Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fishy Fish

So, I have this thing about eating meat. I don’t eat it that often, and when I do, I don’t want it to look anything like the animal when it was alive. I know that is hypocritical, or more plainly, ignorant, but I just don’t want to know where my meat is coming from. I have a real problem eating things like lobster, king crab, calamari with the little tentacles (it’s OK if it is just the rings, though...) If I forced myself out of my prescribed ignorance, I would be a vegan, no doubt. But if I can keep myself blissfully unaware of WHAT I am eating, I can usually enjoy it.

My vegan and vegetarian friends hate me right now. But they’ll have their last laugh.

So, Tom and I tried this new restaurant called “One Fish, Two Fish.” (Well, it isn’t new to the area, but it was new to us.) The menu was huge, so we had trouble figuring out what to order. I finally settled on the stuffed rainbow trout, and Tom ended up getting a crustacean smorgasbord (wow- I cannot believe spell checker didn’t get me on that one!) My trout would be stuffed with their famous lump crab stuffing, which I was really excited about because of all things “fish” I adore lump crab.

So, imagine my surprise when my dish was delivered to my table, and on my plate was a fish. Seriously. A fish. With a head. And a tail. And... eyeballs. I started to get really shaky. My palms began to sweat. The server walked away and I looked at Tom and said, “Help me. Please, get rid of the head. And the tail. Can you please, just, chop them off and hide them, or something? I cannot look at this fish that looks like a fish!” I was speaking rather rapidly and I was light headed. I could feel the room start to spin. So, he grabbed the plate and chopped off the body parts and hid them under a napkin.

He handed the plate back to me, and I looked blankly at the skin. “That’s not edible, right?” I asked. Of course not, so I handed him the plate back, and he proceeded to pull the skin off the fish for me. I finally got the plate back in front of me and took a few deep breaths. “I’m fine,” I thought. “I can pretend all of that never happened.”

And then I put my fork into the fish, and realize it had fallen upon... spine. Ugh. This fish had all its bones!!!! I looked up at Tom and started to get tears in my eyes. I said, feebly, “I can’t do this. This is ridiculous. Why do they serve fish this way???” But after a few moments I chose to “man up” and de-bone this fish myself. I mean, It’s reasonable not to want to cut the head off something, but I thought I should be able to take the bones out of it. It took me 10 minutes, but I was finally able to settle down and eat something.

Except I couldn’t- I was exhausted! When I ordered a stuffed fish, I expected to get a more tender version of cordon bleu. Instead, I had to obliterate the carcass like a school dissection project, and it wasn’t done at that. I had to nibble my way through every bite, just in case there were small bones that I had missed. Who knew that I was going to have to work that hard to get a little bit of fish? With all of the muscle and precision I had to give to the thing, you’d think I would have won a medal when I was done. I was looking for applause, but of course, none came.

Had I known from looking at the menu that the fish would be placed in front of me with a gaping open mouth, I never would have ordered it. See, I have never, in my entire life, ordered a piece of fish that came to the table like that. Part of the reason may be that I grew up in southern California, which is not a huge fish place. The only fish San Diego is know for is the fish in Mexican fish tacos, or lobster from Rosarito Beach in Mexico. Since we import everything anyway, there is no reason to prove its freshness by delivering the entire body to your plate.

The second reason for my lack of fish wrangling is that my father HATED seafood. So growing up, the only time we would ever have fish was when my father went out of town for business, and my mother would, in her rebellion, cook fish sticks for us. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I tried things like salmon, and I wouldn’t even consider sushi until I was in my late 20s. (Now, salmon and sushi are among my favorite foods, and just about the only meat I’ll eat, besides bacon.)

My last hypothesis for my fish freak out was my limited experience with fish preparation at restaurants. Growing up, anytime my mother “acted out” and ordered fish at a restaurant she would have the server take the plate back if the fish had a bone in it. So I was groomed to believe that if a fish had its bones, the restaurant had not done their job in cleaning it properly. So, I entered my life on the East Coast a veritable baby in the ways of seafood.

In the end, I kind of got a kick out of the experience. As I mentioned, had I known that the fish would have arrived to the table that way, I never would have ordered it. But it is kind of thrilling to get through an experience that you never thought you would have. Trust me, I will never do that again, but I get a laugh every time I think of the evening.

That said, I apologize in advance to all of the future servers who will hear me ask, “Um, does it look like a fish when it arrives?”


  1. As a server, I can tell you that I would always prefer that people ask about dishes they've never experienced, or give specific instructions (no fish that looks like a fish is a good one).

    By the way, you will probably want to avoid ordering trout ever as it is always prepared with bones, skin, and tail, and usually served that way as well. That's also true for bass. I'll tell you why some other time if you're interested.

  2. I do, indeed, want to know why. Thanks for the advice, too! =)

  3. ...and then one day at the sushi bar the sea urchin was served. Not fish (certainly not foul) not crusty or firm like its friends in the crustacean clan, funky is the only way to describe it as you approach the lovely orange color, apprehensive, but willing, kind of.

    You look at the sushi chef, who looks at you, smiling, hoping that you will enjoy this as you enjoyed everything else he gave you, two pieces at a time, you look at your date, before whom you are not allowed to show anything but resolve...

    ...bite, squish, slide and its gone...

    But was it good?

  4. Wonderful continuation- thank you! =)


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