This Memorial Day weekend, I had the chance to fly back home and enjoy some time in the old neighboorhood with our friends.
A couple of years ago, we had a Memorial Day barbecue at the park by my mom's old house in Harbor Bay, where we braved the brisk winds and discovered, unintentionally, that J and A's golden retriever Tasha is a bit of a wine connoisseur. So we threw a little barbecue together at the last minute this weekend.
Saturday morning found us on College Ave., picking up some meat for the grill at Ver Brugge (including an inspirational 40 oz. bone-in "Cowboy" ribeye) and stopping by La Farine for a little breakfast pastry, just like old times.
As tasty as the food and wine were, the memories I'm taking away from the 'cue all have to do with the great friends that joined us for those few hours on that little patch of sun-drenched, waterfront grass. Firing up the BBQ, watching a couple of buddies talk about the wine, seeing Steve's eyes widen at the enormity of cowboy steak, laying on the grass while little man R pummelled me with WWF-style body splashes off the top rope... meeting three-month-old Kade for the first time, playing fetch w/ Tasha... a pretty great way to connect w/ the old crew.
Time has a funny way of flying by, and before we knew it, we'd been out in the sun for about 5 hours. Lav and I got back home, plopped on the couch, and proceeded to pass out for at least 3 hours. We slowly regained consciousness just in time to hit Sushi Sho to say goodbye to two more friends, Aki-san and his wife. We arrived just as they were closing, and had the amazing fortune of having the whole restaurant to ourselves; a quiet and intimately personal setting for my last regular meal here.
Aki and his wife have served us consistently spectacular sushi (not to mention fantastic chawan mushi and hamachi-kama) since we first visited his restaurant 2 years ago. And I mean truly spectacular sushi... the epitome of uber-fresh, melt-in-your-mouth, so-good-you-feel-guilty type of hedonistic decadence, all served in the most low-key little restaurant in a sleepy part of Berkeley. This is the kind of sushi that, on your first bite, fills you with a massive rush of endorphin-induced euphoria, with just the slightest twinge of sadness. Why sadness? Because you pretty much know that no matter where you have your next sushi... that's right... I don't care if you're a high roller at Masa in New York or going hard-core in straight-up in Tokyo, it just won't be the same.
My man Aki trained with the sushi chef's to the Emperor of Japan, and I've never had ama-ebi, hotate, hamachi, hirame, saba, uni, or toro like Aki makes. His ponzu sauce is home-brewed, his smoked salmon made himself. He sources from Japan to the Mediterranian and Santa Barbara for the best of the best. No, this isn't eating locally, unfortunately; but it is eating of the handiwork of a local artist.
As we finished our meal, I was struck by how significant an impact Aki and his wife have made to our sense of "home" and community in the Bay Area (we once considered buying a home in the Solano district just to be closer to him). In a relatively short amount of time, we've collected some truly unforgettable memories of our time spent with this couple -- the infamous "lesson" Aki gave Lav about eating sushi on our first visit, their son's graduation, meeting the in-laws, seeing Aki's sketches, talking about his knives, learning of his incredible passion for classical guitar and witnessing it first hand when Connie played her guitar for him in the restaurant, hearing him rant about the price of toro and his skyrocketing rent, and watching him ridicule the california roll / spicy tuna / ponzu-sauce-on-nigiri crowd. Good times.
Lots of priceless moments spent with friends this weekend. Take care, everyone!