the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: sushi

Iron Chef, Los Angeles

Any fans of the original Iron Chef? I loved that Japanese cooking show because the chefs really took the competition to heart, as if their honor was at stake. The American version is lazy because you know Bobby Flay doesn’t give a flying crap whether he wins or not. The original show had drama, because I was always half-expecting Chef Masahara Morimoto to stab himself with a carving knife in Kitchen Stadium after losing the artichoke battle of skills.

A few years ago, they opened a sushi bar down the block from my house in Los Angeles. It was fairly expensive for dinner, but they offered a bento box luncheon for seven dollars. It included some spicy tuna rolls, salad, soup, salmon, and rice. It was a good deal. Sophia and I used to go two or three times a week. The chef, Paul, could be perfectly cast in a Hollywood movie as a old school sushi chef. He stood tall in his white unform, and rarely spoke, concentrating on his work behind the counter. He would call out a greeting and farewell in Japanese whenever a customer entered or left. His wife was one of the servers. If he was in a good mood, he would serve little treats in decorated seashells to select customers, or give away some sake. It was our favorite restaurant.

The Japanese are big on honor. On the wall behind Paul was a multi-colored chest with compartments for sturdy, bright chopsticks. Each pair of chopsticks was in its own elaborate box, each with a traditional design. Each box had the name of a customer assigned to it. These chopsticks were for the “high-rollers,” those who came for dinner and said, “Serve me WHATEVER,” and had no problem spending $200 for dinner. The ordinary diner just got the regular chopsticks wrapped in paper.

After about a year of eating lunches at the restaurant, Paul came over to our table. This was very unusual, because we never saw him leave his position behind the bar. In fact, he could have been without pants for all this time, and we would have never known.

“This is for you,” he said.

He handed us each our own chopstick box. The special boxes! Our first names were written on the side. He presented it along with some unique appetizers. All of the other customers looked our way in envy, especially the Japanese diners. This was SHOCKING to them! No one gets the special chopsticks for just ordering the lunch special!

This was a highlight of our dining lives.

As we ate our feast, Sophia noticed that Paul had different “good luck” symbols on his back wall, not only Japanese oriented, like the waving cat, but examples from other cultures. Were they gifts? We decided to give Paul a gift for his honor, as is expected. Sophia went online and ordered a Hamsa (hamesh) hand amulet that is still used for “magical protection” by both Jews and Arabs. Paul proudly put it on the wall, next to the other gifts.


This was about a year and a half ago. As readers of this blog know, I have been bouncing back and forth from New York for the last year. My life with Sophia has been unstable. We have not had the time or inclination to go out to sushi for lunch. Today, I suggested that we go to our favorite spot. Sophia said she hasn’t been there since I left for New York, since she doesn’t like eating out by herself.

We walked into the sushi bar and immediately saw Paul behind the counter, busy at work making his famous volcano rolls. He did not yell his traditional greeting. Sophia called out to him.

“Hello, Paul!” she said.

Nothing. That was strange.

Sophia turned around and noticed that our hamsa was off the wall. His wife came over and gave us a sympathetic smile, and then placed two cheapo paper-wrapped chopsticks in front of us.

After not showing up for lunch for a year, we had been demoted from being special customers. There were no free appetizers. Even our lunch portions were smaller. And he charged us extra for the rice. We were dead to him. Paul is a true Iron Chef.

They Don’t Eat Fried Squirrel at BlogHer


After writing my last post, I received a few emails asking me if I’m really going to BlogHer this year. After all, I’ve been making fun of the concept for two years now, each year setting up an opposing “BlogHim” conference online where male bloggers curse and talk about sex a lot (which is probably not that different from what the women do at the real-life BlogHer). But after three years of blogging, I know so many female bloggers out there — at least in a virtual way, that I thought it was time to meet them. And don’t worry. I’m not really going there with the hope of getting laid. But, you know, as the saying goes — “Rice-A-Roni, the San Franciso Treat.” I’m not exactly sure what that means in this context, but you can pretty much turn anything into a sexual euphemism.

I haven’t paid for my registration yet, but the early-bird price is ending in a few days, and you know how much I like to get in on the bargain. So, I’ll decide this weekend if I really want to do this. Maybe this will inspire some other guys to go as well… if the women really want us there. I have a feeling some of you might not.

I also promised Heather from OMSH that I would go. I’ve gotten to like this blogger. She’s a Texan, Christian, wife and mother — and on paper we have nothing in common, but blogging changes all that. I like that about blogging — the way you can interact with people you probably wouldn’t even talk in the real world because you live in different social circles, but online — you completely click. We’ve IMed a few times. Here’s our IM conversation from a few days ago:

Neilochka: do u have a specialty dish?
OMSH: curried chicken
Neilochka: no, I meant at breakfast, like pancakes?
OMSH: or rosemary pork loin with curried pumpkin soup. oh. haha. We do big southern breakfasts
Neilochka: like with grits?
OMSH: biscuits and our free range eggs. no, that’s not a Texan thing, that’s Georgia Ttexans do breakfast burritos — burritos, eggs, lots of meat – bacon, sausage, ham
Neilochka: real food, so you can work on the ranch afterwards, lassoing the steer
OMSH: Jeff brought home a hog that we are mixin’ in with some venison for some amazing sausage, real food
for real people. you’ll not catch me dining on sushi or prissy food
Neilochka: for real high cholesterol
OMSH: I have low cholesterol and very healthy blood pressure
Neilochka: do u eat sushi?
OMSH: no
Neilochka: never?
OMSH: no, where do you get sushi here? NO WHERE. I’d have to drive to the city
Neilochka: That’s it. I’m going to BlogHer in SF, just to take you for sushi
OMSH: no, no sushi
Neilochka: yes
OMSH: I don’t want to eat sushi, blech
Neilochka: u got to try it once
OMSH: I think I might have tried it once
Neilochka: or else i will write a post
OMSH: wait no…that was caviar
Neilochka: where I will embarrass you, calling you a wimp
OMSH: the caviar was also disgusting, but I will try anything. I just don’t want to go somewhere where they give you a plate with three or four teensie things on it and call it a dinner
Neilochka: i don’t like that either
OMSH: and I need choices — preferrably choices with things that are baked or fried
Neilochka: japanese places have tons of fried stuff along with the sushi and japanese places have great meat too. I’ll make a deal, if you try sushi, I will eat… uh… some weird type of Texan beef jerky
OMSH: yumm, hahaha, I’m joking
Neilochka: What else is there weird to eat for me? How about fried moose?
OMSH: Thre’s fried squirrel, that’s pretty darn good
Neilochka: have u eaten that?
OMSH: um … yes
Neilochka: That’s baloney. There’s no fried squirrel.
OMSH: my husband goes squirrel hunting
Neilochka: where do you find the squirrels?
OMSH: in the trees
Neilochka: what does it taste like?
OMSH: chicken, hahaha. no, it has its own taste. I’ve had gator. i love gator and shrimp gumbo. I love cajun food. oh my goodness – except that horrible boudan
Neilochka: i searched fried squirrel on google. You weren’t lying. It is real. and wow — there are tons of recipes
OMSH: I know – it is truly a dish, see, there are different seasons, deer season, hog season, squirrel season, and so you stock your freezer with what is in season and then buy a side of beef if you aren’t a cattle rancher and you have your meat for the year. of course I eat hooved animals
Neilochka: actually I’m reading that mike huckabee got some slack during election for liking fried squirrel
OMSH: that’s so ridiculous
Neilochka: hooved animal?
OMSH: it is a joke, y’know, kosher, unclean… you’re Jewish
Neilochka: i wonder if a horse is kosher?
OMSH: I don’t eat horse
Neilochka: you eat squirrel
OMSH: they don’t have split hooves, isn’t that the difference? pigs have split hooves. Isn’t that the kosher law?
Neilochka: hmmm, yeah, like I’m a expert on the Talmud! it never comes up I’ll need to ask my rabbi if I can eat a squirrel.
OMSH: hahaha
Neilochka: i had buffalo burgers. they were good. Is buffalo kosher?
OMSH: They are good, I’m trying to remember where I’ve had those.
Neilochka: and I’ve had ostrich burgers
OMSH: Seriously, I don’t think there is much meat I haven’t tried.– emu, haha — I’ve not tried ostrich or emu, so you’re one up on me
Neilochka: isn’t blogging great…
OMSH: bwahahaha, yes, yes it is
Neilochka: u realize we would never cross paths any other way! i would hear you eat squirrel and I would run the other way
OMSH: oh – you would be so bored if you lived a life only associating with those like you
Neilochka: that’s for sure
OMSH: you need to stretch out in your REAL life and associate with oddball hicks like me
Neilochka: I once thought about actually having a clone of myself and talking to him… that would be so boring…
OMSH: Neil, I’m laughing so hard I’m about to wet myself.
Neilochka: Not on the squirrel skin rug I hope — OK, it’s a deal, if I go to BlogHer, I make you eat sushi!

So, now you know my real motivation to go to BlogHer. To tempt a Texan into eating sushi!

By the way, here is the BlogHer submission page where you can make speaker recommendations for the conference.

Now, imagine this — something truly radical — a MALE speaker at BlogHer — perhaps, a friendly blogger who interacts with more female bloggers than most female bloggers… maybe talking about how men feel being in a personal blogging world dominated by women — and how MEN have their own obstacles to joining this community — sort of a cultural exchange program for women to talk about how they relate to men online — and what can women can do to make men feel a bigger part of the personal blogging community at large?!   Are there any other men who would join me?   Do you think anyone would show up?

eh, I changed my mind.  What can I really say of importance?   Not much.    Write your blog.   Don’t be boring.   That’s about it. 

Besides, I’m a lover, not a talker.

Miko, Hot and Wet


I knew the moment we walked into the Torrance, CA restaurant, that there were going to be problems.

“Fast food sushi?” asked Sophia, a concerned look on her face.

“I heard good things about it.  $7.99 for eleven pieces of sushi and rolls?  Where else can you get that deal?”

“OK…OK… Cheapskate.”

We sat down and received our trays of sushi.   I started eating, hungrily.  Sophia reluctantly picked at her Spicy Tuna roll, examining the huge blob of rice.

“Did you notice that none of the workers who made the sushi were Japanese?” she asked.

“So?  What do you think — only Japanese people can make sushi?”


“Racist.  Eat.”

Sophia ate her roll.  She immediately made the International Women’s Symbol of Not Liking Something — that universal scrunching up the nose in disgust. 

“Oh, come on.  It isn’t that bad.”

“I’m not sure how clean this place is.”

“It looks clean to me,” I said matter-of-factly.

“They had this piece of TV last night about how dirty restaurants can be.  Did you know about this teenage boy who died from drinking water with ice because it was contaminated with e.coli?”

“Good thing we’re not drinking water with ice.” I answered.

“It’s because the employees didn’t wash their hands.  I didn’t see the sushi makers wearing gloves.” 

“I’m sure they wash their hands.  it’s the law.”

“Did you notice how the restroom keys are sitting right next to the soda machine?”

This discussion was beginning to ruin my appetite.

“You know, Sophia, I’m not going to listen to you anymore right now.  I’m enjoying my salmon.”

One of the sushi makers/employees passed by and headed into the bathroom.  He was a skinny blond guy in his early twenties with a haircut reminiscent of the “New Wave” era of 1982.

“Look, he’s going into the bathroom,” announced Sophia. 

“So what?”

“Go follow him and see if he washes his hands.”

“I’m not going in there to spy on him,” I protested.

“You brought me to this dump.  If he washes his hands, then I’ll eat the sushi.”

I sighed, and headed for the men’s room.

I entered the men’s room.  Sushi Boy was in a stall.  I went to a urinal to pee.  After I was done, I stood around, my zipper undone, waiting for this guy to finish his business.  He was taking longer than I hoped.   I amused myself by reading some writing on the wall.

It read, “Miko, Hot and Wet.” 

I drifted off for a few moments, thinking of Miko:

“Who was she — this Miko?” I asked myself. 

I was pretty sure I knew what the author meant when he said “hot and wet,” but grammatically the phrase actually read as if Miko herself was “hot and wet.” Did she just come out of a sauna? 

“I wonder if Miko is really hot?”  I thought.   “Did she work here at one time?   I know three male Jewish friends who married Japanese women.  Maybe I should have married a Japanese woman. I bet you they don’t kvetch as much as Jewish women.  Well, actually that’s not true.  Karen Tanaka from college was a major pain in the ass.   Why didn’t I ask her out during sophomore year?  She was cute.  Why was I so scared of asking her out then?”

I shook my head in disappointment.  You can’t go back in time.

“I wonder if Sophia would leave the shower tonight, naked except for high heels and chopsticks in her hair?”

“Yeah, right!” I quickly answered myself.  “Like Sophia is ever going to bow down to me like a geisha girl!”

Suddenly, I realized I’ve been standing in front of the urinal with my fly down for five minutes — and it just seemed, weird. 

“Screw Mr. Sushi Boy.  He’s taking too long.”

I washed my hands and returned to the table.  Sophia looked up, wanting an answer.

“Forget it.  I’m not waiting for him any longer.” 

“OK, fine.  Since we’re sitting by the restroom, I heard you flush and turn on the sink.  So, we’ll be able to hear if he washes his hands right from here.”

Five more minutes passed.  We heard a flush coming from the men’s bathroom.  Two seconds later, Sushi Boy exits, his hands completely dry.  He heads back to make some more California Rolls.

Sophia and I looked down at our plates.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” I said.

As we rushed out, I grabbed some packages of chopsticks.

“What do you need that for?” Sophia asked.

“Maybe later, you’ll want to wear them in your hair.” I suggested.


A Year Ago on Citizen of the Month:  My Menage  a Trois

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