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When in Tuscaloosa, try Hokkaido

BY ROBERT DUKE

The vaccinations are being rolled out for the virus! I hope that means the end is near. I do believe that no matter what we do, this virus will run its course. It’s kinda like the Flu and if you are going to get it you are going to get it. It’s just a matter of when. With the shot though, if you decide to take it, the hope is that we can stop it in its tracks and get ourselves picked up, back to work, back to our families, and back to some normalcy in our lives. I can’t wait. It is just not in my nature to avoid contact with people. A friendly smile and a slap-on-the-back with a handshake are just plain natural.

     I have to admit though, I have been to a few restaurants in the last few weeks, even though I thought it was probably a bad idea. I told myself I would be helping the owners and employees make ends meet but I think I was likely being more selfish than that.

     We were in Tuscaloosa again this week and had been in town for most of the day. I had gotten pretty hungry so we decided to stop and get some Japanese food at one of our old favorite restaurants, Hokkaido. Everyone was masked up until they got to their tables but even though the tables were properly distanced, I think the masks were a futile attempt since everyone just removed them while they were at their tables. And unless you could use that famous quote “but I didn’t inhale”, you were probably compromised. We will leave that part in God’s hands. As for our meal, we would just have to trust the Chef.

     We ordered our usual hot green tea with honey and an appetizer of Calamari. The Calamari, compared to most places I have eaten it, was on the upper level of delicious. In case you don’t know, Calamari is squid. Okay, I can hear you sucking your teeth. But unless you have tried it well prepared like this though, you are really missing out. It usually has to be tenderized or it can be a little chewy. This apparently had been because it was perfect. It is served here with a light Tempura batter and quick fried. It is presented with a medley of vegetables also fried in the Tempura batter. I remember broccoli, onion rings, jalapeno slices, and lemon slices. All on a bed of onion strings; also Tempura battered. All delicious.

     Just when we were getting to the end of our Calamari and about to say “I wish I had some more of this”, our entrée’s showed up.

     My wife had ordered a Bento Box with Teriyaki chicken. The Bento Box is an old tradition in Japan that can be most easily compared to an American lunch box. The word “bento” comes from the Chinese slang term that means “convenient”. The box part in Japan comes from it being served in a compartmented, lacquer covered, hand painted, wooden box that could be easily carried with you until mealtime. Traditionally, they are served in restaurants at lunchtime with controlled portions so as not to overfill you for the rest of the day. Even though they are traditionally the lacquer boxes, today they can come in a wide variety of materials and styles and can be quite creative. Just look on Amazon.

     The Teriyaki chicken Bento came with a healthy portion of brown rice, a salad with Ginger dressing, one Spring Roll, one fried dumpling, and of course the Teriyaki chicken. The chicken was cooked on a Hibachi grill and tossed with a delicious Teriyaki sauce. Also included was a side of Yum Yum sauce for dipping and for pouring over the rice. Yum Yum sauce is a traditional Japanese Steakhouse sauce. It is quite good and tangy. It is mayo based and includes ingredients like Mayo, Rice vinegar, tomato paste, paprika, garlic powder, sugar, butter, salt, and pepper. There are lots of recipes online but you can buy readymade at Walmart or most other grocery stores. It also comes in spicy. Hokkaido makes their own with secret ingredients and it is delicious.

     For my entrée I ordered Fried Shrimp and Vegetables. I also got a Bento Box which included the Shrimp and Veggies and all the extras the same as before. The shrimp and veggies were lightly Tempura battered and quick fried. And even though I was starving, they were extraordinarily good.

     They also offer prime steak, scallops, and combinations in these meals. All are not offered in a Bento Box as the other combinations portions are larger.

     Even though we didn’t get any this time, they have a Sushi Chef who is quite adept at making world class Sushi. If you like it, I highly recommend trying some. It is not all raw fish so quit thinking that it’s gross. It’s not. In fact, it can be quite healthy and delicious. Most fish and seafood that is used is cooked before it is included in the Sushi that actually contains any. There are also many selections that have none at all. Just ask your server to help you. They will be happy to explain them to you. I think you will like it.

     Here is a sentence I never thought I would say. “After a very satisfying lunch, we paid the bill, slapped our masks back on and avoided touching anyone or anything until we got back to the car and took a Germ-X bath from the elbows down after Eat’n Out!”