One of Seattle's most anticipated restaurant openings in 2012 was Shanik. This "sister" restaurant of the wildly popular Vij's in Vancouver is now in business in South Lake Union. Those who know Vij's know not to expect traditional Indian food; in fact, Shanik's website says it up front: "original, non-traditional Indian cuisine based on recipes created by Meeru." That's Meeru Dhalwala, the chef/owner who named the restaurant after one of her daughters.
Meeru hosted me for a preview of several dishes, including curried deviled eggs, a couple of plates with house-made paneer (actually, everything at Shanik is house-made), and a fascinating curry with kale, jackfruit, cauliflower, potato, and roasted almonds. That curry comes from a section of the menu that vegetarians will favor, while carnivores can choose meaty entrées that include chicken, goat, salmon, pork, beef, and lamb. I could not resist a dish called "lamb popsicles."
So what do Shanik's lamb popsicles teach us about sex?
It's all about birth and development.
The lamb popsicles at Shanik create an inevitable comparison to Vij's in Vancouver, where the lamb popsicle dish appears on most every table, but is a completely different preparation. While Vij's popsicles come in fenugreek cream curry and are served on turmeric and spinach potatoes, Shanik serves the lamb in coconut curry that contains a split pea and spinach mash.
That's good and all, but here's what struck me most: The lamb popsicles look like sperm circling an egg (not to scale, of course). And with Meeru describing that diners today "want orgasms" from their restaurant experiences, is it any wonder I was seeing the plate that way?
The popsicles on a plate are like a scene from Nova's "The Miracle of Life," a breakthrough broadcast that showed millions of sperm in pursuit of an egg, then conception, fetal development, and ultimately childbirth. The PBS show is as amazing to watch today as it was--would you believe?--30 years ago.
The process, after all, is mindboggling. Men typically produce 75-150 million sperm a day, which can live up to two weeks. Ejaculation releases about 200-500 million sperm, each traveling an average of 31 mph with one goal in mind: outracing the others to fertilize an egg.
It might not be all competition, though. Some research indicates that there's likely a level of teamwork among sperm. If lucky enough to reach the egg after a long swim, sperm encounter a gelatinous layer which they must penetrate. It may take many to "tear down the wall" and enable one to break through to fertilize the egg. Sperm motility researcher Charles Lindemann has described the whole endeavor as "a marathon run in a maze filled with mucus followed by an obstacle course."
I imagine that conceiving and birthing a restaurant feels like an equally difficult and challenging endeavor. It strikes me that Shanik is not really a "sister" restaurant of Vij's, but more like a child. Meeru explained that Vij's is 18 years old, and that it took time to develop and prosper. She wants to give Shanik time to grow as well. So she's constantly asking questions of the staff and the diners. She's printing the menu on cardboard, expecting that the contents will change. And she's accepting short-term setbacks with an eye on long-term success. Meeru's done this before, and with Shanik, she looks forward to being a proud parent again.