January 24, 2018

Have a smile — Below the beltway

Friday, May 12, 2017

Let them eat fish

By Gene Weingarten
The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Have you ever had a restaurant meal for two that cost US$150? I have, but only rarely.

Have you ever had a restaurant meal for two that cost US$250? I have, but only very rarely, on very special occasions. Each time it vexed me a little, partly because of the wretched excess when others go hungry, but mostly on cost-benefit analysis. For that kind of dough, you could buy, say, an antique lamp that you will own for another 30 years and then pass on to your progeny. A single US$250 meal, however, will last about 12 hours and then become money that you have literally flushed down the toilet. Yes, the analogy is disturbing.

Have you ever had a restaurant meal for two that cost US$450? Neither had I until a few weeks ago, under unusual circumstances. I had given some editing advice to a journalist friend for a story she was working on; she said that the next time I was in New York City she would take me out to dinner and spend what she wound up being paid for the story. Her story fee turned out to be US$400.

As it happens, just a few weeks later I was in New York to attend a 90th birthday party for my beloved Aunt Jeanie, my father’s baby sister. Family and friends met for lunch at a cute Italian restaurant on Long Island that offered up a lavish cornucopia of hearty, tempting food. How boundless was this meal? Pizza, fully loaded, was just one course out of seven. Alas, I had a dinner to go to in just a few hours.

I sat next to my aunt, who seemed concerned that I was only pecking at salad and shrimp. Solicitously, she asked if everything was OK. It was, I said, cheerfully, without giving details. (Aunt Jeanie grew up during the Depression and is no wastrel. The details might have killed her.)

For dinner, my benefactress and I wound up at one of the city’s trendiest restaurants, Sushi Nakazawa, in the West Village. It was unpretentious-looking, unintimidating both outside and in, which kind of emboldened me to be myself. I don’t want to brag, but I think I am extremely knowledgeable about Japanese cuisine.

The first thing I did was ask for hot sake, which turned out to be an error of some magnitude. Sushi Nakazawa does not offer hot sake, apparently for the same reason the bar at the Pierre hotel does not offer “rotgut.” Cold sake, it would seem, is what actual adults drink.

The second thing I did was request soy sauce, which wasn’t on the table. The waiter managed to remain calm and respectful while dryly informing me that all necessary condiments are already infused into the dishes in the appropriate combinations. My request had apparently been quite gauche, like ordering a porterhouse steak at Delmonico’s, then fishing out of your pockets some McDonald’s ketchup packets.

It was at that point that I decided to just shut up and eat.

This restaurant is so self-confident that it has no food menu. Everyone orders omakase, which appears to be a Japanese term for “you’ll take what you’re given and you’ll like it.”

We did, and we did.

The next 45 minutes passed in a sustained, rolling gustatory orgasm. Neither of us was speaking, unless you consider gasps, moans and the bugging out of one’s eyeballs to be language. How great is this restaurant? Right in the middle of eight courses of succulent raw fish, the chef slyly inserted something that was not succulent raw fish but tasted like it. It was raw beef, specifically some of the best beef in the world, A5 Wagyu rib-eye from Miyazaki prefecture. Like Jesus with the loaves and fishes and water and wine, Chef Nakazawa had wrought a similar miracle. He’d turned cow into fish.

We left very happy. I still haven’t confessed to Aunt Jeanie why I ate so little at her party. She’ll find out when she reads this column and will forgive me my trespass because that’s what favourite aunts do.


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