Scenes from Sushi Restaurants

It is a little bit after five o’clock on a sunny Friday evening, and I walk through the sliding glass doors of my local mall unencumbered by children. My destination is the second shop on the right, a small sushi place my husband and I have been frequenting for almost ten years. It’s moved since our first visit, but only across the hall, to a space that allowed them to add a few tables and a countertop bar along one of the walls.

When the girl behind the counter sees me she smiles. I have become a regular, and so have my children. Usually I stop by on a busy night with them in tow, but tonight they are at home with their father. I am glad that Jon came home early from work, because it allows me to avoid the usual game of chasing after Jacob when he runs out of the sushi restaurant, and refereeing fights over who will carry the sushi.

While the restaurant is busy, and many people are standing and waiting for their orders, no one is in front of me tonight so I don’t have to wait. The conversation opens the same say it always does, with the question, “For here or to go?” I return the smile and ask for my sushi to go. Then I experience the same mild panic I always do over what to order. How many California rolls? (My husband and children are simply mad for California rolls.) How many pieces of tako nigiri will my daughter eat? I take a quick breath and just wing it. Once I start it all spills out. The panic is misplaced – the truth is I order pretty much the same thing every time I visit. I could do it in my sleep.

I pay, crossing my fingers that my credit card will work. It’s getting old and the chip seems to be wearing out, so it only works about 75 per cent of the time now. Tonight is a lucky night, and I punch in my passcode and sit on one of the high stools along the bar. While I wait, I open a book on my iPhone, February by Lisa Moore. I’ve been working on it for a while. It’s slow going, but not because it’s difficult. It’s a leisurely read, and I’m taking a meandering journey through its sparsely beautiful observations. The 10 minutes while I wait for my food is perfect for a quick dip into the story.

Other people stop by and pick up their food. Two girls, who I think are in their late teens, order their food and then sit on the stools beside me. They parse a conversation one of them had with a boy about Skyping. Or not Skyping. Did he want to? What did he say, exactly? What did it all mean? I can’t help but listen as I watch a woman who looks to be in her mid-40s picks up a California combo (dinner for one). She clutches the plastic bag close to her side against her heavy black coat. She’s wearing a skirt and hose and practical shoes, and I guess she must have come off the train when she decided to stop and get sushi on the way home.

In another two minutes my order is up, and it comes in the biggest bag of all (dinner for four). I feel lucky, in that moment. I have a family at home waiting for me, and I don’t need to worry about Skyping boys or not Skyping them or what it all means tonight.


Fast forward four days. It’s just before six thirty on a Tuesday evening, and I am early for an event celebrating the launch of the new AnxietyBC website for mothers. I left straight from my son’s music class, where I handed the children off to their father as if I were handing off a baton in a relay race. “Here you go, make sure you give them supper, I’ll see you later, I have to run!” I wasn’t sure how the traffic would be. The traffic ended up being good, and now I have 20 minutes to kill and I am very hungry and can’t wait for the nibblies I know will be all laid out in a gorgeous display at the event.

sushi restaurant misoAs luck would have it, there’s a small sushi restaurant in the same building as the event. I push the door open and a small bell tinkles. A middle-aged woman sees me and asks the opening question: “For here or to go?” Tonight, I am for here. I take a small table beside the counter. There’s a half-flight of stairs down to the main dining area, but I prefer to stay here, where I know I the server will be nearby. I quickly settle on a combination dinner for one, and ask for some water, which arrives without ice or straw in a plastic cup. I actually like it better this way. The straw is unnecessary plastic waste, and I prefer my water to be a little warmer.

As I sip and wait for my miso I pull out my iPad and open February again. I made some more headway over the weekend, and I’m now about two thirds of the way through. My miso arrives and I arrange and re-arrange until everything is positioned so that I can comfortably read and eat and the same time. While I slurp the soup a father comes in with his two young sons. I flash him a conspiratorial, “I have little kids, too,” sort of a smile, before I realize that my children aren’t with me and he wouldn’t know. He smiles back warmly, though, and I feel understood.

The miso is warm, and eating it makes me feel good. Just after I finish my sushi arrives, all laid out on a plate, and I set about mixing the wasabi and soy sauce in a little dish. The perfect soy/wasabi balance is critical when you’re eating sushi. I realize I will actually have to eat my sushi with the chopsticks tonight, and grit my teeth. Usually I just use my fingers, but sitting where I am in full view of the restaurant I will have to be more refined. I manage it, mostly, splashing myself only once when I drop a piece of sushi accidentally into the soy/wasabi blend.

While I wrestle with my chopsticks I hear the other patrons down below start a round of “Happy Birthday”. I smile, and take a moment to look around and notice my surroundings. The ventilation system in the building is very loud, muffling the song. The building – a famous one designed by Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson – is built out of concrete. Erickson is famous for his concrete, which I became intimately familiar with when I attended Simon Fraser University, another one of his designs. Being in this space reminds me of being 18 years old, sitting at the back of my first computer science class. I see the same small circular indents in the concrete blocks in the sushi restaurant that I saw in that classroom. It makes me think of LEGO, as if the building was pieced together by some sort of giant child with a knack for modern design.

The song finishes, and I get to the end of a section in my book. I am full, and I can’t finish the last two pieces of sushi. I pull out my wallet and pay in cash, then I drop a shiny $2 coin out of the change I receive into the tip jar and leave. As I do, I feel lucky, for the chance to enjoy a quiet dinner by myself, in a fortunately-placed sushi restaurant.

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  1. For a long time I missed sushi. Living in the country in th praries does not make getting sushi easy. Luckily though we learned to make our own – after Steve brings home the special rice already cooked. Now we have a 2 small restaurants in Camrose where we can pop in for a bite or to take stuff home with us. MMMM, now I want sushi although I am currently eating pizza.
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