skot AT izzlepfaff DOT com
Thursday, 19 May
Let's Go. (They Do Not Move.)
One night in SF we went out for sushi at a tiny little joint out in the Mission called Blobonko (I may have that a bit wrong). Our dissolute junkie friend J.Z. took us there, as she was pals with the owner/chef and her daughter, who was practically the entire waitstaff. We were also accompanied by some other friends, K., an amateur sword swallower (he's actually much funnier as a sword vomiter, but he doesn't like it when I say that), and his lovely wife A., a nonperformance artist--who is, I have to say, dynamite. She treated us to a bit of her act, and stood impassively silent for ten solid minutes while we watched and gently sobbed . . . it's hard to explain how moving it was. Anyway, you can check her out if she's touring near you; the show is called I Ate Grover (the Muppet), Now You Eat Grover (the President): Akinetic Liberty Variation IV.
Anyway. I should take a moment to point out that I do not, in fact, really enjoy sushi. In truth, I am a giant pain-in-the-ass picky eater, and well, cold fish just really isn't my cup of . . . cold fish. However, I usually am able to get by at these places, because they almost always have some hot teriyaki dishes or some such that will please me. And this place was no different--sure enough, they had teriyaki shrimp, which sounded great. They also had all kinds of interesting stuff that I'd never seen before, like a pickled bean sushi roll, and the usual baffling array of other things that I generally have no interest in, but the others chattered excitedly about all the weird crap they were going to order.
When the waitress got to me, I happily placed my order for the shrimp. "You want that as a dinner?" she asked. Well, I didn't want it for breakfast, but I thought I knew what she meant. "Sure," I replied. "Okay. You know that's about six or seven dollars more." Whoops. For rice and miso? "Oh, really? Well, then no thanks." But we weren't done. "You sure? You get rice and soup and salad and wizzle wozzle Batman anchor moustache wrenches!" I really had no idea what the hell she was saying, but the gist seemed to be it's totally worth the six bucks, stupid! I caved. "All right then! Dinner it is!" Unpredictably, now she seemed wary. "You suuuuure?" she crooned. Oh, Jesus, I don't even know any more. "Yes! Yes!" I hooted, mad with panic and desperation. "I demand the dinner!"
J.Z. laughed at my contorted state of mind and correctly decided that the immediate remedy would be sake. Quick as a wink it was brought out to the table and poured into our little glasses. "This is unfiltered sake," J.Z. said opaquely. And, appropriately, the sake itself was opaque, and sat in our glasses looking like lotion. I cautiously took a taste, and fortunately, it was delicious. K. and I had also armed ourselves with a giant bottle of Asahi beer, just in case.
The first appetizer dishes arrived with similar rapidity, and everyone set to. There was (I was informed) lotus root, which tasted exactly like something I desperately hoped lotus root would not taste like, which is to say that it was horrible. I was alone in this opinion, however, and so while the others munched away, I drank more lotion. Soon, another bowl of sinister-looking brown Platonic solids appeared. A. said, "Did we order that?" "Compliments of the chef," said the waiter (some other guy), and J.Z. beamed. Seems she was used to this treatment, and I'm not surprised, given her myriad Mob ties. "It's glomple tofu," clarified the waiter. (I may be paraphrasing.)
I stared at it apprehensively. As you may have guessed, I am no fan of tofu either, and this didn't even look like tofu anyway. It looked like a bowl full of makeup sponges impregnated with Medium Bronze base tone. "There's one piece for everyone!" crowed J.Z. fatefully. I resignedly stabbed at a piece with my chopstick, and popped it into my mouth; it was chewy and astonishingly supersaturated with some unidentifiable liquid. (Later our primary waitress, learning that we had gotten the stuff, helpfully offered, "Oh. I don't like that at all.")
There then came a bit of a lull in the service, and J.Z. explained that it was pretty normal for the place: flurry of food followed by a refractory period, then another flurry. We chatted for a while, drank some more lotion (second bottle, now). After about fifteen minutes, K. and I decided that it was time for a smoke, so we retired outside, exchanging tired smokers' jokes about how leaving the table would guarantee that our food would arrive.
And naturally we were right. Upon returning, I discovered a plate at my seat. My shrimp teriyaki! Sure enough, there were two shrimp on the plate . . . wait, two? They rested atop an alarming pile of cold fish chunks: some white fish, some salmon, and most terrifying, tuna. (Yes . . . I also hate tuna.) Around the plate was a nice-looking sauce. I resigned myself to the fact that this very unusual and inventive place had come up with the world's most perverse shrimp teriyaki offering ever. I dabbed the shrimp into the sauce and ate it--it really was delicious! It tasted NOTHING like any teriyaki I had ever eaten, and there were ONLY TWO SHRIMP, but ah, fuck it. It's a vacation. I even soldiered on through the rest of the cold fish on the plate except for the tuna, which I informed my tablemates in steely tones that I had no intention of eating, so dig the fuck in already. They did, and soon the plate was clean. Whew!
Then my shrimp teriyaki arrived. "What?" I quavered. "Then . . . what did I just eat?" The waitress sighed. "I love training new guys. I told him to put that in the center of the table." It was another complimentary dish from the chef, and except for the tuna, I had eaten the whole fucking thing.
Oh, well. It's not like the cold fish chunks had really blasted away at my appetite all that much, so I unskewered the shrimps and started eating: they were delicious, perfect really, and happily conformed to my notion of teriyaki. Wonderful!
Then the waitress returned again. "And the rest of your dinner!" she chirped, and began laying down an ominous array of bowls in front of me. "Seaweed!" she said. Then she laid down a basket full of vegetables. "Pickled crap!" she said. (Not really, but it was.) "Purple rice!" she excaimed. (Again, but it was.)
I slumped. "I already ate a whole fucking appetizer, you guys!" I whined, not mentioning that I was less than anxious to eat three bowls of seaweed. They, being troopers, helped me out. I did indeed try some of the weed, and hey, it wasn't bad! I tried some of the pickled carrots. Hey, not bad at all! Getting into it, I tried some of the pickled daikon. Hey, it was fucking awful! It tasted like vellum soaked in demon's bile. "Try the daikon!" I encouraged everyone.
Well, we eventually got through all the stuff, and despite all the mean things I've been saying, it really was on the whole good stuff. I know I'm a freak about food; just because I don't happen to like something doesn't mean I can't recognize quality cooking. And this was it. We settled back in our seats, sipping lotion, and waited for dessert.
And waited. And waited. K. and I had a couple cigarettes. We waited for half an hour. Then the whispers started. "This is getting kind of silly. And it's getting late." Ah well. I flagged our waitress. "Hi! Can we get the bill?"
She snorted a little and said sarcastically, "Oh, you've only been sitting here waiting for half an hour, so I guess so." We laughed appreciatively. She remained standing at our table for a few seconds, apparently thinking of something. We waited.
Then she launched into a four-minute speculation on how she was making plans to travel to London, whereupon she would find a way to make the British actor Jonathan Rhys-Myers her boyfriend. (No, seriously. SERIOUSLY.) I grinned fixedly throughout the speech, thinking, "Is this really happening to us?" I couldn't for the life of me figure out what was going on. J.Z. laughed politely and said all the right things shortly in such a manner as to indicate, No, really, we'd like to leave now. Finally, having exhausted her plans to bed a semi-obscure British thespian, she left the table. There was silence for a moment.
K. tentatively said, "I don't know if she's really going to get our check or not." We nodded gloomily. There was a palling sense that we were simply never going to be allowed to leave, and that we might remain there forever in the little sushi oubliette, wasting away our lives, relieved only by occasional visits by the waitress to tell us fresh tales of unrequited Anglophilic lust. K. and I smoked another cigarette, and when we returned, lo and behold . . . !
Well, it wasn't the bill. It was dessert, forty-five minutes after our last bit of supper. But our resistance at this point was broken, so we shrugged emptily and dug in to what appeared to be some sort of gelatinized substance--beets, I think? That doesn't sound so good, yeah, but of course it was, and anyway, by this time we had been so thoroughly beaten by this strange little place that we would have eaten whole horse hooves had we thought that it would mean we could get the tab.
And so we paid. And so we left. And so we went home. And for me, as someone who doesn't really dig sushi? That might have been the best time I've ever had not really eating it.
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Daikon is my food-nemesis. *shudders*
i wasn't laughing at you quite as much as you claim, pal.
dood, awesome Godot reference.
I have my own theories on what the potentially-beet substance was, but I'll keep them to myself until I may reveal the full truth and experience the glow of vindication. Also, thanks for clearing up the Jonathan Rhys-Meyers thing. I had no idea what she was on about.
You know, there is a piece of carpet on the other side of the world that has been beaten into baldness by me laughing at you so much I roll on the floor.
I know exactly what you mean. We do australo-asian CROSSOVER.
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