Shovel Time: Tanoshi Sushi
I spent Christmas truly alone this year and it was surprisingly fun. This isn’t something I’ve brought up because it makes me defensive, and it wasn’t until I received the email earlier this week from Dirt Candy announcing “Solo Diners Week,” meant to counter the Valentine’s onslaught, that I gave it more thought. Sure, I guess it’s sad on some level to dine alone on Valentine’s Day, but not everyone is coupled up and really anyone who wants to go out eat on February 14 (unless it’s Dallas BBQ, obviously) is asking for trouble, whereas dining alone on Christmas is just straight up pathetic because who doesn’t have friends and family?
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Some people are mildly horrified when they hear this and begin secretly judging you differently than when they met you hours ago as you were trying to hold their attention with animated stories. An impression that you’re a suspicious decision-maker with no ties has already been imprinted when they convince you to walk the three blocks to their apartment after the New Year’s Eve party instead of the bus stop where you intended to go even though they are not 100% single.
Some people think it’s normal enough not to comment like the stranger who also didn’t go home for Christmas who you’ve been texting with sporadically for over a month and plan to meet at my favorite extinct-on-the-East-Coast chain restaurant in a few weeks when you finally do visit family in Oregon because you’re not a monster.
Some too-young stranger you have no rapport with and have never met texts you something benign on Christmas morning when you’re still in bed and you think that’s creepy because he should probably be spending time with his parents so you ignore him.
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This was the first year the words “I hate Christmas” came out of my mouth even though I’ve hated Christmas for at least the past 15 years. I never considered myself a Scrooge despite my ex-boyfriend calling me one because I wouldn’t participate in decorating the tree he’d buy in the Western Beef parking lot right before ditching me to head to his parents’ in a D.C. suburb where I was never once invited in over a decade. I was the only one who ever saw the tree on Christmas. And then it would stick around pissing me off right up until Super Bowl like a desiccated guest who’d long overstayed its welcome.
Some years I’d throw orphan parties. Some years I’d go out to eat with friends. This was the first year I made zero overtures. It was a weird year. I wasn’t going to go out at all, partially to try and save a little money for vacation. But an unexpected raise coupled with the fear of becoming a shut-in (too late) had me scrambling for a counter seat experience that would be just right i.e. special but not baller (we’re talking maybe two nice-ish dinners a month raise not Powerball money).
Oh yeah, Tanoshi. I wouldn’t say I follow the NYC sushi scene closely, and I kind of hate talking about sushi because I don’t have the vocabulary, but even casually observing I’d say there has been a recent trend toward the luxe and maybe even the bombastic. That’s not Tanoshi, which I haven’t heard much about since 2013 when everyone was going nutso about the bargain priced omakase being served in a small, understated storefront in Yorkville with an impossible reservation system that possibly added to the lore.
It’s still bare bones, just ten seats, and an ideal candidate for the Second Avenue subway, but you can now reserve online. The price has risen thirty dollars to $80, but it’s still BYOB, and I would argue still a bargain.
And it was great. Not precious and exactly what I needed. (Last year around Christmas, but not on the 25th because I wasn’t fully embracing real holiday aloneness yet, I splurged on Momofuku Ko with wine pairings, and while lovely, that kind of experience demands a high level of attention and energy, and honestly, tasting menus can be agitating when maybe you just want to zone out. Not to mention that I’m kind of over spending that kind of money on ephemera.) I didn’t take copious notes and I’m not going to regale you with descriptions of scored flesh or how the warm, vinegared rice almost managed to taste buttered when melded with fattier pieces of fish. I also felt a little anxious taking photos, which I did for my own memory not to demonstrate any skills, obviously–I was semi-seriously warned I had three seconds–because this style of sushi is loosely packed and falls apart quickly, no time for fussing around.
A rhythm developed. Listen, quickly snap, pick-up with fingers, cram into mouth and slowly savor the whole piece while trying to stay in the moment even if only ten seconds. Done. Sip some sake, nibble a slice of pickled ginger. Chill. Repeat.
Kelp-cured fluke, marinated big eye tuna, cured king salmon, winter mackerel, cherry blossom leaf amberjack, miso marinated black sable, uni (Hokkaido or US, I don’t recall, though I want to say Maine) saltwater eel, fatty tuna with yuzu pepper, spicy toro.
Then three extras a la carte: kani miso a.k.a. crab brains, not unlike lobster tomalley, bittersweet guts really; the halfbeak just because I thought the name was cute and the presentation, two spirals, more than met my expectations; then ending with the nodoguro/black throat, suggested because I asked for something rich and unctuous.
Really what was cool, and that I was vaguely aware of, is that while Toshio Oguma is the head chef, half the restaurant is served by Oona Tempest, who I’m not sure is a full-fledged chef yet or what that even entails, but no matter because it’s so rare seeing a woman behind a sushi counter and Tanoshi has two (Alex, left, is apprenticing).
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It was truly the best potentially worst Christmas ever. Afterwards, warmed from my small bottle of chilled sake, I stopped by 7-Eleven for cigarettes on the way to Seamstress because it was close and a real cocktail bar open on Christmas and a woman resembling a younger Kathy Bates was rampaging the aisles and yelling at both of the young Latino men on duty, “Where is the hard candy?!” My first instinct was fist-clenching anger and I wasn’t even working there and then I made eye contact with the cashier and said, “So, where’s the hard candy?” and we both started laughing and then I couldn’t stop as if I felt more high than drunk and became the new crazy lady in the store.
Maybe it was the 60 degree weather. Maybe I was just out of my element. I was definitely happy to have left the house and to have not turned into someone harassing people trying to make a living on a major holiday. Eventually, I ended up drinking a beverage garnished with a candy cane and marshmallow Christmas tree and aggressively making out with a grown man wearing glitter nail polish and eyeliner who caught my attention by talking about the ups and downs of NYC co-op ownership, neither thing I anticipated ever happening on the Upper East Side on Christmas. It all happened because of sushi. I’m pretty sure.
Tanoshi Sushi * 1372 York Ave., New York, NY