Ever since I lived in Japan as a teenager, I have loved Japanese art. Its refinement, its sensitivity to nature, its exquisite craftsmanship all stop me in my tracks to stare, open-mouthed in appreciation. I took a short course in sumi-e painting when I lived in Japan and, although I was never any good at it, it gave me a more in-depth appreciation for the work I saw others making.
Japanese food is an art form, too, albeit a temporary one. At its best, it is refined, sensitive to nature and beautifully crafted, just like the other arts of Japan. I remember going to a banquet in Japan and being served, as one of about a dozen courses, a whole Dungeness crab on a platter. It was exquisite, all bright orange on a bed of seaweed, but I stared at it in social trepidation, thinking "Jeez, how are we going to eat that with chop sticks?" My Japanese dinner companions showed me that the shell had been sliced and so cunningly reassembled that it looked whole but was actually in perfect pieces for picking up daintily with chopsticks. We had little language in common but we all enjoyed the delicate perfection of that beautiful crab.
My Dad was less appreciative of Japanese food than my Mom and I were; in a Japanese restaurant, he always ordered tempura, saying with a twinkle that the rest of the menu was "bait." Mom and I just ignored him and scarfed down our sashimi.
Last week, some of the women on our little alley treated our friend Doreen to a sushi lunch in Berkeley. My expectation was for pretty good food, but presentation with those little plastic, serrated leaves and perhaps sectioned black faux lacquer boxes with red insides. You know the kind I mean. I was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful decor and the attractive place settings. When this plate was served to one of my companions, I knew we were in for a treat.
We each ordered and ate separate things, and I won't go in to detail about each dish, but suffice it to say that even the usually-humble miso soup drew appreciative ooohs and the edamame was spectacular. I love edamame in any form, but when it comes cooked to bright green perfection with golden garlic, cilantro and other delicious mysteries, it is something very special.
Then this white plate showed up. I can unequivocally state that this is the best sushi I have ever tasted. Everything was fresh and beautifully prepared, with lovely little touches like flowers made of ginger and tiny tobiko that popped crisply between the teeth. The presentation of each dish was as beautiful as this one, a feast for the eye as well as the tongue. We all sat around taking bites from each others' dishes and nodding with mouths full and eyes rolling.
If you like sushi, and even if you think you don't, go try Sushi29 on Solano in Berkeley. The food is a work of art.