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October 14, 2009 in restaurants2 comments

in which we go out for japanese

tone eats tuna nigiri!

You know what sucks about dining in a small town? Other than 99% of the options being fast food or variations on TGI O’Applebee’s?

What sucks is the insufferable smugness of the locals who’ve a) found the rare gems of ethnic cuisine and b) are adventurous enough to enjoy them.

It’s not quite like that in larger towns. Nearly everyone is open to try nearly everything, and smugness is generally limited to status, not cuisines. People might get insufferably smug about scoring a dinner at Charlie Trotter’s, but hey, if you want to dump several hundred dollars on a meal, I’ll grant you that right.

In Chicago, I had five excellent Middle Eastern restaurants within a few blocks’ walking distance of my apartment. I knew which one was best for takeout, which had the best falafel, which the best spanakopitas, and the one great for taking visitors because it offered traditional floor seating on pillows, and hookahs, versus the one great for taking parents to that had bright open air seating and friendly waitstaff. There were also two Japanese restaurants, some Mexican bakeries, at least 3 tiny Thai joints, an old school Italian restaurant with a college town feel, and a bustling Little Saigon just a few blocks away with innumerable pho shops and storefronts with skinned ducks hanging in the windows.

No one was smug about the food. How could you be, when the owners were your neighbors? It was a wonderful variety, but it was also normal. What do you feel like tonight? Thai? Greek? How about that new South American place doing for that continent what Hi Ricky did for Asia? Or maybe just pizza.

Here, though, options are much more limited. That’s why I was so happy a few years ago when a Japanese place opened up in Saginaw called Hello Sushi. I went a few times, but no one I brought with me took a shine to the cuisine, so I was reduced to driving by it sighing longingly, wishing to have someone new to spring it on to.

Enter my cousin, in town for a few weeks. Yay! Someone new to drag out for sushi! After a long day working on our aunt’s house, we headed to Hello Sushi.

green tea at hello sushi

To start with, I got some green tea. The mug had no handle. It was hot.

He ordered a Bud Light. Later he told me Sapporo was a horrible beer, and I should try it. Much in the same way as when you smell something rank, and all you can do is stick it in front of someone else, going, “You’ve got to smell this! It’s awful!”

miso soup. blech.

I don’t remember what he ordered was called. But it came with a tiny salad with ginger dressing, and miso soup. It was at this point that he suggested I begin taking pictures.

futo maki and pickled ginger! my favorite!

I ordered futo maki and unagi as appetizers for us. Tone’d never had sushi before, and I had never been brave enough to try raw sushi before. The waitress recommended the unagi (barbecued freshwater eel) to begin with.

futo maki to the left, unagi to the right

Unagi has just about the prettiest sushi presentation ever.

I heart futo maki. Futo maki is just a big sushi roll. It’s usually made with 3 or 4 different things, but I don’t recall what was in this one. It’s vegetarian though! Yeah, Japanese restaurants and even sushi is often really vegetarian friendly.

Tone didn’t seem too fussed at eating seaweed.

shrimp something

He had some shrimp thing with bean sprouts as an entree.

vegetable tempura. how'd they get the asparagus to stick together when they battered it?

I had a vegetable tempura appetizer myself. I hear that the trick to tempura is keeping the batter as light as possible, and if that’s true, I suspect they succeeded. My tempura was thin spears of asparagus and a couple starchy vegetables. One seemed like potato, and the other was sweet, but didn’t taste like sweet potato.

tuna nigiri

Then we decided to try some more raw fish, so I asked the waitress what she’d recommend for our second try, and she suggested the tuna.

tone's gonna eat some tuna nigiri

So the entire while I’m snapping these photos and our waitress, who kicked major ass — she was friendly and down-home chatty — is becoming more and more bemused with us. Did I mention we were dressed in total work clothes, and entirely filthy? Yeah, I forgot to mention that. We looked like we worked in a 1930s coal mine or something.

So as we’re getting ready to go, I’m thinking an action shot of the sushi chefs at work would be a great addition to my tale. I go up front and ask the waitress if the restaurant would mind, and I think she misunderstood me, because she was like, “Oh no, they’re too busy.” Yeah, I’m too busy trying not to roll my eyes. Of course they’re busy. I don’t want them to stop and pose. I just want to get them in action. “Come back sometime when they’re not quite so busy.” Cool, I’m down with that.

But then…then! Some lady waiting to be seated pipes up. “Yeah,” she says, “you have to come every week like we do.”

For some reason, that ticked me off. You know what, lady? I may be dressed blue collar, but I’m not some fucking rube. And neither are most blue collars themselves, either. So take your smug little attitude and stuff it in some seaweed, mmmk?

Sigh. I know I’m being too cranky over this. I’m sure she meant well. I just took it the wrong way. In fact, I know I took it the wrong way. Oh well. Everyone has the right to be unrighteously indignant once in a while, right?

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  1. Stuart says:

    From the description of your neighborhood in Chicago, I’m guessing Uptown near Argyle. I miss the pho around there…

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