mardi, novembre 08, 2005

That Fish Died for Nothing

Maybe I should just file this under, "What did you expect?" As in, "What did you expect, going for sushi at a place called 'JAPORAMA'?"

Well, we expected something edible.

There are a lot of Japanese restaurants in Paris, esp. in our area, (there are a lot of Chinese Traiteurs, places that are more like take-out joints, with fewer proper restaurants--and there are some Vietnamese eateries, which makes the most sense, I guess, given French colonial history). Nearby, that four block artery called rue Monsiuer le Prince is clotted with half-a-dozen Japanese eateries all on its own, (and the city has many other passages similarly clogged). We walked there tonight, looking for a new dining experience.

I have always been very skeptical of seafood in any foreign country--it's simply paranoia and narrow-mindedness on my part--so it took a little while to warm up to the idea of cold fish in Paris. But Dear Wife and I happened upon a dive-y sorta sushi bar while heading to La Luxembourg for lunch, and one of the staff lured us in off the sidewalk with a humble request to give 'em a try. This was a while ago, and on that day I stayed with the safety of meat skewers, but sampled Dear Wife's sushi, and it was OK. So we began eating there every once-in-awhile.

But there are a lot of other Japanese restaurants on the same street. All of 'em look nicer than our place. A couple of them are always packed for lunch. Why not try one of those?

We picked JAPORAMA.

I liked the way the sign looked like the titles for a Godard movie.

It was a sushi joint run by Koreans; tough looking, no-nonsense, kind of misshapen Koreans. A short and nasty looking pit-boss of a maitre d' oversaw the outfit, and he patroled the floor as though itching to get rough with somebody. The whole staff followed his lead. They were unsmiling, but not unsmiling in a typically diffident, urban way, or even a haughty French way (something I've rarely been subjected to, but still); no, these guys were stern beyond simple sterness--they seemed angry. And beyond that, they acted like running a restaurant and serving customers was something they did with minimal interest. Something they collectively didn't care about, as though they were all here for some other reason.

Some other reason? And we let them serve us raw fish?

As we spent more time observing their weird disconnect from the actual job of running a restaurant, I became increasingly suspicious. The misshapeness--it's a classic sign of malnutrition, common among North Koreans. Their hard-scrabble, but collective demeanor--as though they'd been through tough times together, and had formed a bond. Maybe they were refugees from Kim Jong Il's land, and after escape and the stress of readjustment, they just didn't have enough in the tank to care whether you wanted that coke with ice or not.

Or maybe they weren't fugitives from the regime. Could they be North Korean agents, using this restaurant (with that innocently anti-Japanese insult JAPORAMA for a name) as a cover for something nefarious?

Hard to imagine something more nefarious than the dish we were served.

After we placed our order (sushi maki) with the listless, disinterested waitress (we were the only ones in the place, it was still a little early by Paris standards for dinner, but the whole city seemed slow tonight), she went back toward the kitchen and suddenly all the waitresses were laughing. And looking at us. And repeating, "Sushi Maki (hahaha!)."

"Sushi Maki?"

"Sushi Maki!"


Well, wouldn't it unsettle you?

Just seeing such dour, lifeless ladies laugh was a little unsettling, but for them to laugh at our dinner?

The bode-ing was not well.

The soup starter tasted wrong, but bland enough to be overlooked. Then the sushi came out.

You remember, Sushi Maki Ha Ha Ha.

I'm sure you can imagine bad sushi. This was bad sushi. Even the wasabi looked unhealthy. I joked that the wait was so long because the cook was out digging through the trash at the Champion Market, looking for their sushi discards.

I ate one roll and picked some pieces from another (even the rice tasted...sour, edging toward putrid) (and we are talking about CALIFORNIA ROLLS, the light-weightiest of the light-weight). I could eat no more. Dear Wife didn't even manage that much. We just asked for the bill and left. We were a little nervous--more customers had arrived and I felt sort of compelled to tell 'em, "Bad Sushi!" But the pit boss was already eyeing us intimidatinggly, and we were terrified he'd come over and demand to know what the problem was, talking in his unitelligible (to us neophytes) North Korean French. We sweated it a few minutes, but then the bill was signed and we were out of there.

I wasn't about to tangle with any North Korean agents.

JAPORAMA: I wouldn't, if I were you.