Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dinner. Nishino.

I only come to Nishino when my parents are in town, and while they are here I try to persuade them to eat there at least once, twice if I am lucky. Tomorrow my father returns to Taipei; it is my last chance for sushi, perhaps until summer comes and they are here again. We were just here a few weeks ago for dinner with friends, but that was different, a long meal of varied dishes and many courses, a chance to catch up with friends we don't see often. Now it is just my father and I, popping in for a quick bite after work. Our timing is perfect; there are several seats open at the bar, which fill up not five minutes after we sit down, and we congratulate ourself on our good luck. There are younger couples, a trio of older guys who have probably just come from work, and a father with two young children, an increasingly familiar sight here. It's always a father with the kids at the sushi bar; the mom is always off playing tennis or just not in the mood for sushi. They're regulars; they drink 7-up and eat shrimp tempura with their tuna rolls, and politely ask the sushi chef for another order of maguro.

Nishino, as I've said many times before, is one of my favorite restaurants, and sushi is one of my favorite foods, something I can eat and eat and never tire of, unlike, say, foie gras or or even pizza. It is located in a small strip mall off a busy intersection in the Madison Park neighborhood of Seattle. Across the street is another strip mall and a video store we used to frequent, back when Nishino was an Italian restaurant called Trattoria Carmine. Now when you walk into the restaurant there is a small waiting area, cushioned benches arranged around one of those Zen gardens that is really just a shallow box of sand and a handful of stones. The walls are a pale peach, hung with large modern paintings, a bit like Matisse, a bit like Chagall, not quite what you would expect in a Japanese restaurant. As you walk in you are immediately hailed by the sushi chefs, behind the counter to your right; they nod and call out a greeting that I have never actually been able to understand.

There is something strange and wonderful about eating at a sushi bar. That long counter of pale wood, polished smooth, the gleaming fresh fish behind glass. Feet braced against the rungs of your stool, chopsticks at the ready, a steaming earthenware cup of tea or glass of saké at your side. Your sushi chef greets you as you sit down, waits for you to decide what you'd like. (There are two or three sushi chefs at Nishino, standing at the sushi bar, while further back in the kitchen another battalion of chefs handles the cooked foods). We order toro, as always, and unagi, and various other old favorites. The white tuna is never quite as good as we think it will be, and the white salmon is what we actually meant to order, and the toro is absolute perfection, as it always is. The kids next to us are debating over what kind of ice cream to order as we finish our sushi. It's time to go home, time for my father to resume his life on the other side of the world, time for me to return to my solitary life. But for now there is one more bite of sushi, one more sip of tea.

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