A few blocks from my home is a Japanese restaurant that opened quite recently. Before that it was an Italian restaurant, a phenomenon I have seen before. Although perhaps it is no accident that Italian and Japanese are two of my favorite cuisines. I had been meaning to try that intriguing little Osteria del Spiga every time I walked past, perused the menu with longing, until one day I noticed it was now called Vi Bacchus (a peculiar name for a Japanese restaurant) and had an extensive sake menu and an assortment of sushi. Alas. I had waited too long. But something different awaited.
Last time we ate here it was late on a Saturday night, and completely empty, never a good sign in a sushi restaurant. So we had beef udon noodles (C.), and broiled salmon marinated in miso (me). A mug of miso soup arrived, and a small bowl of salad with a gingery dressing. Then came a plate of broiled salmon, with another plate of rice on the side. Comfort food. It is simple and delicious and I promise myself that I will eat here as often as possible. I wondered if perhaps the furniture and some of the dishes were left over from the Osteria days, tables inlaid with painted tiles; ceramic plates with a design that definitely did not look Japanese. It is quiet here, dimly lit and filled with dark wood against tiled floors.
Tonight I want sushi. I walk the three or four blocks to the restaurant, where C. is waiting, and we order a variety of sushi rolls, and miso soup, which arrives in rough earthenware mugs; the waitress remembers us from Saturday night and waves across the room. There is tea, clear green, with a powdery residue at the bottom of the cup that catches at my throat. The sushi arrives, a tuna roll, spicy and cool, an unagi roll, with the rich unagi set off by the crispness of cucumber, a salmon skin roll, crispy and salty against the rice, and a caterpillar roll with layers of avocado and unagi wrapped around rice and a heart of tempura shrimp. Italian opera is playing in the background. (Another reminder of the restaurant that stood here before?).
I have always wanted to have a favorite neighborhood restaurant, one that I could walk to whenever I wanted, one where they knew me by name because I had become a regular. I am not quite there yet. But perhaps I have found what I was looking for.