Hey, Poke Way

I don’t like sushi. I have always WANTED to like sushi. I have TRIED to like sushi. It is so sexy and glamorous. I feel like such a bumpkin when I have to admit to people that I don’t like sushi. I have no aversion to the concept; I love the aesthetic. I’ve just always been overly sensitive to “fishiness”. What other people call “briny” or “the taste of the sea” is overwhelmingly fishy to me. The “California Roll” does not solve my problem either, as I don’t like sticky rice or nori. I do not like it in a box. I do not like it with a fox. But I don’t mind going to sushi bars – they serve all kinds of other non-fish-related delicacies – tempura, gyoza, chicken, and if I’m lucky, some interesting noodles.

So Saturday night when my brother Johnny, and his wife Rene wanted to take us to their local sushi place in Nipomo, I was fine with it – it would make my husband very happy, and for me it meant tempura. We pulled into a strip mall and parked in front of a very unappealing-looking storefront with block letters simply spelling out SUSHI AND TERIYAKI. All of my bad restaurant warning bells were sounding. But Johnny is a fisherman, and knows fresh fish. My food obsession did not just occur in a vacuum – my entire family takes, shall we say, a “special” interest in food. Upon entering, the familiar interior design of the restaurant reassured me with lots of black wood and sparkling clean glass.

I was a little concerned when Johnny insisted on sitting at the sushi bar. I think it is impolite to sit at the sushi bar when I am not going to eat any sushi. Sure enough, after nibbling on my tempura and short ribs, I started to feel the pressure. Luckily, I have a few fall-back items – I know from experience that I can eat shrimp and unagi. I might not love them, but I will not have to spit them out. This particular restaurant also grated fresh wasabi for you at the table, and after eating a mouthful of that, the fish did not seem so daring. Of course, any time you get boys together around anything that is insanely spicy, high off the ground, or on fire, you are going to get a pissing contest. Here are the results of Bob and Johnny being in the same room with unlimited beer and wasabi:


This restaurant, a satellite of “California Sushi and Teriyaki” in Santa Maria, is known for its modern twists on traditional sushi. There were exciting things happening all around. Rene’s order appeared, a gorgeous rattlesnake roll – Krab, avocado and jalapenos wrapped in wontons and deep-fried. It piqued everyone’s interest and soon Rene was passing pieces over to complete strangers.

The sushi chef started in on some fantastical new creation, which he finished with a giant mountain of fried noodles. I said, “I don’t know what that is, but I want one.” I was pleased when he handed it over to Bob, and it turned out to be their “Cajun” something-or-other. By now I was freely, if not enthusiastically, eating bits of everyone’s sushi. Curiosity always gets the best of me. The cajun thing was a spicy white fish dish with a delicate texture and a complex variety of flavors. Emboldened, I tried the spicy scallops. I can only describe them as slimy and difficult to swallow. Thank God sushi places have those gigantic beers!


One of the sushi chefs handed us a small plate, a little gift, a “lagniappe” of sorts. It was a tuna poke. He smiled and stood there expectantly. I had to eat it. In spite of just being freaked out by the slithering scallops, I had no other choice. I prepared myself to not make a face. The slices of ahi tuna were marinated in sesame oil, and sprinkled with both black and white sesame seeds. It wasn’t bad, in fact it was – good. I liked it. I really liked it. I felt something pop between my teeth and peered into the little bowl – along with some chopped chives was a sprinkling of smelt roe. I hate smelt roe. I thought I hated smelt roe. But these things were great – I fished them out with my chopsticks, pop, pop, pop! I liked the tuna so much I thought maybe the poke was “cooked” with some citrus, like a ceviche.

I asked the chef, “Lemon?”
He said, “You guess WRONG.”
Me: “Orange?”
Chef: You guess WRONG.”
Me: Yuzu?”
Chef: You guess WRONG.”
Me: Really? No yuzu?”
Chef: You guess WRONG.”
Johnny: “What the f@%k is Yuzu?”

I noticed that one of the selections on the board was called “FOUND NEMO”. I asked the sushi chef if it was clown fish, and he laughed with dark humor. Nipomo is such a small town that Johnny was constantly running into people he knew just about everywhere we went. His boss happened into the restaurant, and as Johnny was making introductions, I noticed our sushi chef surreptitiously squeezing lemons and oranges into a bowl. He passed the bowl off to the other sushi chef and I tried to watch its trip around the kitchen like a game of 3-card Monty. I pretended to listen to Johnny’s boss, but I was going to find out whether there was citrus in that poke if it killed me. Kiki Maraschino, scourge of the strip mall sushi bar.

Things were winding down. We paid our bill and handed our sushi chef an extra tip. He motioned for us to stay put, and started twisting little bits of salmon into tiny roses. Johnny said, “He’s making your Nemo for you.” Another little lagniappe. Johnny whispered a menacing blow-by-blow in my ear, “Ewww, cream cheese…he’s slathering it all over…ohh, God, not that gross white sauce… I’m not eating those green things. No way.” By the time the chef proudly and generously handed me four perfect little rosettes of salmon with delicate daikon radish sprouts Johnny had managed to creep me out just like we were little kids again. There was no way I was eating that salmon. I had had one good sushi experience and I wasn’t going to ruin it now. As the chef watched, I fed one to Bob. I tried to fob one off on Rene. She said, “I’m not having a lot of luck with food right now.” I hissed, “He’s watching. Eat it. You don’t want to lose face.” She said, “I’m going to lose my dinner if I eat that.” When the chef was momentarily distracted, I leaned over Johnny and shoved another salmon rosette into Bob’s mouth. The sushi chef caught me and I guiltily pretended to be snuggling Bob. While leaning across Johnny’s lap. Did I mention that the beers there were really big? After much whispering and hissing between me and Johnny, we managed to distract the sushi chef long enough to shove the rest of the salmon into Bob before rushing off guiltily into the night.

About Kiki Maraschino

I like catfish. Sure, we all like catfish, but I think for me it is somehow deeper.
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One Response to Hey, Poke Way

  1. Anonymous says:

    If you were going to make a famous person into sushi, it would look a lot like the “Cajun.”

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