Thursday, October 8, 2009

Local restaurant review and the meaning of "all you can eat"

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My wife hates my blogging. Not because she disagrees with everything I write. She does! And so does everyone else, I think. But because every time we find something great, I have to share it. "Why are you going to tell the world about this vacation resort?" ... "Why are you going to tell the world about this great restaurant?

"Well, dat's vat I do wit da writin and stuff!" I shrug in my Chica-ga accent that I can't shake with a Louisville Slugger. (I know, you're asking yourself, "Who learned you English?")

Anyway, Alison told me about this great sushi restaurant and I am figuring, what's so great about a sushi restaurant? They serve a chunk of rice with a sliver of raw fish on it and sell it for 5 times the cost. Kind of like the American Auto industry trying to get me to unload one junk lemon and pay $10,000 more to buy another junk lemon with a "energy efficient" label slapped on its fat, sluggish and unreliable ass.

Worse, I was in the middle of my freakin diet. I've been on the Atkins diet for 8 weeks and my arteries have turned into stone. But I have lost 22 pounds on that diet and I am within the strike zone. Well, I'm 206 and I want to be 195, which is kind of like saying that the Chicago Cubs will make the World Series. They get close and I guess that's good enough in Chicago-ese.

So we decided to kill my diet and she takes me to the Big Tuna sushi restaurant at 13137 S. LaGrange Road. I've been watching with amazement how some developer is building this exclusive, gated home and condo and town house community, with an Aldi at the front entrance. Why not just go all the way and put Cub Foods there and a Wal-Mart? But I did notice two new restaurants popping up. One called "It's Greek to Me," which sounds intriguing and the other called "Big Tuna."

Now, tuna is on the Atkins Diet so I don't say "no" right away. But then that hunger for carbs is eating away at my inside like a politician for a campaign donation, I'm ready to compromise my diet ethics faster that a Cook County Commissioner protecting the casino industry, and I yelp "Yea Baby! Let 'er rip."

Hey, I can also follow Bridget Gainer's lead on the county board and explain away $2,000 in donations from two casino interests trying to squash the video gaming machine legislation by saying "I met the restaurant at a social gathering of Atkins dieters. I didn't know that the restaurant served carbs. I thought they just liked me!" (Come to think of it, I think some members of the Cook County Board have replaced the Chicago motto "Where's Mine" with a new one, "All-you-can-eat ... in donations.")

So we drive to Big Tuna in the Big Lincoln Clunker for a Big Day of Big Meal.

Hey, $20 to stuff my face. That's not bad. And I have a face that is craving eight weeks of badly needed carbohydrates. My hunger is roaring, and it's not even Saturday so I can't eat a pizza. The "all-you-can-eat" option is only good for lunch between the hours of 11:30 am and 2 pm, not a minute past, my wife explains making me wonder how often has she been to the all-you-can-eat sushi trough? So we get there at exactly 11:31 am.

And, I wave to the waiter and tell him I want a nice booth by the window, but he points out (again like a U.S. Attorney laying out the indictment for a Chicago alderman) that no, the rule says we have to eat at the restaurant's bar. Okay. Fine. We'll eat at the restaurant's bar. We're the first ones there and every stool is empty. So we plop down on two seats. Not just anywhere though. I'm one of those OCB people who plans all seating in movie theaters and counts the seats. Have to be an even number group. Can't be next to the wall or the corner. Two seats away from the wall in the next two seats. Right here honey!

Normally, Alison would be rolling her eyes but she's thinking "all-you-can-eat" sushi so I can get away with a lot of crap at this point. "Hey look at that hot babe honey. What a set of mellons, huh? Don't you think?" Her response at this point with the sushi she loves staring her in the face would be a simple, "Yea sure, honey. Go ahead. Jump all over it." At which point my internal neurons start to overload and I go into cardiac arrest.

But we are at Big Tuna and I'm ready to jump all over their sushi. I am craving a hunger like no other hunger in my life. And for $20. That's the kind of patriotic American spirit President Obama is talking about when he says we have to do a service to our country and help the needy because I am needy for carbs at this point.

We sit down and the waiter brings us out Miso Soup and a salad. I take the seaweed salad because, well it tastes like Gummy Bears without the sugar. And it's sprinkled with sesame seeds and that's the secret to any Ay-rab's heart.

Then the big question. What would we like to order? "All-you-can-eat?" Yes sir the waiter smiles back. After all, I'm only on my first order. Turns out, he explains, there are some rules. You can order only three items at one time. But he doesn't tell me that right away. Being polite I order two sushi roles. Spicy Tuna and a California Roll with avocado.

It takes seconds to gobble those down and I sit there staring like a Chicago County Commissioner at a campaign donation in a contributor's hands. Not moving. Like a statue. Waiting patiently because I don't want to give away the vast emptiness of my internal hunger's abyss.

Finally, the waiter gets the hint and comes back and says can I get you another order? Sure, I say, "King Crag Avocado Roll and a Dragon Roll." Those are the top dogs when it comes to sushi. Alison puts in her order, too. We're each paying $20 for "all-you-can-eat."

I noticed that the waiter's smile seems to be twitching and I mention my observation to Alison. "Honey. He flinched when I ordered." She tells me I'm just seeing things as she waits for the second round of food to arrive.

By this time, the bar area is getting jammed packed with cheap-assed customers like me. I think they wandered in from the Aldi. Or maybe they came from the Cub Foods at 159th Street and Harlem, which is a long way to smell a good deal.

The waiter brings the food. Beautiful. As he puts the food down, he says "No Waste the food." I'm oblivious to what he says, of course, because I am hungry. It's great tasting. And gone in 90 seconds flat. And I go into statue mode again when I am done consuming. I want my sushi the way my dog wants his chew-bone every time he comes in from going outside to poop. I even try scratching my paw on the counter-top the way my dog tells me he wants to go outside to get the waiter's attention. It doesn't work.

Finally, and I mean finally, he comes back and asks if we are "done." Done? Done? Are you kidding? This is America, buddy. And Americans are NEVER done when it is "all-you-can-eat." So, I politely say "No" and then ask if I can order more. After all, we've only been here 25 minutes starving to death and we have two more hours for the "all-you-can-eat" period to end. Right?

So I ask if I can order "three" sushis this time. He did say three at a time per order, right?

And I swear, the waiter looked like he went into cardiac arrest. He stared at me like I violated some kind of Geisha Code or something. "More?" Yes more, I'm thinking. But I am too polite to tell the waiter what I really think so I purr out, "Yes, please?"

He pulls out his pen and pad and I ask, "Can I have three?"

Get the defibrillator for the guy. "All-you-can-eat" sir means "all-you-can-eat," even in Arabic, buddy, I'm thinking. "Yes, three. Is that okay?" I purr in response.

"Yes. But no waste. No waste." He looks at my wife's plate and she has four asparagus sushis on her plate and hasn't eaten them. (Who eats asparagus sushi?) "Ma'am," he says, "you must pay extra if you leave four pieces on your plate." So I quickly reach over with my chop sticks and grab two at the same time and swallow them like a Chicago Cook County Commissioner pocketing a campaign donation. And I smile. Broadly.

I order three. And he says agin, "You must eat them all."

Sieg Heil! We must succeed. We cannot fail. Failure will not be tolerated. Four sushis and I wack your dinky. (Okay, that's a comedy term from the 1960s. I like sushi but I am not Gay.)

I could feel the pressure. All of the restaurant's staff's eyes were on me. If they had a spotlight on the ceiling it would have been shining on me. Smiles with internal scowls, if you know what I mean. Like I violated a "goes-without-saying" agreement or something. Sure, we offer "all-you-can-eat" but we don't really mean it. We're just trying to get people into the restaurant and get them addicted so they come back when we whack them with the $10 dollar charge per sushi roll! We are going to make lots of money in this country from these stupid Americans! Yea baby!

So now, I am slowly eating my 5th, 6th and 7th rolls and they are huge. And they are all looking at me wondering is this a-hole customer (me) going to order more? It's not even 12:15. We're at the start of the "all-you-can-eat" strike zone. It's like being the Chicago Bears at the one yard line with 90 minutes left on the clock and I can't jump over Big Tuna's defensive scowls and order more?

"More?" the waiter asks. It's not a question but it sounds more like a statement to me. My wife jabs me with her elbow.

"No. Thanks, though. Just the bill," I reply.

Suddenly, the place breaks out like it's Christmas time. Everyone is happy. Two of us only $43 including the tax. I leave a $6 tip because 15 percent of the dollar amount is 15 percent, even if "all-you-can'-eat" isn't really "all-you-can-eat." They should call it "All-you-can-get-away-with-eating." Or, "how much can you eat while we stare at you in disbelief, you fat gorging pig of an obese-assed customer?"

I'm going back. And this time I'll be there by myself. And they won't be able to pull me out of there with a Chicago police tow truck. I'll be a fixture there for the whole "all-you-can-eat" time period, eating all I can eat!

Check it out. Big Tuna is loads of fun. All kidding aside, the food is great. And, check out my restaurant review page where I post more of my out-to-eat experiences. Click here to go to the Restaurant Review page.

-- Ray Hanania

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