I took the younger Food Bitch out to dinner while she was visiting over New Years week and we settled on a sushi bar downtown. Now, younger generation food bitches are quite savvy, spending more of their disposable income on dining out than we ever did at that age and they tend to travel in great twenty-something, hungry gangs. So she had had sushi before but at a table with friends, not at a sushi bar with her elder, Food Bitch mother.
And the sushi bar is where sushi must be eaten. At least this was so back in the eighties when the sushi cutter was a food artesian who smiled and nodded at you, responded to your mini-menu needs over the course of an hour or two while you ordered piecemeal ––in Japanese of course –– and dipped, ate, chatted, ordered a little more, until you were full then miraculously a correct check was presented to you by the invisible Japanese server girl. You never saw the sushi cutter write anything down, let alone hand it to the server for presentation and payment. You tipped the cutter generously, bought him a beer and when you returned, guaranteed he’d make up a little something special for you.
This had been my experience eating sushi from the Castro District in San Francisco, to New Orleans, to Vancouver, to Hawaii, to Australia.
When I moved to Sarasota in 1991, my husband, the Baby Food Bitch-In-Training (she was in her Joyride and we placed her upon the sushi bar, since we were both chefs and took our baby with us to restaurants and bars on our day off. This was part of her early training.) and I went to a sushi bar downtown. In an act of pure blasphemy, the server-waitress lady (still called waitresses back then, I think) handed us long paper menus and stubby yellow pencils. “What’s this?” I asked. “Sushi menu,” waitress answered with a bow. I looked over at the sushi cutter. Head down in front of an array of paper menus. No eye contact.
“Can we go back to Australia now?” I said to my husband.
And that’s the way it’s been ever since. You order a slew of sushi in advance by checking off the boxes next to the English translations and it arrives in front of you on a huge platter. American style. The sushi cutter is a ghost in the background of your meal, not the main attraction as before.
I don’t know the details of this change, since I was out of the country working at World’s Fairs from 1986 to 1989. When exactly did this happen? Why? Is this only a Florida thing? Maybe? Perhaps I should travel each state on a great sushi mission and see if this is Everywhere. Maybe readers in other states can weigh in.
Anyway, the younger Food Bitch has heard my sushi rant her entire life and as we are sitting at this sushi bar on a Monday night, sure enough, a server-waiter guy hurries up with the paper menus and pencils. I wave the pencils away and say: “Two hamachi, one saba, one maguro, and the eel-hot.” I let younger Food Bitch select a sushi roll from the extensive list of creations and we start with Sapporo beers and miso soup.
The waiter gestures to the cutter behind the counter (whose head is down) and says, “Very busy,” and smiles apologetically.
“That’s great,” I say. “Tell him to take his time. We don’t want it all at once.” Wanting very badly for younger Food Bitch to have an experience close to what eating sushi used to be.
Like, In The Olden Days.
Our order doesn’t arrive on one big platter but in a wave of three separate plates within minutes, backed up like traffic on the tiny bar. Oh well.
All I have are my memories to share with younger Food Bitch. She fully understands that the pacing of the sushi meal is a great part of the experience. Having a bunch of raw fish shoved at you is not all that. And when she travels to Asia in the summer and when she finds that sushi bar where she can order in Japanese and be served as she orders, and as she lifts the cold, creamy white hamachi to her lips, she’ll think, “ Oh,yes, my Food Bitch mom told me about this.”