Sushi and strip malls don't usually go hand-in-hand in my experience, but I was willing to give it a shot when my husband and I decided to break away from our regular sushi joint for our anniversary.
We'd been hearing buzz about and figured it was time for us to finally get out of our rut.
We made a reservation for the night of our sixth wedding anniversary—and with all of the anticipation and high expectations of any couple who makes it out to eat no more than seven or eight times a year, we stepped inside prepared for anything.
Anything, that is, except the gong.
We'd been inside the bright, clean and sparsely filled sushi side of the restaurant for all of five minutes before we heard the "Birthday Song" play over the loudspeaker, a man singing the two words over and over again, ending with the single, resonant clap of a gong.
"This isn't right," I said across the booth to my husband. "I feel like I'm in the TGIFridays of sushi."
The romance had fizzled. We both felt awkward and uncomfortable. We quickly decided we either needed to leave, or find some way to start over, recreate our mood and have a complete attitude adjustment.
Luckily, all it took were three things: saki, the sushi bar and the "love boat."
As soon as our waitress appeared with the bottle of cloudy, unfiltered saki, we asked to relocate. Once we were settled at the sushi bar, tiny cups of cold rice wine in our hands, it was like a whole other world. We did a toast, bought a round of beers for the sushi chefs (Sapporo, of course), and ordered the chef's special, asking them to surprise us.
A few seats down, a burly man in trucker's hat and flannel leaned over. "These guys are amazing," he said, gesturing at our chefs with his thumb. "They made me this salad. Octopus. I ate octopus! It was great."
The chefs took polite sips of their beers, nodded at us in thanks and then they began to assemble.
That's when we saw the boat.
Large, wood, and slowly being piled with rolls, fish, ginger and piles of wasabi. They passed the giant ship over the bar to us and our jaws dropped. "Hey! They gave you the salad!" our trucker friend observed.
The salad was a mass of octopus lightly coated in sesame oil. Our sushi bar friends were right: it was delicious. The boat had sashimi in the prow, rows of sushi in the center and two rolls decking out the rear. The spicy tuna roll was tasty, but perhaps a little over-mayonnaised and lacking bite.
But the other roll, a sort of caterpillar topped with mango instead of avocado, made up for any deficiencies in the other roll: the sweetness and texture of the mango was a perfect match for the slight tang of vinegar in the rice.
The abundance of fish, sushi and rolls was overly generous. We've never walked away from a meal leaving pieces behind before, and we could only laugh when the waitress tried to talk us into dessert (although we didn't say no to a second bottle of saki).
Still, throughout the evening there was the intermittent "Happy Birthday" song, followed by the inevitable final punctuating clang of the gong.
Would I go to Osaka again? Most definitely. But would I try to create a romantic evening out of it? Probably not. As long as there's crowd ruckus and a lot of birthdays in the hibachi side, it's just not conducive to romance.
Still that likely wouldn't stop me from taking another cruise on the sushi love boat. However, I'd likely make it a threesome. It's way too much for two people to handle.