I’ve Never Seen Spider or Caterpillar on The Menu Before
After graduating from college with a degree in graphic design in the early '90s, I was hungry. I was hungry for success. I was also hungry for new restaurants.
I got a job at a small ad agency in Beverly Hills, specializing in movie posters and entertainment design. My salary? $25,000 a year. For a single, fresh out of college twenty-five-year-old, I was doing all right.
I loved the freedom my salary gave me. I could spend it in any way I wanted. No one was going to stop me.
Dining out with my friends gave me one of my greatest pleasures. Los Angeles presented plenty of dining opportunities to satisfy my appetite to taste the new dishes.
So, I bought the Zagat Guide.
Before the Guide, I only knew places like The Cheesecake Factory, Red Lobster, and the Olive Garden.
The Zagat Guide was my roadmap showing me the plateful of marvelous deliciousness; Chinois on Main - Wolfgang Puck's restaurant in Santa Monica, Fama on 4th Street - an Italian-California restaurant, Röckenwagner - California cuisine with European influence, and Joe's contemporary American in Venice Beach.
I was bewitched - addicted to finding a new restaurant, tasting a new dish, one plate after another. I was intoxicated by the fancy California Wines, Martinis, and the candlelit ambiance. Because of that, I spent a good portion of my earnings on dining out. I could have saved or invested that money instead, but I have no regrets now. Those dining experiences were helped shape my life and brought me where I am now.
Every evening, I drive back on Pico Blvd. to go home from work. There was a long line of people waiting outside of a corner shopping mall - a copy store, Federal Express, a dry cleaner, and a Bank of America. The line came out from the smallest store with a tiny neon sign that said, Sushi Café.
A Sushi Café? Hmmm.
I wondering what Sushi Café could be. I wondered who would open a restaurant in this residential neighborhood. There were no restaurants around. It was an unusual place for a restaurant. More strange was the long line outside of it.
Night after night, I drove by and observed the long line of people waiting outside. Months went by. I finally gave up. I could no longer hold my urge to try their food.
I want to go there.
I called my friend Tom to come with me. We decided to go on Wednesday evening, thinking the line would be shorter than on Friday night.
At 7 PM, we put our name on the waiting list. There were six names in front of us, and about fifteen people waiting outside. I peeked through the glass door saw a sign on the back wall inside the restaurant; Crazy Fish.
"Hey Tom, this place is called Crazy Fish, not Sushi Café. Did you know that?" I asked.
"Yes, I am looking at the menu now," Tom answered.
"Let me see the menu," and I took one from the door.
A long white menu looked like the sandwich ordering sheet, except it had a section for rolls, nigiri and sashimi. I understood the nigiri section with Tuna, Hamachi and Salmon, and my eyes stopped when they came to the Rolls section.
"Wait a minute. What the heck is a Spider Roll?" I mumbled.
"Do you know all these rolls? I like Tekka, Tuna Rolls, a traditional roll in Japan, but I guess these are not "traditional" at all here?"
"I've had the California Roll and the Spicy Tuna Roll before. A California Roll has crab and avocado. A Spicy Tuna is really good too. I don't know what Jewish Roll is," Tom chuckled.
"A Jewish Roll? What the hell is that?" I said to Tom, with my eyes squinted.
"I am sure it was not my grandfather who invented it," Tom said.
"Look, all the people are eating rolls, like the orange one over there," I pointed out to the one table inside the restaurant.
"Yeah, those orange one looks good. I wonder what they are," Tom said.
"We should ask someone when we are inside," I said, watching the people eating.
After a thirty-minute wait, the waitress called our name. She escorted us to the back of the dining area to a small table for two. Before we said anything, the waitress fleed into the kitchen.
"Did she just abandoned us?" Tom looked at me.
"Umm, donno," I said.
She sprinted back like a bullet train with a tray full of food to a table by the front entrance. At the Sushi Bar, three Chefs were scrambling orders, talking to the customers at the bar. All the waitresses were running back and forth, taking orders, shouting across the restaurant, clearing and escorting new customers to the table.
This is a ma house, like a Sunday brunch Denny's.
"Excuse...me," Tom grabbed one of the waitresses on her way to the back kitchen.
"Yes, what can I help you with?" she shouted.
Her tone intimidated me. Just a little.
"How do we order?" Tom asked.
"You circle the ones you want and write down how many you want, right here in the empty box. When you are done, just hand it to any of us. That's it."
Then, she dashed back to the kitchen, as fast as a thief in a movie coming out from a bank.
"Wait," Tom tried to grab her, but she was gone.
Then, Tom saw a different waitress run in our way.
"Wait!" Tom exclaimed. "We don't know any of these rolls,"
"Which one?" the waitress stopped.
"Well... how about Spider Roll?" I asked.
"Tempura Soft Shell Crab."
"Let's see how about Caterpillar Roll?" Tom asked this time.
"Unagi inside and avocado on top with Sweet Eel Sauce," she said.
"Hmmm, how about…" Tom was about to ask her another question.
The waitress interrupted him, "Look, I'm sorry. I don't have all night to answer your questions," she shouted.
"Ask your neighbor, OK?"
Just like other waitress, she dashed into the kitchen.
"Gee, that was nice of her," Tom said.
"Well, look at what they are eating. It has Tempura Shrimp in it. It must be… this one, Shrimp Tempura Roll," I said to Tom. "Let's get this one and a Spider Roll. "
"How about Jewish Roll? It sounds interesting. What's in Jewish Roll?" Tom asked the man at the next table.
"It has Cream Cheese with Salmon. It's delicious," he replied.
"Cream cheese?" I said. "That sounds too weird," I said.
"C'mon, Kaz. It sounds good, actually. Let's order one and see what happens?"
We circled the rolls we wanted, wrote down "1" for each roll, and handed the order sheet to a waitress. She gazed the sheet for two seconds, and hand it to one of the sushi chefs.
That's how it works here.
Now, we could relax.
Ten minutes later, the waitress brought our first roll: Caterpillar Roll, Fresh Water Eel, Unagi, inside, and thinly-sliced avocado wrapping around the outside to make it look like a caterpillar. Unagi Sauce was drizzled all over the roll and plate.
"OMG, is that a Caterpillar Roll?" a young Beverly Hills 90201-type blonde girl asked Tom.
"Ummm, yes, I think so," Tom said.
"It's my favorite. It's soooo good. It's like dessert for me because the BBQ Eel Sauce is so sweet," she told us in excitement.
"OMG, Tom. Our first roll is supposed to be a dessert piece. What should we do?" I asked, imitating the girl while keeping my voice low.
"Well, why not?" Tom said.
Until then, I had never had Unagi with avocado. The way I used to eat it was called Una-Jyu, grilled Unagi over rice, or Kabayaki, plain grilled Unagi, with a side of rice. I couldn't imagine how it would taste with avocado. When I put the first piece in my mouth, I immediately said,
"Wow! Tom, this is good. This is better than good!"
The buttery flavor of avocado matched well with the smoky flavor of Unagi. I'd never guessed it would be this good.
All of the sushi at Crazy Fish was nothing like I'd ever seen or tasted.
The Spider Roll had Tempura Soft Shell Crab inside, and legs were sticking out of each end, like spider legs, with a bright orange Tobiko, flying fish egg.
The Jewish Roll had Salmon, avocado, cucumber, and Philadelphia Cream Cheese, and was named after the Lox Trim Bagel Sandwich served at a Jewish deli.
Despite my expectations, I loved all the rolls we ordered and was pleasantly surprised. It was not like the sushi I knew. Crazy Fish introduced me to a whole new world of American-made sushi.
After that first visit, Crazy Fish made me crazy for their sushi. I ate there frequently, sometimes more than once a week, and told all my friends about it. They, too, all tried it out, and everyone said it was excellent and worth the wait.
I saw American-style sushi as just another form, or creative variation of sushi, like Chirashi. Even as I began to relish and enjoy the American-style Sushi Rolls at places like Crazy Fish, I never abandoned traditional Japanese-style sushi, like nigiri.
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