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Cynthia and Lorraine love sushi, so they spent some time poring over the dozens of selections on the sushi list before finally agreeing on mackerel, eel, yellowtail, a daikon roll and "crab stick" (we were assured it was real crab, though the sushi chef got flustered when I asked the same question on the way out). Lorraine also wanted to sample the Shanghai udon noodles, which she ordered, too.
I wavered over choosing a bento box. The selections were pretty basic teriyaki chicken, shrimp tempura, vegetable tempura and breaded chicken cutlets. Lilly encouraged me to go for the ideal sushi-hater substitute: tonkatsu, a breaded pork cutlet.
I hadn't eaten anything called a "pork cutlet' since I last dined in my high school cafeteria, so I was slightly stunned when the shiny wooden tray arrived. It was terribly pretty, almost like a jewel box. Each of the six compartments on the tray boasted some dainty edible thing: a little jumble of salad, a mound of white rice, a cheese cracker, two orange slices, a few grapes, and an egg roll with a thick and chewy wrapper. And right there, in the left-hand square, sat a very institutional-looking breaded pork patty, neatly sliced. It was a dead ringer for the high school version.
That wasn't necessarily a bad thing, because I like almost anything fried. But a pork cutlet is boring in any language, as far as I'm concerned. Lorraine and Cynthia cast a wary eye at my dinner. "It doesn't look that exciting," said Lorraine, dipping a piece of tuna nigiri into a tiny dish of soy sauce. The two had dined at Friends before, and they insisted that sushi was the real draw. "The food looks brighter and tastes fresher here," Lorraine said. "And the service is so friendly."
Well, it would be a paradox if a restaurant called Friends had the same brusque, unsmiling servers as one of its better-known sushi-serving rivals. The name of this little sushi shack actually comes from the group of friends who started the business. "We all work here," Lilly said.
Because everyone was acting so friendly-like, I felt comfortable enough to reach across and snag a couple of pieces of sushi from Cynthia and Lorraine's side of the table. The yellowtail and eel tasted fresh and succulent, and I loved the pretty daikon roll, a crisp combo of tuna, yellowtail, salmon and cucumber in a translucent daikon-radish sheath. Lorraine was less enthusiastic about her bowl of Shanghai udon. It looked comforting enough: thick ropes of doughy noodles in a mildly seasoned broth criss-crossed with kebabs of grilled chicken, beef and shrimp. "It's too bland," Lorraine said.
For dessert, Lorraine wanted a "Big Mouth," a kind of ice cream sandwich made with two delicate rice cookies stuck like clamshells to both sides of a small scoop of ice cream. She barely touched it. "The last time I came here, it had chocolate ice cream," she said, wrinkling her nose. "This time it had green-tea ice cream." I'm not a fan of that unique, subtle tea flavor myself, so I indulged in a mochi, a ball of chocolate ice cream wrapped in a chewy wrapper of rice pastry dough. The texture was almost indescribable ice cream encased in a condom comes to mind and not particularly tasty.