Thursday, February 01, 2007

Do you like sushi?

If you live in LA, and want to dine socially, you better. Telling Angelenos you’re not into that Japanese cuisine can be like living in London and not drinking tea or lager. Trust me, I know, ‘cause I’ve done both. And been asked: “Dude, like, how can you, like, not, like, like sushi?” as well as: “No pint fer ya? Bloody Yank got no bollocks.” Apparently my picky consumption habits turned me into a pariah wherever I’ve been.

Here in Southern California, I often wind up being the limiting factor in a bunch of friends going out to eat. What do we want for dinner? Anything but sushi, I’d say. And the group would groan, like I’m so damn difficult. I swear -- it’d be easier to be a vegetarian in this town. Or keep Kosher.

It wasn’t that I hated sushi -- I just didn’t like it that much. I love seafood. And I’m not even adverse to eating raw fish. In fact, the only thing I find disgusting is the seaweed they sometimes use in those rolls. And any connoisseur would tell you that California rolls are to sushi what a cheeseburger is to filet mignon.

So there are all the other fancy varieties to eat, which I found to be just okay. Since they’re uncooked, they’re often flavorless. Then my friends advised me to add some soy sauce, ginger and wasabi. Sure, then your meal’s good, but add salt and spices to styrofoam and it’d taste better, too.

Everyone out here would rave about Roku-this or Tengu-that, but the few times I tried ‘em, I came away from the restaurant with an empty wallet, a possible case of salmonella in my belly, and a bland taste in my mouth. But really, I didn’t hate sushi.

What I did hate was the reaction from the masses, the false implication that I wasn’t an adventurous eater. So I decided I’d agree to go next time. Even though giving into peer pressure goes against everything I learned from those ABC Afterschool Specials.

But I also remember something my grandmother taught me. As a kid, whenever I said I didn’t care for a food she wanted to prepare, she’d talk about how my uncle used to hate eggplant. Then one day when he was older, he mentioned he was eating eggplant parmigiano, saying that now he loved it. “So you see,” Grandma would say, “your tastes can change.” Yeah, maybe. But it was hard to take the lesson seriously considering how often I heard it. The old lady was forgetful, sometimes repeating the same story several times in a single conversation.

She’s not the only wacky one in my family. I also recall the day after Thanksgiving, when many of my relatives were in town, driving me nuts. They all had different LA things they wanted to see, specific stores to stop at, or criticisms about California culture. Though I did my best to accommodate everyone, it was impossible. I dreaded planning the day-after-Turkey-Day dinner.

When they all declared they wanted sushi, I said fine. For once they were in unison and I didn’t want to be the voice of dissent. When they argued about which of the hundreds of Japanese joints here to go to, I put my foot down and picked a friggin’ place already.

Turned out, I chose the sushi restaurant with the worst service in town. Our edamame appetizer took an hour, the miso soup was cold, they screwed up every order and the waiter spilled soy sauce all over my aunt’s suede jacket.

But y’know what? The food was actually good.

Maybe I was just so damn hungry. Or relieved we finally got somewhere as a group. Or happy the relatives had food in their mouths to stop them from going on about how LA is so shallow and image-conscious -- an observation they made during the profound endeavor of label-shopping at the malls of Beverly Hills. Whatever the reason, sushi hit the spot that time.

Then the other day, our post-production team at the TV gig went out for an end-of-the-season celebration. When they suggested Katsuya for our last meal together, it wasn’t just the cuisine that made me pause, but the suspicion that I might not fit into the restaurant’s hoity-toity crowd or its decorations featuring minimalist paintings of Asian women’s eyelashes. Still, I said nothing ‘cause I didn’t want to be the monkeywrench in the sashimi.

And once again, I kinda liked it. This time, I could chalk up my enjoyment to the laughs we all had, recapping our workplace’s wackier moments. Or maybe it was that we put the tab on the network’s expense account -- expensive yellowtail tastes better when it’s free. Or the couple of cocktails -- good booze apparently goes well with raw fish, and there’s nothing like coming back to work tipsy from your double-vodka lunch.

Or maybe, just maybe, Grandma was right.


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