Thursday, April 13, 2006

J-Culture Night

In an ongoing attempt to convince the local Japanese population that all Georgians are a bunch of dumb cat food eating rednecks whose idea of fine dining at a foreign restaurant is Taco Bell, last night I ate at Umezono again. With me was my stalwart companion Movie Buddy (henceforth to be called MB), a fellow redneck with a giant white pickup and an appreciation for Japanese culture. Since there were two of us I decided to take advantage of one of the meals you order for the whole table (which requires at least two patrons) and selected the Sukiyaki. Their menu description of the meal follows:

Sukiyaki - Japanese Traditional Hot Pot, "Sukiyaki" is cooked at your table. Sukiyaki: Thinly sliced beef and assorted vegetables with our special Sukiyaki sauce.

Note that it just says it is cooked at your table. It says nothing about who cooks it. I assumed one of the J-usagi would cook it for us, and we might even get a little show in the process, kind of like hibachi dining. Imagine my horror when they deposited a plate of beef, a plate of tofu and veggies, a teapot of sauce, a burner unit, and a sizzling hot metal skillet. Bon appetite!

Side note – the little J-usagi waitress struggled with the heavy skillet. I wanted to play the role of the big strong man and leap in there to help, but I could see the metal was hot and I would have just burned myself and wound up on the ground screaming and crying like a little girl with a skinned knee, which I understand is not very macho and something of a turnoff to most women. If this assumption is wrong, please let me know because I am prepared to scream and cry A LOT if it pleases you. Especially if you’re Asian.

Other side note for the Umezono J-usagi staff – I’m sure customers cooking their own meals are quite common in Japan, but now you’re dealing with the American consumer who is quite possibly the stupidest form of life on this planet, including single-celled organisms and politicians. You just don’t hand us a device with an open flame unless it’s festooned with a thousand warning labels giving us helpful hints like “WARNING – Do not set on fire and shove down your pants” because, if you do, we will do exactly that and then we will get hurt and we will sue you and we will win because this is America. Thank you.

One thing I can say for Western restaurants – even if I’ve never heard of the dish, I can intuit what to do. I know what is food and what is garnish and how to eat most everything with any type of utensil. Every meal I’ve had at Umezono involved venturing into the unknown. Exploring other cultures is usually fun, but sometimes I’d just like to relax and have a nice meal without embarrassing myself in front of a roomful of beautiful women.

They noticed our confusion and gave us a crash course in Sukiyaki-ing. We cooked up thinly sliced beef, green leafy stuff, white leafy stuff, white wormy stuff, purple wormy stuff (my personal favorite), onions (finally – something I could identify), mushrooms, and tofu. They also provided us with an extra set of chopsticks, a slotted spoon, and three bowls. We managed to use all of these items, although I’m not sure if we used them as intended. During the course of the meal, I managed to only embarrass myself a little by dropping the tea pot lid into the skillet with a clatter, mangling some tofu as I attempted to transfer it from plate to skillet, pouring some of the Sukiyaki sauce into my tea which I drank rather than let anyone know, and nearly setting my hair on fire as I bent over my plate in a failed attempt to prevent a bit of tofu from leaping into my lap. MB took some of the attention off me (the waitresses made frequent fly-bys to ensure we weren’t burning their restaurant to the ground) by cooking the second batch and dropping mangled tofu all over the place. We generally make a mess when we eat there, being the dumb rednecks we are.

I shut the burner off when we had eaten our fill (hara hachi bunme – although I think I overshot and went to 90%), and the waitress-usagi all dropped by to express concern over how little we had eaten. We had managed to eat at least half of the vegetables, but more than two-thirds of the beef remained. That’s the one inauthentic thing about Umezono – American portions. “You no finish the beef?” one waitress asked in surprise. She probably wasn’t used to the site of non-Asian patrons stopping before their forks hit the bottom of the plate, but thin sliced or not, that was enough beef to choke a wolverine. Between my “think of the starving children in Africa” upbringing and the entire Umezono wait staff dropping by to make sure we didn’t stop eating because anything was wrong (they make me feel so guilty), I was tempted to fire up the burner and try to finish, but then I thought choking on beef and vomiting on the table might ruin our burgeoning relations. Again, ladies, let me know if you find that sort of thing attractive.

So far I haven’t tried speaking any Japanese in the restaurant. I figure I’m making a big enough fool of myself without mangling their language the way I do the tofu. I just know I’ll try to say “Ita dakimasu” and, with my Southern accent, it will come out something like “Show me your boobies, little bunny babe.” Which would be fine, if it worked.

I left a decent tip (about 22% - I’m trying to aim for generous without looking like I’m trying to pay for sex) (even though I would), and MB and I retired to my apartment, drank a bottle of plum wine, and watched three J-movies from the Pinky Violence series: Sex and Fury (reportedly a major influence on Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies, which I can believe), Female Yakuza Tale: Inquisition and Torture, and Criminal Woman: Killing Melody. Basically, it was four and a half hours of Reiko Ike getting undressed and slicing people into sushi, but it’s foreign film and so it counts as high culture.

Yep. I gots me some culture last night. Watashi wa Nihon-jin desu. Or at least I’m getting there.


~Deb said...

Wow. And I thought taking my girlfriend out for sushi was a challenge. She has no clue how to use chopsticks. I mean, come on, I have trained her time and time again and she still cannot grasp anything with them. I gotta get her those training chopsticks---that's how I learned.

That was some experience you had though! Glad you made it out of there alive!

Stacy The Peanut Queen said...

Hey, you didn't need a skin graph or have to apply your eyebrows with a make-up pencil (because they were singed sounds like a nice evening to me! :)

Okami said...

There was a great deal of this that was really funny to visualize happening ~ a personal favourite was the pouring of Sukiyaki sauce into your tea...

But dear ~ being "prepared to scream and cry A LOT if it pleases you"...?????...babe, that's just an odd image from a man in military fatigues.

But at least you seem to have a lot of fun trying new things.

Anonymous said...

watashi wa alison! [am i right?]

Shock horror! american's can finish their beef?

congrads on the fine effort. Would have loved to have been there. The Chinese equivalent in 'steam boat' a large pot of water on a portable stove throwing in seafood, beef, tofu, noodles and more. We have a different sauce.

I wish i could take you to a korean one - they have a barbeque pit in the middle of the table - and cook some great beef-very different.

nup - i can so see you crying like a girl. I would laugh...till my tummy hurt.

messiah said...

i can sympathize... i ate korean with a friend of mine. thankfully the menu indicated which you had to cook yourself.

i am sort of embarassed that in the end we opted for the lunch buffet - but we were short on time.

oh the adventures you can have so close to home. you could have used your sukiyaki tea to douse your hair though.

BBB_0202020 said...

you are definitely getting down with there culture. very commendable! lol @ purple wormy stuff

PBS said...

Well, it sounds like you had (mostly) a good time and survived the experience. What adventure restaurant is next?

Seven said...

I think all single-celled organisms have been insulted by your callously comparing them to politicians.

Video X said...

so you had to cook your own dinner at a restaurant? gees almighty. i went to a restaurant where we had to cook our own dinner. i ordered filet mignon thinking there's no way in hell these people are going to bring me a 400-some degree stone to cook this steak on given i am paying them to cook the stupid thing for me. wrong. i really tried hard to express to those people my lack of cooking skills, but they didn't care.

you were most likely right about not puking on the table. it might have been a little funny given you would have been puking because of guilt (i love guilt...i know i will always have it so i just accept it)...but other than that i imagine it might not be so hot.

Grant said...

~deb - somehow sushi and forks don't go together. Just tell her to hold them like a knife (one per hand) and stab the food until it sticks. If it breaks into small pieces, she can lay her head on the table and scrape the food into her mouth.

pq - yes, it was nice. Hopefully the J-usagi appreciate my attempts rather than think me a dumb redneck.

okami - I notice you merely said it was an odd image, not necessarily a turnoff, so I'll keep it in my repertoire.

fatty - I'm good at making women laugh. I'm such a Lothario. Sorekara, hai, anata wa Alison desu.

messiah - the first time I had Japanese, everyone opted for the buffet except me. They got off lucky. When sushi is bad, it's really bad.

tigerkiss - it really did look like pale purple worms, and it was very tasty. In fact, everyone should go to a Japanese restaurant and say "Gimme a bowl of them thar purple worms."

pbs - I'm going to keep going there until it becomes a normal dining experience. Then I'll keep going for the J-usagi.

rick - they already have a lawyer and have filed a mass tort.

video x - at least the waitresses cooked the first round for us. And thanks for the feedback. Note to self - with women, vomit = bad.

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