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Small Wonders: Omakase and an old friend

June 15, 2012|By Patrick Caneday

There is a place in the borderlands between Burbank and Glendale, in the seam that's neither city, though some map surely has decided, where food and life intersect.

Not here nor there, it's tucked in the corner of a strip mall, defying limits, definition and time, in the way old friendships should.

And it's here, at Sushi Nishi-Ya while on a “man date” with an old friend, that I discovered a new word for friendship and for food: Omakase.

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“Chef's choice.”

“Just tell me what you don't like,” the signs on the window and wall above the bar exclaim. “I will only serve you the freshest fish of the day. We do not serve California Roll or any specialty rolls. So please trust me and enjoy your dining experience.”

He goes by many names, my friend. The Hawk, Chief, and a few poker-table epithets unfit for this publication. But I'll just call him Nick, mostly because that's what he called himself when, in our early 20s, he had visions of acting and I of directing.

In our near 30-year friendship, Nick and I have eaten more raw fish than the population of a small coastal Japanese prefecture. It's a friendship that needs no tending, that picks up where it leaves off, no matter the interlude. It has its own pace, direction and will; unblemished by unwanted contrivances, nagging personal annoyances and the predictability of California Rolls.

And Nishi-Ya's posted warning was a shiny lure beckoning us.

It's a minuscule diner, the kind of eatery that forces familiarity: with others at the bar, with the joyfully screaming baby in the booth, with Chef and his wife. With each other.

To open, Chef set before us was a simple ahi tuna sashimi; luscious, deep pink, a few sprigs of delicate green garnish, lightly drizzled with a salty/sweet sauce I'm sure has a name but, since I'm not a food critic, I'll just call yummy. This choice, perfectly-sized cut sets the tone for this meal. It's going to be memorable.

The first time I met Nick he rode up on his motorcycle — pretty cool for a high schooler — trying hard to look like a dangerous rebel in black boots, Levi's rolled up at the cuff and a white T-shirt. I didn't have the heart to tell him the pack of smokes rolled up in his sleeve made him look like John Travolta in Grease.

Next came salmon, one smoked, one not, from Scandinavia and the Northwest. “No soy sauce, please,” we're advised.

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