Saturday, November 18, 2006

Eating out. Palomino/Nishino.

My dad's in town for the week. The other night, S. said to me, it's great to have your parents visiting; they take you out to eat, buy you stuff. But it's only great for four or five days, maybe a week. So far I have been chastised for my eating habits (do you always put so much butter on your toast?), my spending habits (the less said on that subject, the better), and the state of my apartment (it looks like a college dormitory! you should put your recyclables IN the recycling bin, your shoes in the closet, and don't put your tv on the floor - you can afford a tv stand). It's only been twenty-four hours. I need lunch. At Palomino.

Palomino, as I've said before, is one of my favorite restaurants. It's always good, the service is friendly, and it's consistent. (The fact that Barneys is downstairs is entirely irrelevant). The meal starts with rosemary foccacia and a fresh tomato salsa, as it always does, and I order the mushroom soup, as I always do. I always get the linguine with clams, my dad says, should I try something different? He doesn't. The mushroom soup is the same as I remember it; I've had the Dungeness crab sandwich before, an open-faced sandwich of crab salad topped with a slice of tomato and cheese, and then grilled, like a crab cake, only better. My father always finishes his linguine and then regrets it, the clams settling like bits of rubber tire (only more delicious) in his stomach.

Even when my parents are in town, they have work to do or errands to run or jetlag to recover from; I have my job and friends and hours I spend on the phone or on the internet or off reading the books that I will then spend more time writing about. Mealtimes are a way to reconnect, to catch up in a way we can't during phone calls snatched in between work or sleep or plane flights; for most of the year we are sixteen hours apart and half a world away from each other. It feels strange to be without them, but even stranger to have these few days together.

Dinner is at Nishino, again one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, and as before it is consistently good, the service friendly, only this is an independent restaurant nestled in an affluent neighborhood, not the soulless corporate anonymity of Palomino. Everyone at the sushi bar seems to be a regular; the owner greets my father as we walk in, and his wife stops by to chat later on. Next to me are two boys and their father, a boy's night out (their mother is not in the mood for sushi, apparently); the boy sitting next to me keeps elbowing me in the ribs as he shares a plate of tempura with his brother. But there is toro, perfectly marbled pink and rich and fatty as only toro can be, rounds of uni like a sunset-orange custard atop the seaweed-collared ball of sticky rice, if you had a custard that tasted of the sea and sweet water, and the best unagi I have ever had, still warm, not too sweet, not too sticky with sauce, but with just the right amount of sauce trickling into the rice that is warmed by the fish. This is happiness.

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