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June 15, 2006

Mr. Henry Dines with Celebrities

Filed under: Celebrity,Japanese Food,Mr. Henry,Sushi — Mr. Henry @ 5:11 pm

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Mr. Henry is not easily wowed. However, at Matsuri Restaurant (11th Ave. and 16th Street — at 11:00 p.m. ground zero for the young and attractive) when he took his seat at a tiny table with Jeanne-Claude and Christo, he smiled and began an exceptional evening of food and company, a dinner in celebration of the artist Ryo Toyonaga‘s opening at Charles Cowles Gallery.

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The Christos’ charm was contagious, their energy preternatural, and their enthusiasm for good sushi apparent (and it was very, very good, as was the black cod in miso and the sirloin steak). Having visited Japan 71 times, they knew very well what they were eating.

Mid-meal, when Jeanne-Claude drew a long cigarette from out of her pack, our host, Dr. Alvin, came rushing over to inform her most graciously that here in New York smoking is not permitted indoors. Feigning shock (she has lived here for 40 years) and heaving a very Gallic sigh, she unseated herself and headed upstairs out the door.

Indeed, they are a unit. Even though he does not smoke, Christo dutifully, loyally, adoringly followed behind. Holding her bag while she efficiently disposed of not one but three quick cigarettes, he wryly admitted that although her smoking was not something he enjoyed, after 45 years together he was not about to try to change her.

How do they get that sprite-like energy, anyway? All night they bounced around like sylvan creatures who, were the sushi to run out, might survive equally well on mushrooms or nettles.

The next day they sent Mr. Henry a book which documents every moment of The Gates from its inception 26 years ago to its installation last year, a tome solid enough to have served as a column base for a Gate. Mr. Henry has not tired of turning the pages and reliving this divine folly, an event that rendered all of New York participants in a “happening.” Taxi drivers opined about aesthetics. Street vendors held forth on subjects of art criticism not normally included in their customer palaver. The whole city was chewing, digesting, and expelling their “take” on The Gates.

It was like a huge dinner party on the lawn organized by a couple of eccentric, expatriot New Yorkers, the kind who make this city great. Merci.

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April 2, 2006

Memoirs of a Sushiphile, Part II

Filed under: Fish,Japanese Food,Mr. Henry,Spirits,Sushi — Mr. Henry @ 1:59 pm

When Mr. Henry has sushi one of the first things he needs to decide is what he is having. That is, what he is having to drink with tonight’s sushi.

Nectar of the Sushi Gods

As an appropriate accompaniment to sushi, sake is an obvious choice, and as it happens there is a perfectly respectable bottle already open in Her refrigerator. For lunch, green tea is always advisable because at this point in the career of Mr. Henry’s liver even half a beer at lunchtime leaves him feeling as if someone had thrown the sea anchor overboard. Forward progress is impeded and, heaven knows, he needs to be getting along with his life goals each and every day, and this includes afternoons.

Scotch is Mr. Henry’s personal favorite with sushi and with nearly everything else, for that matter.

A healthy pour of Oban or Talisker over ice cubes made from filtered water (more genius from the engineers at Sub-Zero) provides an ideal imbibational choice – strong enough to cut through the lingering fire of powdered wasabi, yet without the sugars of wine or the starches of beer.

White rice is as close to library paste as Mr. Henry’s educated palette will accept. When the short-grained is served chewy and lightly vinegared, however, scotch efficaciously clears away any lingering bits of hamachi or maguro, leaving the mouth ready to greet the next wiggling arrival.

When you elect to switch away from wasabi-based sauce toward a bit of eel, however, you need a more powerful cleansing of the palette, a thorough and abrupt alteration, the commencement of a new chapter in the evening’s unfolding novella. Here is where your choice of drink is key, and here is where you can change your whole meal, indeed, your whole approach. You might even say that your choice of drink determines your cultural identity, your very ethnicity.

Memoirs of a Sushiphile, Part I

Memoirs of a Sushiphile

Filed under: Fish,Japanese Food,Mr. Henry,Sushi — Mr. Henry @ 9:59 am

In quick succession sometime early in the 90’s, as if impelled by a master plan, Manhattan streetscapes began to display sushi houses on every other block.ShalomSushi.jpg

What only the truly initiated noticed, however, and here you are fortunate to be reading the reportage of Mr. Henry, an old Japan hand, was that most of these new houses were not under the management of Japanese persons. Indeed this fact was proven when shouting expressions in his increasingly fluent Japanese to the wait staff elicited only silent, baleful stares, responses that could not be explained by reliance on hackneyed clichés of oriental inscrutability.

No, clearly these persons of Asian extraction were participating in an elaborate masquerade not of their own liking. These were Chinese and Koreans, most of them fresh arrivals to America, and their dreams of striking out boldly in the land of opportunity had gone terribly, terribly awry.

It is no secret to you, Mr. Henry hopes, that the Chinese and Korean nations loathe the Japanese, and there are sound, historical, grudge-bearing, vengeful reasons for such enmities. How odd, therefore, to see ancient hatreds so quickly buried in the quest for gainful employment. How much more odd it was to see those enmities buried with regard to food, that most intensely personal and immutable of identity markers.

In the 90’s most of our sushi chefs, however, remained of Japanese ancestry principally because entrance into the ancient, venerated guild and training in its special knowledge requires years of grunt work and an uncle in the business, precisely the same hurdles facing an aspiring electrician or plumber in the greater New York area. Notwithstanding this cultural and, yes, racial legacy, however, strange things began happening to the fish. Slices began to get bigger.

A piece of sushi should be a one-bite experience. The incisors do not participate. The entire edible object, glistening with fresh omega-3’s and not dripping with excessive shoyu and wasabi (dip a corner — don’t dredge the thing, please, please, please) is placed as far back in the mouth as the fingers – yes, the fingers – will allow. Use your chopsticks to grab a pickle or a slice of ginger but the true sushi-meister uses two or at most three fingers of the right hand only.

Did sushi originated as an accompaniment to drink, the heavenly eastern equivalent of the beer nut or the pretzel? Who knows? Mr. Henry is not here to render decisive opinions on the arcana of Japanese culinary history, and if he were to do so he would probably incite hate mail from frustrated, underpaid academics.

Sushi is, you will admit, a predictable experience. It cannot suffer from uneven charcoal broiling. It is either sublime or else for hygienic reasons you should not be ingesting it.

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