When the eel arrived at our table, black-belted to a little keg of rice, my two daughters laughed. "Dad, why aren't you eating it?" they taunted. They scrunched up their faces and closed their eyes as I downed the thing, quickly, cleanly, maturely. Three bites, marinated in a little bowl of soy sauce and wasabi. Eel tasted much sweeter than I expected, but still it wasn't something I'd be going out of my way to order again. The hip-hopping necktie eels thrashed in my memory as I lunged for the pot of green tea. Two down, one to go.
Shad roe happens to be in season only two months a year, but guess what? The Grand Central Oyster Bar had just gotten in its first batch. "We like 'em when they're nice and fatty," the eager chef told me. He made a special trip out of the kitchen to present me with not one but two plates of his beloved shad roe—one draped with bacon, the other encrusted with onion.
I took my first bite. Followed by a second bite and then a third. And here was the shocking thing: I actually liked what I was eating. The shad was soft, smooth, strange, but in a good way; the roe part (poor man's caviar), soft, seedy, almost mellifluous. I finished my shad roe with bacon, then, unbelievably enough, started in on the one with onion.
Imagination has its merits. Usually it's dead-on (tripe and eel); other times it's wasteful, shy, a wallflower, joyless. In the case of shad roe, my imagination had led me astray. Delicacy or not, shad roe was utterly delicious, nothing to be scared of. How could I have missed out on it all these years? Had I overlooked other things? Should I be giving one of those John Tesh Christmas CDs a chance? Spring vacation in Yemen? Why couldn't I breed hairless Chinese dogs or wear horizontal stripes? Aren't civilians allowed on the space shuttle now? Today shad roe, tomorrow Everest.
I returned to the Oyster Bar the very next night.
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