Steph and I went out for our first sushi dinner sometime during the summer of 2001. I don’t know if it says more about us or about sushi, but we hadn’t gone back for more until Friday night. I’ve been too busy since then to tell the tale, but here it is.
We’ve lived near a Japanese community (and when I say near I mean less than a quarter mile) for a year and a half now, and the only time we’ve gone to eat in Japantown, we had Hawaiian food. Go figure. So when Sushi Maru opened up, we thought it was worth a try. That was a few months ago. I have no idea why we picked Friday night to actually go. It’s just one of those things that you do because you’ve been putting it off: clean the garage, write to grandma, eat sushi.
I’m not a big fan of sushi. I tend to like to eat fish hot, rather than cold, and cooked rather than raw. So sushi is basically the opposite of what I like about fish. Nonetheless, Sushi Maru has something other restaurants don’t: a conveyor belt. And a conveyor belt in a restaurant says one thing to me: Resistance is Futile.
The bar in the center of the restaurant’s single room is surrounded by a small conveyor belt made up of rounded, brown interlocking tiles. It’s about four inches wide; just wide enough to carry a small plate. Luckily, the Japanese seem to like everything being very small and efficiently packaged (Ever seen a manga comic book? Sony Vaio laptop? The Prime Minister of Japan?). The conveyor belt quietly scuttles along on a platform raised about four inches above the bar, carrying small plates of sushi-related goodies past the patrons who have chosen to shun the booths around the outside of the room.
The thing that wasn’t immediately apparent to me was the pricing scheme. Maybe you’ve been to lots of sushi bars, and this is old hat to you. Well, that’s fine for you, but I’m new to this. The only major distinction I had seen between any of the plates that passed me was one particular plate with a little American flag on the end of a toothpick sticking out of one of the sushi rolls. The flag had the word “SPICY” written in black on both sides. I asked Steph if that was some kind of foreign policy statement. She wasn’t sure.
Amongst the raw eel and tuna were four plates with quickly-made paper signs on them. The signs read, in order, “1.75”, “2.75”, “3.75”, and “4.75.” I figured that they must be the prices of the sushi, but the Price Plates were all next to each other, and they were all empty, so I sat for a minute and tried to figure out exactly how a “1.75” on one plate was supposed to help me figure out what the plate trucking around the bar a minute later was going to cost me. Then it dawned on me. Colors! The cheapest plate was primarly white. Then the next one up had a yellow rim around it. Dark blue was next, followed by a maroon plate for the most expensive sushi. When I actually thought about it, it made the most sense, since the only thing you’ve got left after eating the sushi is the plate, so how else are they supposed to charge you when you’re picking plates off a conveyor belt and eating whatever you want? Those Japanese folks are clever, I’ll give them that.
I think my favorite part of the meal was the aspect of being slowly introduced to your next meal. I picked cucumber wraps for my first plate (like a sushi wrap without actual sushi in it. Yes, I’m a wimp.), and as the other potential meals went by, I eyed them as a hunter might eye his prey. I found myself speaking to the plates as they passed.
“Gee, you’re a colorful one, aren’t you?”
“You frighten me. Not a chance.”
“I’ll see you next time around, Egg-with-sticky-rice. But only one of us will come out alive.”
I shouldn’t have been so haughty. Egg-with-sicky-rice was a formidable opponent. Scrambled eggs cut precisely and served cold over rice with a seaweed tie-around is an odd meal for a kid from Iowa. It’s just something I’m beginning to understand. I mean, hand me some korv and I’m right at home. Steph pointed out that I ought to dip more things in soy sauce, and I did, and she was right. It’s like their ketchup.
The Conveyor Belt of Fate brought me a spungy vanilla cake-like thing for dessert. It was foreign, but sweet. And nothing sweet can be all too foreign to an American’s taste buds, can it? I enjoyed it greatly. I washed it all down with a glass of Sprite and about three ounces of sake in a tiny little cup.
I’m going to have to go in there some day soon and take pictures.