I fake it all day: “Loved your movie.” “You look great in that outfit.” “I go to Craig’s because I love the cioppino.” So when I pay for dinner, I want to be able to focus on pretending to enjoy my companion’s conversation—not on the food. That’s why sitting at the sushi bar is a terrible idea. The dining industry was smartly set up to avoid any contact between the chef and the diner. If I’ve got a problem, I tell my waiter, she tells the chef in a much nicer way, and a solution is brokered. It’s the same reason the entertainment industry has agents.
I don’t want to smile at the austere, older Japanese man after every bite. I’m a sushi patron, not a sushi hooker. If I leave a piece uneaten—or just finish the story I was telling instead of immediately devouring whatever is set before me—I fear I’m going to send the chef into a Japanese shame spiral that ends in a very ugly way. So when he nods, I nod right back and grin while pointing at my food as if to say, “How did you ever put this fish right on top of this pile of rice, you goddamned genius?” Worse yet, with his face two feet away, if he says not to soy, there’s no freaking way I can soy.
Seeing your fish before you order makes sense. But most sushi joints are small enough, you can view the offerings from your table. There, your waiter will smile, and you don’t have to smile back. As it should be.