Monday, January 07, 2008


In Spain, many years ago, I fell in love with tapas restaurants. The idea of multiple, discrete, snack-sized plates comprising a whole meal resonated perfectly. However, returning home, I discovered there was just no way to eat like that in the US; stateside, even the tapas restaurants missed the point. The closest possible experience was with Japanese food, so it was with Japanese food that my romance continued. I made up a new sport tonight while Sunshine was off with the band at a private party. Today was the first day since Christmas I've felt totally healthy and energetic. I was also tired of being cooped up on this side of District One. So, left to my own devices, I walked over to the relatively upscale area of Lê Thánh Tôn Street west of Hai Bà Trưng, where all the Japanese restaurants are. It was my treat for feeling so well again. What you don't see in the US, anywhere I've been, is a street like this one, lined with dozens of Japanese restaurants. This feeds my general indecisiveness when it comes to choosing food. Adding so many choices creates a period of tiresome deliberation: do I want to eat the fresh, surgically-apportioned craftsmanship of neat sashimi, or do I want to savor bowls of buckwheat noodle soup amid flat plates of exotic new appetizers? How can I possibly choose? Turns out I don't have to, now that I've invented sushi-bar hopping. Ideally, this should include one plate and one sake, shochu, or beer, each from a half-dozen (or more) different places up one side of Lê Thánh Tôn Street and back down the other. But tonight, during the inventing process, I only made it to two,* having multiple drinks and plates of food at each wonderful spot. [Cavin]

Then, a 1 sided conversation ensued...

To which Blogger Mr. Cavin added:

* I didn't get the name of the first place I hopped tonight: a cool curtained-off glass room with a blond wood bar six seats long. Two of the chefs were Vietnamese, but were speaking Japanese behind the counter. The stern man looking over their shoulder might have come strolling from a Hokusai print in his blue checkerboard kimono. I had perfect barbequed eel, not too sweet, seared crispy down its butterflied double dorsal ridge. I had what was called a vegetable salad on the menu, phonetically, which consisted of shredded cabbage, wafer-thin fried fennel root, chips, and shaved daikon and jicama, all artfully brindled with yellow herbal mayonnaise (you can't win ‘em all). The star of this meal, for me, was the octopus sashimi rolled in grilled cod roe, a flavor combination at once pleasingly metallic and cozily sea-salty. I had two small sakes.

The second place I ate was my favorite little yakitori bar in town, Wasabi Japanese Restaurant. This is the night I first ate there (it's the first haven mentioned). It's a homey, intimate little space which was, tonight, filled up with heavily smoking old Japanese men who all shouted the greeting when I walked in the door. The waitress wanted to seat me upstairs, but I wanted to sit at the bar with the waving cat and watch melodramatic feudal soap operas on the Chinese station. Here I had a bowl of hearty pink fishcake yakisoba soup and a larger-than-expected plate of seared tofu slabs and eel floating in a caramelized onion sauce the consistency of cooling jello. It developed a skin as I ate it. I had Vietnamese 333 beer.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008 2:45:00 AM  

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