New York Press' Gut Instinct: Stepping Out

Scandalous! Photo: Flickr/makeitabigbox

When some men find themselves enmeshed in lackluster relationships, they turn to the seedy pleasures of illicit trysts, perhaps with prostitutes, coworkers or strangers sourced from Craigslist. The ass, as they say, is always greener on the other side of the fence—or bed, if you’re not into barnyard kink.

However, I have no desire to cheat. As the son of a Catholic mother who converted to Judaism, I’m saddled with a super-strain of guilt. It gnaws my insides like one of those parasitic worms, rendering me unable to lie. More crucially, I love my girlfriend. For the most part.

I do not wish to change my girlfriend. Our imperfections are what make us human and lovable, not Barbies and Kens with functioning genitals. And lord, I know I’m a flawed man. I hold grudges years past their expiration date. I curse at joggers clogging the bike lane. I’m sometimes as emotional and understanding as a Russian border guard.

But let’s forget my shortcomings for a moment. If I could wave a magic wand over my girlfriend and alter one trait, I’d transform her from a vegetarian to a flesh-munching, meat-lusting carnivore who gnawed ribs with the same gusto as Sammy, our bone-mad mutt. “I haven’t eaten meat since I was in high school, and I’m not going to start now,” she tells me, making herself a leafy, tomato-studded salad.

“But you eat salmon!” I tell her. I’ve never understood the pescatarian code of ethics: It’s OK to eat Flipper’s friends, yet it’s not kosher to gnaw on a medium-rare hamburger?

“I need protein,” she says, which is a thin excuse for fuzzy morals.

Wisely, I do not tell her this. But you see, my desire to convert to the pleasures of the flesh is not selfish. As a food and drink journalist, I keep tabs on the city’s supping and sipping scene. Dietary restrictions do not jibe with my job. Thus, when dining out, I occasionally must call my meat girlfriend, Julie. This is not cheating. This is because Julie will eat any food she can fit in her mouth—and some she can’t.

“Are you hungry?” I asked Julie last week, a question to which I already know the answer. “Always,” she said. “Where to?” Bar Akariba (77 N. 6th St. at Wythe Ave., Brooklyn, 718-388-6160), the loungelike spinoff from Williamsburg’s Zenkichi.

While the original serves elevated Japanese fare such as deep-fried potato mochi, soy sauce–cured yellowtail and frozen blacksesame mousse, Akariba presents a more concentrated focus: oysters, sake and small plates such as grilled toro and marbled Washugyu beef—a no-no for my girlfriend.

After gliding through an unmarked door into the cozy, candle-lit quarters, Julie and I appropriated a table and ordered several weighty pours of sake.

It was downright romantic, ideal for an amorous rendezvous. But since we were in the mood for food, not love, we started with the smoked nuts—um, no pun intended. Lightly kissed by cherry-wood smoke, the campfire-like nuts were fingerlicking addictive. “You going to eat those?” I asked, pointing at the final fat nuts. She pushed them in my direction. When you’re not dating, gluttony is no concern.

Next came oysters on the half shell. The Kumamotos were small and dainty, with a buttery, faintly fruity complexity. Even better were the Widow’s Hole oysters harvested from the North Fork of Long Island, in Greenport. These plump specimens were sweet and briny, boasting a lip-smacking salinic note. “Have you noticed that this is a pretty sensual feast?” I asked Julie, sliding another slippery oyster into my stomach.

“What’d you say?” Julie said, oblivious but for the Widow’s Hole in hand. “These oysters are goooooood.” Our affair of the stomach marched onward. The shrimp tempura was a crispy treat, the tails providing crunchy contrast. The oven-grilled toro was fine and flaky, while the Washugyu beef was as rich as Mayor Bloomberg.

We ate. We drank. Then we drank some more. Then we drank too much. We headed outside, away from the sake flowing like tap water. If this were a real date, this was the tipsy time of the eve when decisions are made. To kiss? To hug? To provide a fake phone number and hightail it home?

“I had a nice time, Mr. Bernstein,” Julie said.

“Me too.” I leaned closer. She leaned closer. Then we high-fived, the thwack resounding as we departed into the divergent distance.

Read—and vote for—the original column at the New York Press' website.