Keifer Sutherland quipped “Today is a good day to die.” in the quickly forgotten film Flatliners. As a young girl with a raging boner for Keifer, I found it pithy. Some years later, I would discover that this line was a summarized translation from Sun Zu’s The Art of War. Both sources have stayed with me as maxims throughout the years in the same way Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove and John Lydon drove my graduate forays into Asian culture. Much has been sidelined in this restful period, but the Tasting Table newsletter roused the sleeping beast when they announced blowfish or fugu was available for a limited time at Ai Sushi. Suddenly, it was a good day to die and Jeff was going with me.

I know my way around a sushi restaurant. Aside from the language issue, I’ve matched and bested many Japanese people on this turf. Sea urchin? Bring it. Surf clam? Oh yes. Little baby octopi? Can’t get enough and keep the sake flowing. Just keep natto off my slab. My tabs are usually enormous. However, fugu has never appeared on any menu, no matter where I’ve traveled. It’s understandable. Incorrectly prepared fugu can kill you. A blowfish keeps its venom in a layer around its muscles that must be carefully cut away. However, you don’t want to lose too much; the poison adds a certain flavor in addition to a great deal of masculine cache. How much can you eat before your lips go completely numb? How much can you eat before paralysis and death set it? Samurai and businessmen push that envelope regularly with sometimes disastrous results. In medieval Japan, those who passed out often woke – if they did at all- to find a piece of string wrapped around their finger at the end of which was a bell. That way, if they were simply in the throes of paralysis, the movement of their breath would make the bell ring slightly. If they were really dead, well…

Such were the topics of our dinner conversation at Ai Sushi. I ordered hirezake (blowfish fin steeped in hot sake) for both of us, but Jeff found the flavor fishy enough to trigger his survival instinct a.k.a gag reflex. I applaud his bravery. I also applaud his selection of a junmai flight because the little sips he offered me were a perfect cooling foil to the hot sea breeze of hirezake. Somewhere between the two mugs, the roof of my mouth started to burn, kinda like when you chew cinnamon gum. The fire was quelled with small noshes of table-seared wagyu and raw oysters, but started again in a more peppery way when my fugu sashimi arrived. Cold burning. Hot burning. Cold burning…whoa…

I started to feel a little funny. Maybe it was the amount of sake combined with the fact that I’ve been flat out exhausted for the past two weeks. Maybe it was sake, exhaustion and the Pringles I had for lunch. I don’t entirely know, but shit got a little gonzo there for a minute to the point where my brain alerted me that a scene might be eminent. Jeff’s statement after we were seated rang in my head – “Don’t die on me. We just got engaged.” The waitress checked in on us and I commented on the burning. She agreed that the sake was more likely to induce that sensation simply because steeping brings out more poison. Her brutal honesty and enthusiasm were refreshing.

Unfortunately, I was still hungry after the main event. Jeff was happily nomming his way through pieces of smoked duck and wagyu nigiri while I walked the line, so we ordered a little more and then some dessert, which I dropped on the table in a clumsy attempt at seduction. Ai Sushi deserves mad props for boldly offering something that scares the bejeebus out of most sushi eaters. American’s like their California rolls, their Spider rolls, their Spicy Tuna rolls. They like rolls with mayonnaise on them. Fugu was risky special and they get my thumbs-up for serving this morbidly historical classic. The other sushi was good too. In fact, Jeff said the smoked duck was perfect. So it is then that we’ll be back. After all, we passed on a 2000 Tokai that Jeff remembered from his restaurant days. It was the best thing he’s ever put in his mouth.

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