I love it when I find a tiny unexpected fortune! You know – like when you are pulling out the winter coats and find a $20 in one of the pockets? Or when you do laundry and find an exceptionally clean $5 in the dryer filter? The other day, in a purse I haven’t used forever, I found a forgotten $50 gift card to a local Japanese restaurant. Of course, being the frugal and thrifty girl that I am– *snort* –I quickly invited my daughter to come to dinner with me so I could spend it immediately.
This particular restaurant specialized in both sushi and teppanyaki – and while I LOVE sushi and can eat it until I break out in scales and sprout fins in odd places, it would be easy for me to eat $50 worth of sushi all by myself. Since my daughter mentioned she would also like a bite to eat this time – we decided to sit at a teppanyaki table where we could get two meals for $50 and also enjoy a show.
Have you been to a teppanyaki restaurant before? How it works is that twelve or so guests are seated in a U-shape along the short sides and long back of a large table that has a huge, built-in grill. The chef cooks everything in front of you – tossing knives around with alarming abandon while cutting up food into bite-size pieces. The show is usually pretty entertaining – the chef may juggle eggs before breaking them one-handed (show-off!) and then use a spatula to flip the shells onto the top of his hat. There is also fire involved once or twice, salt and pepper shakers that are clanked together and onto the grill as if they are some sort of percussion instrument, and witty banter (which, depending on the accent involved I may or may not be able to understand). The food is always filling and good – fried rice, noodles, veggies, and a choice of chicken, shrimp, steak (or, if you’re like me – I get a combo with more than one!)
That night, we were the last to be seated at our table. There were already two groups clustered around the ends of the table – so we squeezed into the two remaining chairs between them. The group on our left consisted of two middle aged men – twins – who were celebrating their birthday, accompanied by a woman about the same age and two rather surly teenage girls. The group reflected a certain socio-economic vibe – I draw your attention to the diagram below.
The group on the left fell right on the border of “Walmart/Kmart” and “The Dollar Store” – probably more comfortable in a trailer than a house, if you know what I mean. But they were a friendly, jovial bunch – probably because they had already had a beer or two and had started on sake samplers. One of the birthday boys leaned over and breathed on me smiled at me as he explained the six different kinds of sake that were in front of him and suggested that I should order my own so I could catch up on the fun.
The group on our right was a young, very attractive couple with their two small boys – probably about four and six-years-old. The father greeted us and then asked if I worked at the nearby military base, as he said I looked very familiar. I explained that I had just come from there – but that I only did my grocery shopping there (because that is how I roll – I may have $100 worth of groceries in the back of my car, but why go home and cook if I can pay someone else to do that for me? Because I’m TIRED from GROCERY SHOPPING – you know?)
As we had arrived late and had to get our orders in quickly, we just glanced at the menu and ordered our combos, not taking the time (or succumbing to temptation) to look at the sushi menu. I was kind of sad about that when sushi orders started arriving for the other groups. The first thing to arrive was some sort of tempura fried rounds – I thought the waitress called them “Monkey Balls” – but then again, she had an accent and, as I already mentioned, I am not good with accents. Surly I had misheard. I leaned over and tapped the birthday twin on the shoulder, “Excuse me. What ARE those?” He let out a loud, barking laugh – “MONKEY BALLS!” He nearly shouted, drawing the attention of diners at nearby tables. He must have noticed the look of confusion on my face, “They have snapper and salmon and some other stuff – deep fried, you know?”
The group dug in, eating their deep-fried sushi and drinking their sake while whooping up a storm. Meanwhile, the attractive military family also received the sushi they had ordered and began to chow down. Daughter and I looked at each other with identical tiny pouts – wishing we had ordered sushi for ourselves. However, we kept a brave face and pretended to enjoy our iceberg lettuce salad with ginger dressing (OK – I admit it – I DO like that ginger dressing!)
Here’s where the evening took an unexpected twist. Semi-sake drunk twin to my left picked up the platter with the remaining monkey balls on it and held it out to us, “Y’wanna MONKEY ball?” I wasn’t sure what to say – was this a thing now? Sharing sushi with total strangers? Maybe the communal table made tipsy twin feel a certain kinship to me, since we were periodically bumping elbows. Maybe he was just truly a “good old boy” who just wanted to share his fun and food (with a non-threatening heterosexual, white woman). It only took me a few seconds to make a decision – because I was being offered FREE SUSHI! Only a fool would turn that down!
So, I popped that monkey ball into my mouth and chewed blissfully as I nodded my approval to tipsy twin. He hooted and tipped his shot of sake my way before downing it in one go. That little act of sushi-sharing seemed to trigger something at the table. Before long, the attractive military couple offered my daughter some of their sushi, and then tipsy twin urged me have another monkey ball and to try a piece of their Aloha roll. The teppanyaki chef then arrived at the table – he was personable and friendly (and I could understand most of what he said). The audience was attentive, appreciative and we all enjoyed the show (complete with volcanic onions, fried rice hearts that were made to “beat” and a little plastic boy who pissed water to put out one of the many fires).
As we enjoyed our meal, we chatted with our neighbors and soon we were all singing songs from “Frozen” with the two little boys to our right (because, let’s face it – once you see that movie, those songs remain stuck in your head for weeks and look for any opportunity to escape). When the tipsy twin and his brother were presented with their birthday dessert, we all joined in to sing them the “Happy Birthday” song.
It turned out to be a great evening, and I was sorry to see it end. But you never know, maybe I’ll run into my new friends the next time I do a little shopping at our local Walmart!
Have total strangers ever offered you food? When was the last time you tried a dish that was totally new (and perhaps a bit scary?)