Raw Fish, True Tales
by Ms. Moko Jeeno

Two Butches and One Buffet

On an email tip about a limited-time sushi offer, I invite my best butch buddy out for sushi. Oishi Sushi House, it seems, is offering half price on their sushi buffet, and that's too good an offer to ignore. I'm distrustful of the whole sushi buffet concept, but at half the usual cost of twenty-five dollars and then some, I have to bite. I give Jenn a call and we make a date.

I should backtrack. Generally speaking, I love buffets. With massive amounts of food laid out in front of me, I can pick and choose with no pressure to order the perfect meal. I get to try everything and I get to eat a lot. But sushi ain't ribs, if you know what I mean. Sushi is all about the art of preparation, presentation, and absolute freshness. With sushi it's about knowing exactly what day, what hour, what second the fish arrived. With bar-b-que it's just "bring it on!" One thinks of sushi and one thinks of origami, spring water, and silky smooth delights -- not sneeze guards and heat lamp roasted egg rolls.

Overall we found the place . . . amusing. At first glance my excitement was hard to contain. Platters of salmon, tuna, and unagi. Rolls and rolls of spicy tuna, salmon skin, and rainbow combinations. The ratio of rice to fish was just fine, not heaping mounds of the white stuff like I had expected. And across from the sushi there was a good twenty feet of hot food platters that ranged from your traditional lo mein to your cooked duck delicacies to the audacious baked shrimp and lobster tail.

Jenn took her time, selecting the best sushi first, opting to reserve any entree selection for the second round. I went nuts. One of each kind of sushi and loads of noodles, meats, rice dishes, and whatever else I could find down the line. I selected food as if my survival depended on it, loading up my plate as if I would never have a chance to eat again. Jenn made her selections carefully, spying which sushi had most recently been set down. I grabbed indiscriminately, wanting it all right there, right now. Jenn was breastfed as a child. I was not.

After turning my plate into a Jackson Pollock special, thoroughly devaluing my own preferences for culinary aesthetics, I focused on the task at hand. Like a seasoned buffet player, I sampled everything before deciding which clump to hone in on. Having gleaned some of my skills at the Country Kitchen, I became acutely aware that, unlike mashed potatoes, fried rice does not perform well as a retaining wall. Spices, textures, sauces -- they all got mixed up. This is fine for your average Asian meal, be it Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or East Asian Indian, Thai or Pakistani, but when there is sushi on the plate, it does not bode well. Yes, I didn't have to mix it up and yes, my second attempt involved a sushi-only plate, but even then, I'm sad to say, it was just OK.

The sushi was fine, but kind of bland. It just didn't have that -- especially for me -- kind of zing that sushi generally affords. There was no pizzazz, no arousal of the taste buds, no perfect combination of strong sea tastes mixed with spicy ginger and hot wasabi blended soy sauce. Salty and smooth, fishy and sweet. And the rest of it. . . eh!? Who puts cheese on shrimp? I'm a Jew and like most of my people, I'm lactose intolerant. That's why we love Asian food -- to avoid the cheese, butter, milk ad nauseam of American cuisine. What the heck is cheese doing in a sushi joint?

As an aside, the decor was kind of rustic. On paper, it sounds fine: brown tile, exposed beams, and metallic low reliefs on the wall, but sitting there with Jenn, I couldn't help feeling like we were eating in some kind of meeting lodge. There might as well have been wood paneling and a stuffed moose on the wall. You'd think a coupla butch gals would love this kind of setting, but without a wide screen TV and a pitcher sitting next to me, it just didn't seem right.

The service: not so great. Things were timely enough, but there was no element of desire. Granted, being a waitperson is not an easy job and who am I to demand my server enjoy their work, but it kind of takes away from the whole sushi experience when the wait staff looks annoyed every time they come by and I'm not ready to give up on my half-eaten plate of food. I kindly explain that I need to keep the extra plate for the lobster shells. A frown belies their vague disgust.

Jenn and I finish up and, not yet satisfied, we make a plan to go downtown We're dressed well. She's six-foot-two-sexy-tall. I can work a room. We'll find our silky, smooth...