Dinner out. Nishino.
My family is in town, which means many dinners out over the past several weeks. It is exhausting and debilitating to my digestive system, not to mention my waistline. (Or lack thereof). The other day my grandfather arrived, and the first thing he did upon arriving in Vancouver (BC) was to demand that my uncle take him to the restaurant they always go to for King crab. I am not sure what else followed, perhaps Japanese food somewhere on Robson street and dim sum at the place below my uncle's Burnaby home. And then they came to Seattle. The phone call, last night. I want to go to Nishino. There are two restaurant phone numbers I know by heart: Nishino, and Rover's, and only once have I mixed them up.
As I've said before, Nishino is one of my favorite restaurants in Seattle; certainly my favorite Japanese restaurant. We do what we always do, order a number of hot dishes, plus an array of sushi. I stifle a protest as my dad asks for two orders each of o-toro and white tuna; any person can see that this means four pieces of nigiri for five people. I seethe. My grandfather demands unagi, his favorite (and mine). He thinks the unagi at Nishino is the best anywhere (at least outside of Japan, but the last time I was in Japan I was five years old, so I don't know how to compare), and I would not disagree.
The hot dishes arrive first: tempura of some kind of mushroom, parsley, and sweet Walla Walla onion. The mushrooms are slightly chewy beneath the crisp tempura batter; the parsley has a clean, cool taste, and the onions are, well, sweet, but sliced too thickly to be manageable. Black cod is marinated in miso and broiled; it is sweet and salty, all at once; the skin peels away from the flesh in a crisp black ribbon. There are halibut cheeks, dusted with curry, with some kind of green mayonnaise, all over a bed of wild mushrooms. They are good, but not as good as the hamachi collars, which are rich and meaty and tender and served with a sort of cabbage slaw that is tossed with a slightly creamy dressing.
And then a miracle happens. The waitress misunderstood my father, and thought he ordered four orders of o-toro and white tuna. We order toro every time we come here, and it is always different, although consistently better than any toro I've ever eaten in any other restaurant. Generally it ranges from nearly perfect to absolutely sublime. Last time the toro was pale and luminous and melting; tonight it is flushed pink but still rich and sweet and incredibly....well, fatty. Unfortunately it makes the white tuna pale in comparison, although the latter is still very good, in fact, better than very good. And then there is the unagi. Ah, the unagi. Crisp around the edges, a little sweet but not too sweet, full of the true, clear flavor of the eel. My grandfather ate four pieces. I was personally a little distracted by the toro, of which I managed to snag two pieces.
There are too many different kinds of absolute, transcendental, gastronomical bliss. One is the prime rib of last night. Another is a dinner like tonight's. How on earth could I even begin to compare the two?