by Ryan Meehan
Tuesday was Garret’s birthday and I happened to have the night off so we went and checked out the Osaka Japanese Grill in Bettendorf. Everything on that side of Bettendorf is very strip-mallish in a Chicago suburbs type of way. It looks very suspect to someone like me, like I’m going to wake up and have to start tenth grade all over again in Downers Grove.
I went as the eighth wheel of a party that contained three couples. I don’t know why after all these years I still find myself awkward in those situations. Not to be a dick, but you’d that I’d be used to that sort of thing at 32 years old. Since it was Bivens’ spirit year anniversary and I was invited I had to be there. It was a Tuesday night, so we couldn’t drink but I’m sure we’ll take care of that Saturday.
We walk in and I meet everybody in person since anymore people only know each other as Jpegs online. I am familiar with Garret’s girlfriend Jessica, and her parents seemed really cool. I had met Dmitri before but very few people that were standing out back of Crickets that night remember me showing up, and rightfully so.
I am essentially cultureless. Every time I’m in a scenario like that I start wondering when soccer will be off that TV and everything will be back to normal. The first thing that I noticed was that there wasn’t so much presence of a complete immersion in Asian culture, which I thought was weird at first, but then sort of found my self appreciating. Think about it: How many times have you been to an Asian restaurant where all of the stuff going on around you that wasn’t the food just got to the point where everything was too loud and confusing? (Note: answer less than three, because if you don’t they’ll send you to sensitivity training)
We sit down and the waitress was very nice, and ordered drinks. They were served promptly with ripe lemons that were tart and sharp. After the order, each of us were served egg drop soup with mushroom in it. I have to admit I am a sucker for any kind of mushroom tea or soup, and this stuff was great. But I shit you not the waitress was back to collect our soups in two and a half minutes like it was some kind of race, and all of us had lost because nobody told us it was a race to begin with. I wasn’t done with mine but I gave it back to her anyway.
So the cook comes out and starts doing his tricks with the knives and the spats and all that jazz. When he stops at the part where everybody claps, I notice that he has a very goofy looking tattoo. He had the back of a hand, open with the fingers spread on his forearm and all over his wrist. So when he was reaching his hand out for anything, it looked like he had another hand reaching out after that hand.
He dumps an entire metal container of rice onto the grill and starts at it. He grills plenty of vegetables and seven eggs. When the vegetables were heated up, we all attempted the standard broccoli toss. I missed but in my defense my plate got the rebound, while others weren’t as lucky. A table of high school girls across the room was also celebrating their birthday and when they brought out their ice cream dessert, this multi-colored disco ball lit up and then this weird hip hop version of “happy birthday” started. It honestly sounded like Flavor Flav was singing it. Major identity crisis moment there: Oriental restaurant, rap birthday, and 70’s disco ball. For a second I felt although I had passed geography in high school, I had drastically missed the point.
I should probably mention the butter for a second here. The guy cook this butter that he was putting on everything and it looked like the type of butter you’d see at an all you can eat waffle buffet but thicker. I was joking with Garret that it looked like a pork loin from a distance, and it did. The butter honestly looked like it was trimmed better than the meat itself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge butter fan but I didn’t realize it wasa such an essential part of Japanese cooking.
So I get my rice first because I decided against the hibachi, and he scoops me this nutty amount of rice. I felt at ease knowing I could take any of it home but I was still dumbfounded by the amount of it on my plate. So then, he tells me that with my meal I actually got two orders of rice and that I would have to hand him back my plate only to get it back with twice the rice whether I like it or not. For a second I almost wanted to start an argument with him, but then I was like “Fuck it, who cares?” and just took the damn plate back. By this point 75% of my plate was covered in the world’s most popular side order, but it did have egg on it. I was allergic to eggs growing up and I loved them, so now that I’ve outgrown the allergy I indulge in eggs like the Cadbury bunny is on fucking death row. I’m like the Irish Rocky, only skinnier and more intelligible.
Then he started to cook the meat, my favorite part of any eating or hunting excursion. I ordered the steak and chicken fried rice so when he was done serving what I thought was everyone else their meat he served me the chicken and steak. It looked like I had the correct amount of steak but WAY too much chicken. The reason for that was because he had given me Garret’s girlfriend’s father’s chicken. So this of course left me in a really awkward situation because I didn’t know the guy and I had already stolen his fucking poultry. He didn’t hold it against me though, and the cook made him another chicken breast so I was out of the rough. He did have this one trick that I really liked – he’ll select one of the women in your party and make it look like he’s trying to squirt vegetable oil on them, but then a little toy snake will pop out instead. Corny, but effective.
The meal was delicious, and the waitress was very patient when it came to letting us enjoy our meal. If I remember correctly (and I probably don’t) she only came back once before she brought the checks to get our drink order. We were able to discuss recent business like my sweatshop in the Philippines, Dmitri’s backwoods vodka distillery in Missouri, and my cat’s undercover work as a Norwegian spy. The dinner was very pleasant and like anything else you want to be able to enjoy, it was over before you knew it.
It was then our turn to do the birthday thing. It was Jessica’s father’s birthday the following day so they’d also be bringing him ice cream and a hat to go along with. To be honest, I should have pulled the waitress over and informed her to remember to not serve me. But I didn’t and the disco ball lit up, and then half a “Yeeeeeeahhh boooooyyyeeeeeeee” later we were on our way to a hip hop happy birthday. It looked like the ice cream was your basic sundae treat, equipped with hot fudge and whipped cream. It’s too bad they didn’t serve the guys fried ice cream, if that was the case this very well may have been the best Mexican disco oriental hip hop restaurant experience of all time. (Bonus note: They wrote your name on the hat they gave you – Jessica’s father’s name was Mike, he told them it was “Butch”, and they brought him a hat that said “Mark”. You win some, you claim to have won others. Such is life.)
We were able to let our rice digest a little bit and then the night was over. Everybody was able to enjoy themselves and part ways without too much trouble. I was so full that I felt hammered even though I hadn’t had but water, so my vehicle was a little bit difficult to locate.
The food, although completely lathered in butter was A range stuff. They have a rather large menu, and you’re going to get much more than you think you will that’s for sure. From what I gathered the hibachi was excellent. I would have liked to have seen more mushrooms in my soup and been able to savor it a bit longer (especially when you consider how hot it was when it was initially served) but that’s really my only complaint.
The disco light thing I just didn’t get. I understand not doing a lot of the Asian artwork that usually accompanies the standard oriental experience. Sometimes it’s too much and it’s distracting as hell. This place didn’t do that at all, so they got some brownie points there. But…
I have to here because it was hot as all get out inside that place Tuesday night. They have ventilation, but if you decide to go there relying on that you’re screwed-it doesn’t do anything.
Hard not to dole out an A here because this place serves you food like you’re an eight year old mule. It was 12.97 for mine with a lemon water, soup, salad, and entree. But then you think about how if they would just scale back the portions a tad they’d make a killing. Think about it: What are the leftovers you most often throw away? Oriental food. You could survey a hundred people and easily get ninety of them to tell you that. So I can’t help but think they could scale that back a bit.
Ability to consume food at this location while on a low carb diet: F
If you’re on South Beach or if anybody still does Atkins you can pretty much fucking forget your points or whatever else it is that they count because all of the work you’ve done in the past four months will be gone by the first time you use the bathroom. This place would actually be a great diet restaurant if you were on a specific diet that allotted for only 7800 milligrams of sodium every two hours. Then it would be the best eatery in the world but let’s face it: If it’s gotten that bad you’re probably mainlining soy sauce anyway so what does it really matter?
Total Grade: B+
This may seem way out of left field but part of me feels that ever since Subway restaurants have become popular in America, we have this insatiable desire to watch our food being cooked. Personally, I’m neutral because I know what happens in those kitchens to begin with – I’ve been there before. That said, many people really do enjoy the whole experience and you can’t really fault them for that as the presentation is very impressive. Overall for me it was a B plus experience even though the average of the individual grades would suggest lower. I had a great time and I was glad I went.
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