Just got back from a long fun weekend in California, L.A. to be exact, where my oldest daughter, Melissa, got her doctorate in Gerontology. These are always good times for families, especially when the entire time is used for celebrating and the sometimes tensions of families are absent – this was one of those times. We had some really fine food and the new Doc and her mother went out for pedicures and massages, while I stayed back and took a long walk around the neighborhood (North Hollywood) – hell of a lot better than reading woman’s magazines in the waiting room!
We enjoy driving down to California – there’s always lots of nice stuff to do and see, and I think Californians feel the same way about Oregon. But there’s always been a natural tension between state neighbors – I think this is true nationwide. I don’t know why that is, but it is true. A past governor of Oregon, Tom McCall, became famous for his signs on I-5 coming into Oregon – they read, “Welcome To Oregon. Now Go Home.” I don’t think that helped ease the tension any. (OK, this is a not-so- urban legend – but the attitude was very much alive at the time!)
My favorite area is driving through “The State of Jefferson”, an area of northern California and southern Oregon that made an effort in 1941 to become a separate state with an active revolt, but the onset of WWII brought that to an end – however, the concept lives on today, if only in the minds of those who “remember”. But there is no doubt that this area is the most beautiful of the entire 800 miles of I-5, and I never tire of driving through it.
Only thing I dislike about driving I-5 in California are the trucks – seems like there are more trucks than cars sometimes. And I have this theory that many truck drivers are secretly serving as scientific investigators – Physics, to be exact. In what regard? Well, there is a long held belief that if two objects are traveling at the same exact speed, one cannot pass the other. However, there are some Physics researchers who contend that in space, this theory is not true – and I believe that often you can see two truck drivers testing this very theory while they both try to ascend a 4 mile hill, side-by-side on a two lane stretch, while each goes exactly 30 miles an hour! Yes friends, it is science in the most unexpected places.
When we go to L.A., we always take two days – yes, it can be done in one day, 14 hours or so, but the logic of an old person is, Why get so tired on the way down that you have to rest up for the next two days to recuperate? So we stop in Sacramento or Stockton, wherever we get the cheapest 3 star Priceline room – this trip it was Sacramento. And then we have some fun finding some great food.
I love doing restaurant research. Maybe even more than I do eating at my new finds – this is especially true if my research has been faulty. Actually, it’s not so much that my research is faulty, as much as my standards and perspective are not always matching those of the reviewers I’m reading – prime example, this trip.
We don’t often get sushi around our home environment, so it’s usually on our short list of travel eats. I did some serious checking and came up with a place only a mile or so from where we were staying in Sacramento, by the name of Arigato. The reviews I read said things like, fresh fish, quick service, consistent quality, and one of the least expensive sushi joints in town – I think that last quality got me – I am getting really, really annoyed at the way sushi places are getting more and more expensive. I think it’s simply getting too popular, and so … All good things are soon ruined.
We got there at about 7 on a Wednesday night, and the place was almost filled – we didn’t expect that! And we looked around and noticed that almost no one was over 30! Found out later, this is considered a college hangout. Two huge wall covering projection TVs, and wall-to-wall noise. Tables of just guys, tables of just girls, a few mixed tables, but no tables of anyone over 30! Whatever, we sat down and opened the menu.
Four page menu – page one, Appetizers (this is not a classic item on a sushi menu). Page two, Sushi For Beginners (this is a scary item on a sushi menu). Page three, Real Sushi, and a few classic Japanese items such as Noodles, Sushimi, and Combinations. Page four, crazy, customized rolls (Maki in Japanese), which appeared to be the only thing anyone was ordering. I like fish, but I know that individual pieces of sushi or rolls are not the best way to go if you just want fish – so I looked for, and found a promising offering – Churashi (Chirashizushi) .
Now Churashi is a strange item to find on the menu of a place where most customers are not into raw fish – Churashi is just slices of raw fish on top of sushi rice – actually, it’s just like the individual pieces of sushi, without the fru fru showmanship of the sushi maker – and so, it is less expensive. But frankly, I wasn’t ready for what I received.
Japanese restaurants are at the forefront of serving “pretty” food – it’s a cultural thing; food that looks good tastes better than food that isn’t attractive – so you can usually expect to receive beautifully arranged and presented preparations – and I’d guess that this characteristic would be even more true with something like plain and simple slices of fish. At least that’s what I’ve been used to getting – and so it was with a little surprise that I was presented with a simple white china bowl stuffed with four rather large lumps of sliced fish.
Up to this point, we’d not been overly impressed with much about this place, but at least for me, that was all about to change – I stared down at my four huge lumps of glistening, moist, and beautiful slabs of fresh fish: salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and one that I’m not absolutely sure of, maybe albacore – each lump made up of 4 slices at least 1/3rd of an inch thick and three inches long – there had to have been at least a pound of fish in that small bowl! Honestly, I’ve never seen so much gorgeous fish in one place, especially in one serving, in any sushi restaurant before – and frankly, it was a little hard to figure why this was happening in a place where nothing else exceptional was going on – Why? All I can guess is that it’s a concession to the infrequent true sushi aficionado that might show up.
Ordinarily, I may have eaten half of that bowl, and taken the rest home for another go at it – but when you’re on the road, you don’t do that. I looked at that beautiful mass of fish and knew I may never have this experience ever again – I determined I had no choice; I would finish it all before I left that night.
Have you ever eaten a pound of protein at one sitting? It’s not an easy task – at some point, it ceases to be pleasurable and slips into a chore – the last two slices were painful. Still, it was an experience that I’ll treasure because I’ll always remember just how wonderful it was to stare at those beautiful slabs of glistening fish, and to know that I was about to engage in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I guess the lesson here is that nothing is ever all good, or all bad – and that we should always be ready to be surprised – but we never will be!