Serving Sake to a Serb: Maneki

Sushi smorgasbord at Maneki.
Slavko loves sushi.

"I can eat an entire Costco sushi party platter by myself," he said. Seeing that I was unimpressed, he emphasized, "In one sitting."

I sighed. His ability to pack away huge quantities of food no longer fazed me. But the fact that he followed up his declaration of love for sushi with an example as shitty as Costco certainly did.

"I've had it at teriyaki places, too," he said defensively.

It was time to take Slavko to Maneki.

Maneki (304 6th Avenue South) is a traditional Japanese restaurant in the International District that was established back in 1904. It boasts a rich history, diehard fans, and a reputation other restaurants would kill for. Admittedly, it's better known for dishes like miso marinated cod and broiled oysters than it is sushi. But I like their sushi, too. The chefs season the rice with more vinegar than most Western-friendly places, plus they're generous with the fish.

We went in the evening, and because it was a Saturday, decided to spend more money than usual on dinner. In fact, we ordered every sushi option on the menu. Our server hesitated as we rattled off requests. "Um, that's a lot of food for two people," she said slowly.

"Don't worry, he can eat the Costco sushi party platter," I responded dryly.

For good measure, we also ordered my favorite Japanese dish, takoyaki, dumplings filled with diced baby octopus and topped with fish shavings and mayonnaise.

For the first time since we began our Asian culinary adventures, Slavko asked no questions and dived in as soon as the food arrived. Apparently, Costco had led him to fancy himself quite the sushi connoisseur.

He raved about the presentation, the freshness of the ingredients. He liked the spider rolls, softshell crab deep fried in a tempura batter. He didn't like the salmon skin rolls, made with heated salmon skin, cucumber, and radish sprouts. The snap of the skin when he bit into the roll, its crunchy texture, it was too unfamiliar to him.

Slavko soon found his favorite though: The JoJo Roll, rice with fresh water eel and cucumber, drizzled with a sauce so sweet it reminded me of candy. "Amazing," he said with his mouth full of eel. Then he ordered an additional roll of the same.

He tried the takoyaki, but wasn't as enamored by it as I was. "It's definitely good, but I don't want to waste space in my stomach," he said. "I want to fill up entirely on sushi."

At the end of dinner, our server returned to our table with the bill and observed the only telltale remarks of our gluttony was a small pool of soy sauce and a mound of ginger. She was so impressed she congratulated Slavko.

"Actually, I'd like to order something else," he said.

The smile disappeared off her face. She looked shocked and dare I say, a little disgusted.

"I'm just joking," he said quickly.

She let out a sigh of relief. "You shocked me!" she said, laughing.

As she walked away, I asked Slavko if he really was joking.

He grinned and answered that he was.

I'm still not sure.

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