Here’s to Mt. Fuji

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‘My favorite “Nope-I-Don’t-Eat-Sushi” Sushi Place’

I was in the Liquor Store Next To The IGA the other day, looking for my bourbon—”Hey, where’s Jim? Are you out of Jim?”—when Maureen Who Works There, after directing me to the spot on the shelf where Jim Beam now resides—”You moved Jim?”—remarked that she had recently been to Zakura.

“Zakura?”  I asked, thinking this must be some sort of Buddhist retreat or something. “What’s Zakura?” “You know,” she said. “The sushi place.”

“Oh! You mean Mt. Fuji.” Another customer in the place nodded along, “Yup, she means Mt. Fuji.”

Hungry for sushi stories? Here’s a yummy Ad World story: “Radio Days

Maureen was actually right; the sign outside this place does indeed say “Zakura,” and has for fifteen years or so. But, before that—ages before that—it was called Mt. Fuji. And that’s what everybody who goes there still calls it, “Zakura” sign be darned.

Could this be a sign that sushi’s for dinner?

Now, Zakura/Mt. Fuji may not be the best sushi restaurant around—or maybe even the better of our family’s two fabled sushi haunts. The late, lamented Shabu Shabu, the very restaurant where The Dude and I had our first date (and where I polished off a plate of sashimi for the first—and only—time in order to impress him) was probably better. (He said he loved sashimi, so by gum I was gonna order sashimi, not actually realizing that I was about to be confronted with a whole platter of raw fish without even any rice or little wrappers to kind of mitigate it.)

My prize for being a good sport and polishing off that sashimi: Dude Man on our honeymoon

Well, “Mt. Fuji” is still in business, though takeout only these days. But Maureen said it was pretty good so we’ll probably give it a shot. You know, to help things keep going—though it won’t be the same till we can sit there by the fish tanks and order up some gold flake saki.

Gold Flake saki. Yup, it has actual flakes of actual gold in it. They keep a stash of it at Mt. Fuji (excuse me, Zakura) just for us

But just talking about Mt. Fuji, though, unleashed a whole passel of pre-pandemic memories.

In the Before Times, we would go there almost every Sunday night. His Dudeness—and eventually, when she got older, The Child—would polish off huge platters of sushi and/or sashimi. When she was little, Her Childness would order the same thing each and every time: beef teriyaki with no sauce, white rice on the side. The staff knew her—and her order—so well, they would have it in the works before we even sat down. And you who’ve had little kids know how important it is to get them their food—and fast.

Speaking of getting food into hungry children fast, sometimes, on our drive out to Amagansett from New York City, which can take anywhere from 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, I kid you not, we would have to stop at Mt. Fuji’s Southhampton outpost (still called Mt. Fuji) in order to tank up. There too they would have that beef teriyaki in the making before we even scored a booth.

Mt. Fuji was The Child’s very first restaurant. Though she didn’t have the beef teriyaki that time. That’s the glow of the sadly-departed fireplace in the background

Mt. Fuji is a real locals’ place—hence my spotting of Maureen Who Works at the Liquor Store there on more than one occasion. You will find no glitzy entourage-encumbered Hamptonites within, even though the place has gone through three or four attempts to gussy it up. It had a fireplace when we first started going there. Then the rustic interior was scrapped for a minimalistic vibe, which eventually made way for rows of tropical fish tanks. Which I like a lot, though it’s somewhat disconcerting to watch people eating raw fish next to live fish—just think what it’s like for the fish.

The Child and I at another East End fave, Gosman’s Dock. It’s a lobster shack. No beef teriyaki, so she ordered the pork chop

In fact, locals frequent the place so much that the entire menu of rolls is named after the “regulars.” There’s the Ted Roll, the Roger Roll, the Sam Roll. By golly, I bet there’s even a Maureen Roll.

The Child, ordering dinner. It must be pizza, since we never ordered sushi. It was more fun to go out for it. And we could

I doubt if I’ll ever get a roll named after me, “regular” though I am, since I never order rolls—or even sushi, for that matter. I’m strictly a chicken yakitori and steamed shumai girl. Sometimes, if I’m feeling wild, I’ll get an inside-out California Roll. Yes, for a person who lists a sushi restaurant as one of her faves, I don’t like sushi. But I do like everything else about Mt. Fuji/Zakura. Including the fact that one time I asked them if they had a raw egg I could take home.

And you betcha, like any wonderful local hangout, they were happy to oblige.

The Egg and I. I’m ashamed that I didn’t take them some of the brownies. But, heck. They got “gone” real fast

New York City. January 2021

 

 

 

Where I grew up, fish came in a stick

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‘Not that my palate is all that sophisticated now’

I had fish for dinner last night. Which means that I ate in a restaurant. (Yes, I was masked. Except when I was actually eating said fish.) See, now that I am a grownup — and a rather broken-in grownup at that — I can handle eating fish. Certain kinds of fish. Once in a blue moon. But I still can’t cook it.

Me, after having not cooked fish for dinner

See, fish was not something in my Mom’s meal rota. We had pork chops (which came with mashed potatoes and canned corn), and “Swiss Steak” (which came with mashed potatoes and peas), meat loaf (ditto), chicken (double ditto) and sometimes — because it was “good for you,” — liver (which came with creamed potatoes and green beans.)

And fish was generally not found on Midcentury Midwestern restaurant menus. I can’t remember fish appearing, like my salmon last night or my branzino last week, even in “tonight’s specials.” No, fish mostly came in a stick, battered and fried — and was primarily eaten at school lunches on Fridays as sort of a penance. Or during Lent. Ditto.

I don’t have a photo of fried fish sticks. But this one of fried chicken is much better. In many ways

In all my growing up years, I can’t recall anyone of my acquaintance — certainly not anyone in my family — saying, “Gee, Mom. Let’s have fish for supper.” No, fish was what you ate as sort of a default option.

Oh, sometimes a Dad would head out with his buddies and “go fishing.” But this wasn’t an Abercrombie & Kent sort of brook trout fly-fishing excursion. This was a “let’s pile in the bass boat and go get us some crappie” sort of deal. (Incidentally, “crappie” is a real fish, and pronounced “croppie.”)

Youngest Younger Brother Doug proudly displays his crappie catch

If you made the mistake of going along on one of these trips, the Dad(s) would delegate either hook-baiting and/or fish cleaning to you, as the lowest man/girl on the totem, er, fishing pole. Ugh.

This sort of chore effectively ruined your appetite for the possibly-delightful crappie feast to follow. Eating the results of a Dad Fishing Trip was right up there with eating the results of a Dad Hunting Trip. Except you hardly ever found buckshot in the crappie. Bones, yes.

This “fishing trip” was an excuse to screw around on skates. Trust me, no one had to clean fish after this excursion

The other fish one might find in the waters of Clinton County were gar, big long bony creatures that floated on top of the river — or catfish, big fat creatures that hung around on the bottom. No one I knew ate gar, though they were purportedly fun to catch and throw back. Catfish were served in a few Clinton County restaurants, and weren’t so bad if you put it out of your mind that they are, quite literally, bottom feeders.

There are catfish in these waters. You can’t see them because it’s so muddy. Which is, erk, just how catfish like it

Speaking of fish, once in a while as a special treat our family would eat at a Howard Johnson’s. I’m not sure if they exist any more, but when I was a kid they had these orange roofs and served pretty fancy food. They were kind of the restaurant equivalent of not just a motel, but a motel with a pool.

Me, when I was graduating from grade school to high school, and from fish sticks to fried clams

I remember I would always ordered the fried clams. I thought I was very sophisticated. Then, when I went off to college, I got really fancy. Sole Veronique! (Basically, a frozen white filet with grapes on it) And the piece de resistance: surf ‘n turf. (A frozen lobster tail paired with a steak) Hmmmm…I could go for surf ‘n turf right now.

No surf on this menu. Digging the Cowboy Steak in Upstate New York

After The Dude and I got married I was introduced to all kinds of new fish. Like bluefish. All I can say about bluefish, which was a Dude Family Favorite, is that is an acquired taste that I, um, never acquired. I used to push it around my plate and hide it under some lettuce. That is, if I couldn’t sneak it to Sam, the Dude Family Dog. (Sam loved me.)

Dude introduced me to sushi, too. Why on our very first date, which was my first time at a sushi restaurant, I consumed my first — and last — plate of sashimi. Where I grew up, fish came in a stick, and raw fish was bait. Or what you ate when you were the main character in The Old Man and The Sea.

But now, many years later, I happily consume many, but not all, kinds of (cooked, please) fish. Last night’s was salmon, and it was pretty delicious, if huge. There is a leftover chunk in the fridge right now. Seemed like a good idea last night to save it, but today it’s reminding me of leftover sushi, about which I wrote a pretty hilarious story once. (See “Radio Days.” You won’t be sorry.)

Turf. With no surf. It’s what’s for dinner chez Barbie tonight

I still don’t cook fish — much. The Child went through a lemon sole phase, so I dutifully complied to her wishes by putting it on our menu. Thank goodness she tired of it. See, I can cheerfully handle raw meat, but there’s just something about raw fish…well, I won’t go on. Except to say that tonight I am cooking dinner in the Ken & Barbie Kitchen. And it’s not gonna be sole. Or even reheated leftover salmon.

New York City. December 2020

 

 

Chop Phooey

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‘All I got for Christmas was egg foo young’

We were in a cab the afternoon of Christmas Eve when we saw Santa driving home from a hard day of ho-ho-ho-ing. We’d just seen Free Solo, which is an absolutely amazing movie about this guy Alex Honnold who climbed 3200 feet up the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park using just his hands and feet — no ropes! no nothing! — but even after that it was still pretty exciting to see the Jolly Old Elf himself in all his red-suited, white-bearded glory at the wheel of his Chrysler mini-van.

Another Santa we saw this season. This Santa was spotted in his driveway, having just ridden in on the back of a Corvette convertible

No doubt Santa was thinking about the nice home-cooked dinner he was going to have that night in his North-Pole-like outpost in Queens (he was in the traffic lane for the Bridge) before heading out in his sleigh.

We Whitmores were also looking forward to home and our traditional pot roast, a small version of which we three (yes, The Child was home this yearwere planning to polish off before opening presents and hanging out by the fire. (Being of the Swedish persuasion, I’ve Swedishly persuaded The Dude that Christmas Eve gift opening is more fun than the Christmas Morning version.) Continue reading

Radio Days

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‘Did I just hear somebody say “sushi”?’

The Dude and I grabbed some sushi last night. (Why is it that one ‘grabs’ sushi, I wonder?) And, as I deftly dipped a chunk of inside-out California Roll into a little dish of sodium-reduced soy sauce, I was transported back, in a rather Proustian tasting-the-madeleine-like way, to one of the very first times I ever had sushi.

It was in Chicago, back in those golden years of traveling around the country on somebody else’s dime. I was working in advertising, natch. On this radio project that involved interviewing people who had lost their money because they were silly enough to be carrying actual money instead of American Express Travelers’ Cheques.

We were using this interviewer named Alan Kalter (he got to be pretty famous as an announcer on Letterman, but, trust me, this was way before that). Anyway, Alan was in a glass-fronted room talking to a group of losers (er, people who’d lost their money) while the producer and I watched and listened and prompted him (via a tiny wireless earpiece mic) to ask certain questions, or to get the interviewee to repeat a phrase more clearly or loudly.

See, we were recording the interviews so we could piece together some ‘it-could-happen-to-you’ radio commercials. So we needed certain phrases, like ‘I lost my money’, ‘My vacation was ruined’, and, of course, ‘I wish I’d been carrying American Express Travelers’ Cheques’ to come out nice and crisp and clear. Continue reading