Japanese

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.

Gut Instinct: The Heart of the (Reproductive) Matter

These men are named Milt. Trust me, you didn't want to see a picture of cod milt. Eeeee!

Over the last three decades numerous dubious foodstuffs have passed twixt my lips, from spicy horse jerky (chewy!) to sautéed lamb mammary (squishy!) to stir-fried pork bung (rubbery!). But till last week, I’d never experienced the gustatory pleasures of sperm.

To rectify that glaring culinary omission, I licked my lips and sought out shirako, aka cod milt, aka cod sperm. Come winter, the cod is mature and raring to mate. Before it can spread its seed, the cod is caught and its baby batter—a fat blob that recalls brains—is carefully harvested. Most is shipped to Japan, where locals relish this fleeting, um, delicacy. Instead of booking an overseas flight to sample milt, I instead booked it to Williamsburg’s Zenkichi (77 N. 6th St. at Wythe Ave., 718- 388-8985; B’klyn). Each winter, the izakaya makes milt the centerpiece of its omakase tast ing menu. I booked a reservation for two. My girlfriend did not favor joining me for dinner.

“I’m not putting that in my mouth,” she said. “I’m a vegetarian.”

“A vegetarian that eats fish,” I replied. “That is not fish,” she said. “Go ask your meat girlfriend.”

Whereas my girlfriend has many wonderful attributes—a kindly heart, sharp design sense, the ability to tolerate my moods that shift as quickly as the San Francisco weather—her vegetarianism can be a thorn in my stomach.When I crave flesh or edible oddities, I instead enlist my friend Julie. She’s a curious, limitless eater with an unquenchable thirst for spirits and beer. I presented her with my pitch, not bothering to sugarcoat what would go down her throat. “Want to eat cod sperm?” “Eeeeeee,” she replied. “Is that a yes?” “Eeeeeeeee!” And like that, we strolled into the dark and winding Zenkichi and sat in a secluded booth.We started with a bowl of lightly salted miso swimming with chewy strips of fried tofu.The warming, comforting broth was followed by a selection of cool and fresh sashimi and a bowlful of jiggling milt. It was as white as a Florida beach, though far less appealing.

Not allowing common sense to override my stomach, I grabbed a tiny spoon and dug into the custard-soft coiled milt.The texture was as smooth as gelato, with a sweet, mineraly flavor, like undercooked sweetbreads of the sea.Though some may savor the silkiness, I found the relentless creaminess off-putting— oh, my kingdom for some textural contrast! Moreover, the earthy undercurrent reminded me that this was seminal fluid masquerading as sustenance. Halfway through, I called it quits.

“All done!” Julie said. “Did you enjoy it?” “I ate it quickly.” Any lingering traces of gonads were rapidly erased by slippery, unctuous Kumamoto oysters served with a sprightly ponzu citrus sauce. A lightly grilled scallop preened on a bed of greens tarted up with onion-ginger dressing.The seared kobe beef was fatty and flavorful, and grilled black cod was given a rich, salty depth by a miso marinade.

But our escape from reproductive organs was brief. Silky tofu was topped by uni, better known as a sea urchin’s ovaries. Sweet shrimp, which arrived with a pleasingly spicy cod-roe sauce, also wore a crown of uni. It was scrumptious, sure, but I was nearing gonad overload. I smiled wanly as a crisp, golden pile of tempura comprised of green chrysanthemum leaves and cod milt arrived. This was less a repast than a test of someone’s manliness. Or lack thereof.

“Do it!” Julie urged, as I tossed some tempura into my mouth.The batter-dipped bite was crunchy and unctuous, delicate and addictive—another testament to the transformative powers of hot oil.

“Now that’s good milt,” I mumbled, my mouth full of reproductive matter. I had seconds, pairing the fried milt with a rich, malty Yebisu lager. Beer and spermatozoa: Two great tastes that taste great together!

Julie was equally enraptured. “My insides have been spanked by the fishie sperm and ovaries,” Julie said. She sighed, then patted a belly grown big on the instruments of procreation. In the darkened light, with eyes grown hazy on beer, you might say that she looked a little bit pregnant.

Give me a big ol' rating—or hate me—at the New York Press site.