There’s a photo of me dancing with my stepmother (Fern) at a cousin’s bar-mitzvah. It’s pinned to the bottom left corner of the cork board in my parent’s house, hanging next to the L-shaped desk in the upstairs office. And when I visit for a holiday weekend or special family occasion, I see it. Usually for a brief moment, in the corner of one eye when printing a boarding pass or scouring through the drawers for a postage stamp. When I’m nearby, the memory of it briefly calls my attention, before I return to whatever the task is at hand. It’s a comfort to know it’s still there after all this time. Sure it’s been partially covered by years of scribbled notes, creased business cards, neon post-its, and faded receipts; all caked on top of one another like heavy coats of paint in the windowsill of a historic home–but it’s there, peaking out from behind the schizophrenic collage of papers, and the moment I see it—I’m instantly brought back to the night it was taken.
I was twelve–an awkward twelve–and we were in Phoenix. It was Fern’s second cousin’s son’s bar-mitzvah, who I’d never met before. It was one of the first family events we’d been to together since Fern and my father started dating. I remember how big her family seemed with second and third cousins acting like BFFs and how small mine felt with first cousins who barely hung out or spoke between those obligatory occasions when we gathered for a dinner or Padres game at Jack Murphy Stadium. In the photo my hair looks wet with gel and I remember the smell of the rosemary mint Aveda products my brothers and I always used [thanks Mom!]. And how with a single swift motion I used to give myself the perfect side part that hardened like magic-shell into a wave of thick black hair. In the photo my cheeks look rosy like I’m some commemorative porcelain china doll with rouge brushed on my fat chubby face. That was before my acne got bad, and before hair sprouted on my upper lip. But it was after I scratched my chicken pox leaving three scars on the side of my nose and on my forehead, because I couldn’t help but relieve the itch. I remember hating the way I looked in photos, feeling like an emperor penguin without a slender neck. My lips buckling over my braces, remind me of how I always wanted a “metal mouth” until the day I got one. Then I remember how painful braces were, and how I bawled on the phone to my orthodontist (Dr. Mirroway) the first night I got them, thinking my teeth were going to snap out of the gums from the pressure. I hated those visits to Dr. Mirroway’s office who might as well have been the devil, smiling while he tightened and twisted his pliers and pinched my lips for blood on accident….or was it? The silver lining was picking out new rubber-band colors, like blue and white for Hanukkah, or orange and black for Halloween; though they all turned brown after a few days of drinking diet coke and eating microwavable french bread pizzas. I remember how insecure I was at that age, and how I used to wear a thick black Champion hoodie almost everyday, because it was plain, slimming, and easy to hide within from the world. I was still in the closet back then. My black pleated pants remind me of how unfashionable I was, and how my mother used to take us shopping at Nordstrom’s when we were little, buying a year’s worth of clothes in one visit. That happened before my parents got divorced, and I laugh about that part of my youth when I was naive and secretly wished my parents would magically fall in love again and get back together….and how that faded away when Fern came along.
Fern looks so happy in the picture, in her colorful formal jacket with shoulder pads that she used to wear with skirts and sometimes pants. I remember her pointy black patent leather shoes with the gold heel. She had such trouble finding 7 narrows that fit. She looked happy embarrassing me with that slow dance when all I wanted was to run around with my new cousins who I’d met during brunch earlier that day and wouldn’t see again until the next cousin’s bar or bat mitzvah. We had white-boy breakdancing moves to practice on the modular parkay floor, and our dancing was preventing me from getting back to it. I remember swimming in the hotel pool earlier that afternoon. Back then I always swam with a t-shirt on, because I was ashamed of my fat stomach and little man-boobs. Every time I got out of the water, I had to release the suction of the shirt from my body or I felt like a walking sausage link with hair. It was exhausting to say the least, but pointless all the same….because fat kids still look fat when soaking wet.
The images of my past play across the my mind’s movie screen, like a film reel in fast-forward, the colors are blurred and sounds are garbled, but I’m able to pick up just enough. I’m able to piece it all together and make some sense of it all, before shoving it back in the trunk I keep stored in the attic.
The photo has a few more holes now. Pierced by thumbtacks holding some temporary reminders of an address to write down, or a frequent video rental card that was eventually thrown away. But it’s still there in my parent’s house, in the office upstairs, where I see it without even seeing it…telling stories with indefinite endings….
Shinbay – One of the Best Restaurants in Scottsdale
That photo in my parent’s house captures one of my oldest Arizona memories, and now more than 20 years later, I have some new images to recall when I think of visiting Phoenix. On a recent trip to Scottsdale, Arizona, my mother and I had the chance to enjoy one of the best sushi dinners we’ve ever had at Shinbay restaurant. I know what you’re thinking, “how can there be good sushi in land-locked Scottsdale, AZ?” Well stop! The sushi chef at Shinbay has been cultivating his relationship with a fish monger in the port of Los Angeles for over 30 years. Built on decades of trust and loyalty, their partnership guarantees that some of the freshest seafood on the West Coast is making it’s way to the small modern Japanese restaurant in an outdoor mall off of Scottsdale Road.
The staff at Shinbay were professional, attentive, and informed. A mix of Japanese and American born, everyone is passionate about their contribution to the greater Shinbay dining experience and they all know both the Japanese and English names of each ingredient, style of cuisine, and preparation type. It’s hard to explain it without experiencing it firsthand, but the sushi chefs at Shinbay are true artisans. Like composers, each bite is meticulously engineered to play a chord that when strung together become an edible concerto over the course of your meal. You will want to sit down, relax, and let the professionals perform their song and dance. This is why they don’t allow for substitutions or even welcome the ordering of your more traditional sushi rolls and Japanese dishes. Because that’s not the experience Shinbay is trying to cultivate. So leave your preconceived notions of what “sushi” is behind, and prepare yourself for something different. Everything is made fresh to order so if you have an allergy they’ll gladly accommodate you with substitutions as needed, but if you’re a control freak when it comes to food, you’re gonna want to leave that in the car.
Here’s a snapshot of our dinner at Shinbay, and some of the photos that inspire a thousand words, or more, for me when I now think of Scottsdale, Arizona.
We started with a bottle of unfiltered cold sake served chilled in a wooden box of crushed ice.
1st course: Abura Tsukuri
Thinly sliced hirame (fluke) seared in grape seed oil and served with ginger, ponzu, and scallions. Nothing needs soy sauce or wasabi at this restaurant. Everything is served as it’s intended to be eaten. And the fish is so fresh it practically melts like rice paper on your tongue.
2nd course: Seafood Sampler
- Tsukuri Sanshu—Tuna tartar with avocado, pine nuts, grape seed oil, topped with fresh wasabi, sliced ginger.
- Kumamoto Oyster with ponzu gel, uni and sliced cherry tomato.
- Wild blue shrimp with shrimp reduction sauce, white sturgeon caviar.
3rd course: Sakamushi (soup)
Steamed manila clams, sake butter broth with inoki, brown and white shimeji, shitake, arangay mushrooms topped with scallions. This soup was amazing, then again, I love mushrooms. It’s a light broth but with all those glutamates from the fungi, it has tons of umami flavor. The clams were just barely cooked, so they were soft and not chewy like they can be when boiling for too long.
4th course: Toubanyaki (grill)
Wagyu beff from Japan, inoki mushrooms, asparagus and summer squash. We got a side of housemade steak sauce and Himalayan rock salt to draw out the flavors of the meat marbled so perfectly you want to cry. This was a nice change of pace about two-thirds of the way through the meal. Each of us received a small plate of thinly slices wagyu beef, perfectly marbled with fat evenly dispersed throughout. We got a few vegetables too, and two small cubes of butter to add some flavor for caramelization in the skillet. At your own pace you can grill the meat and vegetables and cook the ingredients for as long as you’d like.
5th course: Nigiri (Sushi)
- Suzuki (wild seabass) with ponzu and ground ginger.
- Kinmedai (alfonsino fish) served naked.
- Big Eye Tuna marinated in soy and topped with a drizzle of nikiri sauce.
- Kampache (Amberjack fish) with sansho pepper and ponzu.
- Aji (Horse Mackeral) with ground ginger, scallions and ponzu.
- Otoro (blue fin tuna belly) with nikiri sauce, shoa ebe (silver shrimp) with Himalayan rock salt, yuzu juice, and lime zest.
The savory part of the tasting menu was finished with an assortment of nigiri sushi, each piece perfectly paired with Japanese flavors, or in some cases without, so you can taste the unadulterated fish in all it’s glory with that slightly sweet starchy sushi rice and some wasabi underneath.
6th course: Chawanmushi (Dessert)
Steamed sweet egg custard topped with fresh fruit, dark Japanese sugar cane syrup and strawberry syrup. Like most Asian countries, Japan’s desserts are typically very light and not too sweet. This sweet egg custard was just enough to seal the meal, and yet the mixture of fruits and syrups really added a complexity with each bite that sort of danced from tastebud to tastebud like a page of connect the dots.
We think Shinbay is one of the best restaurants in Scottsdale….if you’ve been, tell us what you think and leave a comment below. And if you haven’t been, share your suggestion for some of the best restaurants in Scottsdale.