sashimi


once upon a time, when i was much younger, i was introduced to sashimi. i don't care if you think i'm bragging, i had just photographed jasper johns in his top floor apartment way uptown. he was hungry and invited me for lunch to a then famous sushi place on 8th street. i forgot the name, but i'll never forget the utter sensation of having a piece of sashimi in my then virgin mouth. i come from stuttgart, where my grandmother cooked everything way beyond well-done, the idea of eating raw fish was then for me as far out as the thought of moving to new york. by the time i was twenty things had changed, much had fallen in place, i lived in new york, getting to know the new york art scene, making pictures and interviewing many of those very artists. the notion of eating small strips of crimson uncooked fish was inconceivably absurd, even if vitally fresh, seductively cut and delectably placed, alas and in the end still slices of very raw fish. johns, like me, had grown up in the south and hence could show patience and mercy. 'at least try the chutoro' he said. this was a dark, domino-size piece of fish, tasting engagingly luscious and totally un-fishy. encouraged and eventually dauntless, i slowly sampled piece by piece each of those sumptuous selections presented by a gracious itamae-san. 
it's been a long time since. there was and unbelievably still is today some forty five years later, a sushi place in new york called hatsuhana. some called it "not-so-hot-suhana", but only because they never got to get to eat upstairs. i went there at first for lunch, later for outrageous dinners, four hour affairs, richly beyond price. my favorite itamae-san was called between us the baby killer, on account of his capacious size. but like so many sumo size men he was extraordinarily gentle. he also knew how to make a toasted unagi hand roll, of triangular shape wrapped in paper-crisp seaweed. treasured as these were, they were simple things. his sushi uni, a nigirizushi topped with a good size lump of uni was his prize. after an extended sashimi and sushi session, fueled by much seishu, he would on a good day have all sushi rice grains face the same direction. but his best was a version of sashimi otoro, simply placed on a lush bed of finely shredded daikon. reserved for us, those very special customers. mere mortals got to eat toro chopped with scallions, like a tartare. i didn't just gorge on whatever cut tuna, but on hirame and hokkigai, salmon and roe, scallop and uni, giant squid and tako, and seemingly endless sake, icily cold in summer, hot, or at least flushed during those new york snowy evenings.

bluefin then was caught off of long island, aided by spotter planes and speed boats. once harpooned, their best bodies put on ice dockside and flown chartered to tsukiji market where the fish was evaluated and priced. the very best fish returned that instant to new york or los angeles. to be butchered  less than twenty four hours after the catch and readied for dinner upstairs at hatsuhana. now this seems inconceivable.

one night a maguro friend and i sat resting, suntori in hand, watching a guy some seats down the sushi bar, one hand woefully low at the waist of his waitress, the other waving a bill. that kind of tip for the itamae was considered the norm after a meal of the best. the waitress of course had her konto apart.

last night stephanie and i ate at hokusei. nothing can match the memory of hatsuhana, though this came close.




the fish apparently is imported from japan, where sashimi grade fish is caught handline, then instantly killed and iced, therefore will keep its freshness for some seven days. we had sashimi maguro, columbia river sake and hamachi. the decoration a little over the top, considering the pips left in the lemon. but a fabulous  otoro, a fortune for two slivers of fish. stephanie ate a vegetable roll, topped with roasted orange colored beet. which she loved. in the end i just had to try the chopped beef, with raw garlic and uni. too much beef, way too much garlic and two slivers too few of uni. my opinion is biased, of course, of course. this is portland, after all, and in no way manhattan. a decent sashimi? an oxymoron at best.




a bouquet of bearded iris, a virtual black, from saturday's market.