After you've lived
and eaten three meals and lots of snacks in each of them, you
start to think you've finally tried everything. At that point,
out to eat means you aren't in search of "new and different" so much as
"good and enough." Although I like lots of variety in other
of my life, I've never been the type to seek out exotic foods, so I
wouldn't have crossed over into "new and different" had my friends not
dragged me out to have sushi.
That was definitely their
Both Zack and Andy were regulars at Sushi Yama. Andy just loved
and, being a casual vegetarian (i.e., not a Nazi about it) he enjoyed
rolls and the like. Zack wasn't so nuts for the stuff, but his
Ken worked as the prep chef there.
I didn't know anything about
it was, how it was different than sashimi, etc. Zack and Andy
ordered a mix of things and we all shared. To my surprise, I
I loved the taste and texture of raw fish. I grew up in New
and I was sick of seafood. To be honest, I hated it. Having
been fed the stuff all my life, I would have been happy to never have
bite for the rest of my days. Of course, that was fried
This was different.
I was amazed first of all that
taste anything like I expected. Specifically, it didn't taste
at all. It didn't smell that way either. Most of us have
bad association with a few chance encounters with bad-smelling fish,
that's enough to instill a fear of the raw variety for a
Quality sushi can cure you of that aversion. This was completely
the opposite of a bad experience. For example, tuna in particular
was like an exceptional piece of rare steak without any trace of
and it was essentially cholesterol-free. You couldn't come up
a better equation for the perfect food for me.
"You like seafood now?" my mom
she heard I was going out for sushi (not really knowing what it
If she had, I would have gotten an ill-informed lecture about
"Well, yes," I said.
"But you hated fish growing up."
"Yes," I explained.
everyone in Louisiana ruins it."
I couldn't even tell you what
all we ordered
that first night. My friends just got me to try whatever they
ordering. It was a happy experience though not knowing what to
and being pleasantly surprised in virtually every case.
The only near-miss was actually
being grazed by a bullet. See, I noticed that the Japanese had an
unexpected fondness for avocados. They seemed to put them in
for one thing, so when I saw the green blob sitting on the edge of one
of the trays at our table, I thought "Oh, this must be the Japanese
As I reached for it with my
(which I was still using awkwardly at that point), Andy grabbed my
and said, "No!" He introduced me to wasabi. "Try a little
on the end of the of the sticks," he said. I broke off a
"No," he corrected, "Less than that." I scraped half of it
"No. Even less than that." I tried it.
Holy fuck, the stuff was
I was never a fan of spicy food when I lived in Louisiana, and I
didn't move to Texas out of a love for Mexican cuisine. Wasabi
even stronger in a seemingly equivalent amount. Fortunately, it
also short-lasting. Whereas the capsaicin-based spicy most
(inexplicably) enjoy tends to stick around and burn the lips, tongue,
(for an unfortunate few who aren't careful where they put their
sauce-covered hands) the eyes, at least the white-hot burn of wasabi
away almost as fast as its full intensity comes on.
It took less than a week before
to be regulars at Sushi Yama and hit the place for the specials just
everyone else: Tuesday for the half-price a la carte nigiri or
for the $10 bento boxes. Oh, and we'd do weekends too from time
time if Ken was working.
Everyone else came out for the
most nights as well. We found ourselves waiting outside the place
if we got there after maybe 7pm. The restaurant was situated in
elbow of a small shopping center in the middle of nowhere. Well,
it was surrounded by loads of tech companies, but it was "nowhere"
Presumably all the Japanese clientele poured in from the
They filled the place even though it held only fewer than a hundred
and were hardly staffed to handle even that many. There was
just Ken and the owner working the sushi bar plus one or two waitresses
(one of whom was the owner's daughter).
The crowd didn't die down until
9pm. We managed to get a seat well before then, but we always
around talking for hours. Most of the time the place was empty by
10pm except for my friends and me. Sometimes there were a few
patrons, but not many, and usually they were Americans as well.
seemed to last until around midnight. At that point the place
to kick into high gear again for some reason. Whereas the crowd
was mixed, the next wave was almost entirely Japanese. Maybe they
were jet-lagged and still living on Tokyo time? Although the
hours said they closed at 2am, it wasn't uncommon for people to be
until 4am, especially on weekends. Granted, I never stuck around
that late, but Ken was forced to keep serving them until the tsunami
The lull between these waves
was the most
interesting time for me. Ken was able to take a break or at least
talk with us while he worked at the bar cutting things up for the next
invasion of customers. Occasionally he'd ask if we'd ever tried
like, say, sea urchin. If we hadn't, he'd fix us some on the
It was the best way to be exposed to new things, and not just in terms
In addition to authentic
everything else about the place was right from Japan as well. In
the entryway were a couple of small bookshelves covered with all sorts
of Japanese publications: newspapers, magazines, anime books,
And, naturally, the place had karaoke. Granted, it was rare that
anyone actually went up and sang, but the player shuffled randomly
selections of backing videos on laserdiscs (this was 1998 after
These were almost random in their pairings of images with the lyrics,
montages of anything a videographer could capture around the city.
The only folks who actually did
were occasional groups of the aforementioned Japanese businessmen, and
only when they were completely drunk. It was unintentionally
something like you would expect to see on an Asian version of an
talent competition devoid of any real talent. And then factor in
alcohol-clouded judgment of proper intonation, articulation, and
and you have a recipe the Iron Chef couldn't compete with.
In spite of all this, aside
of similar happy insanity served up by YouTube or a few cartoons I grew
up watching, my interest in much else Japanese never really took
Except for sushi. Being bitten by the sushi bug left me
craving the stuff for the first few years, and while I'm not as rabidly
intense about eating it to the point I got kidney stones (true story),
it's still my favorite food/experience.