’re not so savvy, sadly, is in everything else to do with the sushi experience. That local joint we hit is kind of a ‘total immersion’ sort of place, complete with paper-walled private rooms and bamboo booths and such. It’s always a struggle to know if — and when, and where — to take off our shoes, when to bow and to whom, whether we’re supposed to remove anything else, and what all the utensils and tiny little dishes and hot accoutrements are for. Last time we went in, the waitress found us in our booth stripped down to our underwear with hot towel turbans on our heads, bowing to the sodium-free soy sauce.

(She explained that Kikkoman was not their god, and that if we got any sort of hair product on the towels, we’d have to buy them.

And also, to put on some damned pants before we freeze our stupid gaijin edamame off.)

Worldly, I’m afraid we’re not. But when it comes to the food, we’re more in our comfort zone.

Usually. But just last week, we found a whole new way to embarrass ourselves in front of our sushi hosts.

A while back, we found out that the place also features a ‘sushi bar’, complete with a conveyor-style parade of food traveling by for your perusing and digesting pleasure. We’d never experienced such a spectacle, and resolved to try it out as soon as we could schedule a date.

(And when we had a second mortgage secured on the condo. Fancy sushi doesn’t come cheap, we found out the hard way. I think half the reason for removing your shoes inside is to combat the “dine ‘n’ dash” instinct when the sticker shock of the bill sets in.)

That date was last Saturday for dinner, and we eagerly anticipated the raw fish cavalcade to come. When we arrived, we specifically asked the hostess if we could sit in the ‘sushi bar’ area. She shrugged us through and pointed us to two of several empty seats.

We sat and took stock of the place. The sushi bar was all that we’d hoped it might be, and much more. Instead of a simple conveyor belt, they’d built a waterway — an actual mini indoor canal — along which floated little flat wooden boats, tethered together stem to stern. On each boat was a mouthwatering sushi morsel on a porcelain plate, and covered with a plastic lid. The boats slid past in front of us, out of sight to our right, and reappeared around the canal corner to our left. We’d scored the best seats in the house for the floating feast of a lifetime.

By the time the waitress came by, took our drink orders and brought the beverages, we’d seen these boats go by two or three times, at least. And we were getting hungry. With the perfect advertisement right in front of us, we were a little puzzled when the waitress then asked:

You ready to order from the menu now?

Well… no. This is our a la carte night, our Adventure with a capital ‘A’. I get that we don’t look especially ‘native’ in a fancy sushi joint, but we were on top of this one. We knew where the action was. I smiled and politely indicated that we’d be sampling the various delicacies bobbing past us, but that we might need another round of sake in a little while, if she pleased.

The waitress gave me a long look — as though trying to determine whether I was serious, or maybe whether she could subdue me if necessary until the men with white coats were called. Finally, she straightened and said:

Yeah. Those not real. You need to order from menu now.

Preposterous. Clearly, they’re real — I can see them. I reached out and tapped a boat to prove it to her. That ninja voodoo mind trick business wasn’t going to work on me; we’re here for the good stuff, lady.

Those all plastic. Sushi bar ends at five. Now you order from menu, or we have to sell your shoes to cover bar tab?

I gaped at the waitress, then gaped at the closest floating boat. With its mouthwatering, picture-perfect tuna sashimi glistening in the light, which for some reason no one had taken to eat for three circuits around the bar and hey, why are we the only ones sitting in this area, anyway, and… oh, goddammit.

My wife and I had just sat drooling over plastic for twenty minutes, oohing and aahing at the fully synthetic — and probably highly toxic — morsels that were better suited as paperweights than appetizers. Frozen gaijin edamame, indeed.

I saved what face I could — since I hadn’t read one word of the menu — and said, “Fine. Just bring us one of everything that looks like what’s on these boats.

Which she did. Though she wouldn’t send them over on the boats, or flood the bar area and send them swimming down to us. She wouldn’t even bring them over one at a time, bobbing them in her hand like a choo-choo coming in to Flavor Station.

(Hey, I gave her options. Some people just don’t want to be tipped, apparently.)

But she did bring the food, and we did eat it and it was quite delicious. As delicious as stupid stationary non-seafaring sushi can be, anyway. If you’re into that kind of thing.

And now the missus and I have a tentative date to go back — before five on a weekend — to see what it’s like when there’s actual sushi at the ‘sushi bar’. But the moment has passed, a bit. We’ve seen the boats, and soaked in the atmosphere, been taunted by pseudo sushi — and had our excitement shredded in the rotors of those tiny cruel wooden rafts. Next time will be ‘tasty‘, sure. But I think the sushi boat has sailed when it comes to the Adventure.

Unless we convince the crowd to strip down to their skivvies and genuflect to the pickled ginger, maybe. That’d certainly spice up the sushi bar experience. No wasabi required.

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