I’ve always had strong feelings about food. I was born hungry. My memories of food are vivid. Both of my parents cooked. I was a kid, though. I was more interested in TV dinners and the occasional run to McDonald’s – since those things were so rare for us.
I grew up the youngest of eight, with four fast-growing brothers. I practically had to fight for food. Ok, not really. But it was my personal war zone. If my Dad came home with a fresh bag of Doritos, it was a super treat. I’d stealthily grab the bag – like a secret agent – and go into the living room, hoping to go unnoticed. I’d hide the delicious bag in my lap on the couch, covered by my mom’s thick, crocheted afghan. I’d first use my Bionic Woman amplified hearing to listen for any of my “garbage disposal” brothers coming.
When the coast was clear, I’d delightfully crunch on a single chip, slowly and meticulously – making as little noise as possible. My cover was often blown. I swear, boys can smell food a mile away. Once they got ahold of the bag, the chips would be gone in 10 seconds or less. Crumbs would be left scattered like blood at a crime scene. Sigh.
On other less traumatic days, my sister would walk me up to Kresge – the local “dime store” – where we’d eyeball the candy selection. Snuggled up in my poncho, I’d always grab Hot Tamales candies with a side of frozen coke (aka Slurpee). P.S. I still buy these on road trips. And I still own ponchos.
One of my fondest memories, though, is hanging out in the living room watching something on TV like the Love Boat, late at night with my Dad. He would secretly exit the room and then suddenly the aroma of baking pizza crust would be wafting in from the kitchen. It wasn’t fancy pizza. No. It was “home-made” boxed Chef Boyardee – and it is the best nostalgic smell I can think of. That and the plastic smell of a Barbie doll case.
As I got older, my love for “real,” good food escalated. I can thank my two French chef brothers for that. (I forgive them for stealing my Doritos.) Fish took longer for me to love. But after moving to LA almost 13 years ago, I got more adventurous with sushi. I’m a little embarrassed about my early “California roll” New York City days. But, hey, we all have to start somewhere!
In LA, when I had the money, I would go out for sushi at least once a week. Sometimes twice. My favorite spot was Haru on San Vicente just north of Wilshire. It later became Sushi by H, or “H.” It was owned by Haru and her husband Kunihiro. I got to know the two of them – mostly Haru, over the years. She was quite the character. Very funny and slightly out of her mind. In the best way possible.
Every single time I went to H, the sushi was exactly as I dreamed it. Buttery, melt in your mouth. Flavorful. A true delight. Over 11 years, I literally never had a bad experience. It was pretty decently priced. Not cheap, but not expensive. They also had a $15 corkage fee, which made it awesome for me and my friends to bring our favorite wines along for the ride.
I’ve spent many birthdays there. Many Mondays. Many Tuesdays. Many…everything. Last month, it was time to celebrate my friend Laurie’s birthday and we thought to ourselves: “Sushi by H…AGAIN??” We had spent her last birthday there. This year, we almost didn’t go, thinking we should mix things up. Try something new. But thankfully, straight to H we went.
The week prior had been a pretty heavy one. Some really f&%cked up sh*t went down, career-wise. But I thought I was feeling OK about it all. But then, after dinner, as we were walking out, Haru took me aside and sat me down. She was very sad to say that she was closing the restaurant in five days, to go back to Japan to be with her ailing mother. That news hit me. Hard. I just started hysterically crying. Yes, crying over sushi.
But that wasn’t all. I knew I was being emo about a whole bunch of things. For one, there had been a lot of wine. Combined with the terrible week. Along with the ups and downs of the past few years, even. But it was also Haru. It was also sushi.
My friends and my boyfriend, Jason, were off to the side wondering what in the world was going on.
I’m not sure I knew what was going on. I wasn’t just crying over sushi. But I was also crying over sushi. If you’ve ever had a favorite spot you’ve frequented, you know. This place becomes a constant in your life. No matter what is going on – you can always go there for a respite. If you’re going through some terrible shit, if you’re celebrating something – you go there. You excitedly introduce your friends and family to it. That spot becomes your happy place. Your sanctuary. It became my friends’ sanctuary, too.
But, damn, I am always reminded nothing is permanent. Even your favorite sushi has an expiration date.
Through my wine-filled tears, I begged Haru to keep the place open. “Why can’t you go and Kunihiro stay and keep the restaurant open??!” Yes, I actually said that. (Shaking head.) She said no. They must all go. Including her best friend and hostess/manager, Yukari. There was nothing to do but accept it, through watery eyes.
We all cleared our schedule to be there the last night. One last San Vicente roll. One last tuna carpaccio. One last, “Extra ginger, please.”
Haru told me it was her dream to have a restaurant where people felt like they were going to a friend’s home. And it was exactly that. She also said us being there on the last night was the perfect finale for her.
It makes more sense to me now that I cried over sushi. I cried because of all the hard times. I cried because of all the good times. I cried because that sushi spot was home to me.
Haru said she didn’t tell many people she was closing because she would have kept crying, too. I feel so fortunate that we decided to have that birthday dinner there. If I had missed Sushi by H closing, it would have felt like missing a great friend’s funeral.
Haru says she’ll be back. And I look forward to that. But for now, I’ll keep these memories close to my heart.
Hold each other tight, my friends. Cherish the special moments. They’re happening even when you don’t realize it. Find those places you can call home.
And, last but not least, more ginger, please.
Julie Slater, aka THE LOTUS FLOWER, looooves music. Besides being a rabid fan and musician, you may recognize her voice. She’s a voiceover artist and audiobook narrator (www.julieslater.com). She’s DJ’d on top stations: 88.5 FM and 100.3 the Sound in LA and 92.3 K-Rock in NYC following Howard Stern.
When she’s not at concerts, you can usually find her meditating or in the kitchen. She has a slight obsession with deep, dark cabernets & small batch whiskey. Namaste!