Posted by jdg | Monday, December 04, 2006 | ,

Growing up in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the most exotic food I ever tasted was the enchilada plate at Pappy's Place on Two-for-One-Mexican-Meal Tuesdays. This was not because the Kalamazoo area lacked purveyors of interesting food in the 1980s, but because my father found sweet-and-sour chicken to be "too spicy." When an occasion called for a fancy dinner, we would waltz happily into the Red Lobster or Mr. Steak, ignorant of the exotic taste sensations like "Tuscan chicken" and "Roma Tomato Gorgonzola Fettuccine Alfredo" being delivered to the tables at the Olive Garden across the street. My mother refused to eat anything containing garlic, and that meant all I-talian food was out of the question, except for microwaved cans of Ragu dumped over overcooked spaghetti noodles. Occasionally she would promise something that sounded fairly exotic, like "rarebit" or "goulash," but when dinner was actually served, it looked suspiciously like melted cheese on toasted Wonder bread or Hamburger Helper.

My road to adventurous eating was paved by my high school friend's mother. I remember the first time I visited her house, I was like, "what is that smell?" Turns out it was a few thousand South Indian curries lingering in the wallpaper. I started eating dinner over there several times a week. Then at some point I visited the University of Michigan on a school trip, and while in Ann Arbor I had my first falafel sandwich at age seventeen. It was so delicious. I decided then and there that denying a kid interesting food is tantamount to child abuse. I rebelled against my parents by eating whatever foods I could find that would send me rushing desperately towards the closest toilet as soon as possible. Despite my rebellion, I had still inherited their delicate gastrointestinal tracts. I would send my parents pictures of myself eating a giant plate of rubbery octopus in Crete and tell them stories about the delicious eyeball I had just eaten in Shanghai. But most of all I enjoyed how disgusted my father would get whenever I mentioned sushi. Apparently the sushi trend of a few decades ago skipped over curmudgeonly middle-aged auto body repairmen in middle America completely. The sight of a single piece of California roll will make him close his eyes and chant, "roast-beef sandwich, roast-beef sandwich" to himself over and over until the sushi has disappeared.

Wood and I used to get amazing sushi every Friday night in San Francisco from our neighbor's sushi bar. He even commented once on this blog when we left town. But in Michigan, the sushi prospects have been pretty dreary. Yesterday we had gone four months without so much as a spicy tuna roll. We drove to Ypsilanti hoping to buy Christmas presents at the shadow art fair, only to discover it had taken place the previous day. To make matters worse, Wood got a migraine and couldn't see anything, but she wanted to drive on to Ann Arbor to get Korean food. Forgetting how religious some Koreans are, after a long walk in 26 degree weather we learned that our old favorite Korean place was closed on Sunday. Wood and I looked at each other: "Sushi.come?" she winced.

Sushi.come opened during my last year of law school, as the dotcom bust was in full swing and the scrappy entrepreneurs behind the seminal sushi joint decided the name "sushi.come" would lure students into their establishment. It was the kind of place two people could stuff themselves with a few tolerable rolls for $20. We just weren't sure we could eat there again after our palates were spoiled by four years in California. But when we arrived I saw six words that a Dutchman should never be allowed to see: All-You-Can-Eat Sushi Buffet.

My parents did not give me much of an appreciation for good food, but they bestowed upon me a powerful thriftiness. For example, I knew what time all the Japanese supermarkets in San Francisco marked down their sushi each evening. If it was worth $5.50 at 4:47 p.m., then it's definitely worth $2.25 at 5:17 p.m., I figured. But at the prospect of all-you-can-eat sushi, I was truly in my element. I ate at least two full pounds of quivering sashimi. It may not have been the best fish ever, but the price was right. Juniper wasn't all that interested. She turned up her nose at the squid salad and chased edamame beans around the table with her chopstick, so I just continued to eat. I stuffed myself to the point where my intestinal contents were so highly pressurized that if I had been eating coal I would be shitting diamonds today. When I was finally done I looked at Juniper and the detritus of the bland, measly feast we'd made for her from the buffet. "Are you sure you don't want to try some more seaweed salad?" I asked her. "Yuckey!" she replied.

"Did you see how much fish I ate?' I asked Wood. "Great," she replied, "you should really be proud of yourself." I wished my dad had been there. At least he could have appreciated that I got a good deal.