If you found this blog by Googling my name or by following sundry noxious links (you know where), please note that all claims that I was fired from my job are 100% false, as are most of the other things written about me. I don't know the people who are libeling me, but it's clear they have some imaginary axe to grind and way too much time.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Editing With Ray@Ushiwakamaru

I worried that I'd met my gustatory match with Ray when he informed me of our plans for the evening over email: bowling, lobster rolls at Pearl Oyster Bar, and then omakase at Ushiwakamaru. All this in response to a mere "Hey, let's grab a lobster roll after work." This was a man with a plan, and the plan was decadent enough to scandalize even me.

Over bowling, I learned that Ray is an architect with some grand schemes. He described his dream of opening a shop someday that would combine "design and delicious," and elaborated on concepts that went completely over my head. I nodded and smiled while trying to guess at exactly what his store would sell (or would it even sell anything?)

I offered up my own simmering idea in response: the Trader Joe's of Chinese supermarkets. Branded products, well-edited shelves, tags that give the nutritional information and usage tips for lesser-known imports, dynamic selections.

Like this, except my shit would be real, and thus would not resort to cheap tricks like cheesy Chinese characters and ching chong font. Image courtesy of Asian Dumpling Tips

"That's it," Ray said, "Eat Shop would have curated products. It would give you the best fucking things you could experience. Which could be anything. I want to do an essay on soda, an essay on ramen, an essay on dining room chairs."
"Like a gallery, then. Each essay being the exhibit of the week." I was starting to see it.
"Yeah. The soda thing, for example: I want to put together a case of sodas of different colors, from different countries. You would buy a case and take it home and experience this essay on soda."
"Would you cool things with the space, too? Demos and samples and events and such?"
"Oh, definitely. I'll have some kind of newsletter for events, build a following of people who are into food and design."
"Like a Third Place. I was reading an article recently on the rebuilding of New Orleans' restaurants after Katrina, and it talked about the concept of a Third Place and how the existence of communities attached to these old restaurants really helped in reviving these places. Everyone sort of pitched in to rebuild. It's an idea that's gotten lost in cities like New York, where restaurants are something you try once rather than go back to over and over again. But I want to build a community around a restaurant. I have this one idea - if gambling weren't illegal, I'd turn my future restaurant into a mah jong parlor at night."
"Zoe, I think we have very similar viewpoints. This is going to be good."

When we got to Pearl's, Ray set about composing our meal. His eye wandered over the fried oysters, the littlenecks, the lobster roll, the salt-crusted shrimp...

"We may have to edit our appetites," I reminded him.
"You're right, you're right." So we scaled back to the seed of the evening, the lobster roll. With some fried oysters for good measure. I didn't take pictures because I was too busy scarfing lobster. By the way, those matchstick fries at Pearl's are killer. If you ate whole cans of French's potato sticks for snack as a kid, these are the fries for you. (But who does that? Weirdo.)

Photo by The Hungry Novelist

"So what's the coolest thing you've ever done?" I asked Ray.
"Like, project-wise?"
"Yeah. Anything creative."
"I haven't done it yet. I hope I haven't done it yet."

It was uncanny to discover we admired some of the same things, only he found more specific inspiration in their museum-like qualities: Tsukiji fish market (in a sense, the Eat Shop of the sea), Ferran Adria (another man who has made a career of exploring "delicious and design").

"What other essays could you do?" I wondered aloud.
"It could be anything, really. Chairs, tables. Toaster ovens."
"Could you do meat on a stick?"
"Senior year of college, I wanted to apply for a Watson Fellowship to study meat on a stick in different cultures. I'm really into the convergent evolution of cuisine. I wanted to study how meat on a stick came about in so many different places. Convenience? Mobility? Ease of cooking? Et cetera."
"So did you do it?"
"Actually, I changed it to flatbreads, because I thought that sounded more academic than 'meat on a stick.' Still pretty interesting, though. Flatbreads have such important functions in meals. Like Ethiopian injera, for example, which is used like a tablecloth. But I didn't get the grant - they gave it to the kid who wanted to play Ultimate Frisbee around the world."
"Aw, that sucks. But yeah, you could totally have an essay on flatbreads. Or meat on a stick."

This was clearly one food buddy where I wouldn't have to worry about asking or being asked boring questions.

We finished up at Pearl's and walked to our next course at Ushiwakamaru.

"I really like the chef here," Ray explained, "He definitely has a point of view. He uses a lot of heavier, oilier fish that you can't find at a lot of other places. You won't see much white fish or salmon or stuff like that." By then, I was understanding that for Ray, everything has curatorial possibility.

I ordered the bakudan before we started our omakase tour, because the bakudan at Matsugen had been so damn good.

My friends, this bakudan made Matsugen's look like a puny, precious, affectation.

Looks small, but it was actually quite a generous portion.

When I described the ingredients (uni, salmon roe, seaweed, toro, wasabi, natto, scallions, flying fish roe...) to a friend the next day, he said, "It sounds like the sea threw up in a bowl." It totally looked like puke, too, once you mixed it up and it got all gooey. But I could eat this seagurgitation all day.

"This is definitely one of the top five bites I've ever had, and I don't even know what the other four are." I declared. I've been thinking about it ever since, and some other contenders for the Top 5 would probably be Peking duck (with wrapper, sauce, fixins'), foie gras, and grilled, bacon-wrapped enoki mushrooms. What's the best bite I've ever eaten? I haven't eaten it yet. I hope I haven't eaten it yet.

We then started on the omakase. ("Ten pieces," Ray said to the server, "No...twelve.") I won't bore you with the photos of individual pieces of sushi. Suffice to say that Ray was right - I had a lot of specimens I'd never encountered before, all delicious. The chef won me over early with a huge, deep-fried shrimp head, and y'all know how much I like crustacean goo.

I also took a short video of the chef making sushi. I felt like such a creeper, but I can't help it if I find sushi-making kind of mesmerizing, ok?

Deft hands

"You know, tonight has kind of been like an omakase," I remarked, "With a seafood theme." We talked about other themed outings we could and probably will do: sriracha, performance food (think Benihana, or the smoked oysters at Desnuda), kitsch (pupu platters, Mai Tais, foods with proper names: Clams Casino, Lobster Newberg, Steak Diane, Oysters Rockefeller).

Meals as essays. Essays on meals. If you think by now that we are insufferably pretentious, I can't really blame you.

The takeaway: not having an "off" button when it comes to food is merely gluttonous; combined with not having an "off" button for creative brainstorming, it makes for great eating.

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