“You recommend ceviche? Ceviche… as in the dish with the raw fish?” I couldn’t help wonder out loud. After all we are in Texas, the land of steak, brisket, sausage and all kinds of fried and grilled and roasted and braised meats but the server’s recommendation is… seafood? And fresh seafood at that. I am skeptical. I can’t help it.
It was some years back in Austin, Texas. I had flown in from New York. Him from Europe. How or why we were in this random city is a story for another day. It was dinner time. We weren’t in the mood for BBQ or Tex-Mex so I asked locals for dining recommendations. Tallying the general consensus, we end up at Truluck in the Warehouse District.
The server laughs and maintains a pleasant demeanor as though tourists shocked by seafood recommendations in Texas is a frequent occurrence (I think he was just being kind). Before this night, I never imagined seafood as something I would order in Texas, but the server is correct. The ceviche at Turluck is fantastic. The fish is exactly the way it’s supposed to be: firm, dice-sized chunks of a non-descript white fish. The scallops are soft, creamy, slightly salty with a bite. The onions, aptly chopped. The three in my mouth, blending with the punch from the cilantro, and the kick from the spice infused lime juice is heavenly. I cannot get enough of the flavors and textures of ceviche.
There are house-made tortilla chips as an accompaniment that seem almost unnecessary. I am taken by this unexpectedly delicious ceviche, and my dining companion is too. I think we found something special.
Over five hours, two bottles of wine, two appetizers, a main I can’t remember, we got lost in conversation and with each other. I listened as he spoke of his ending marriage and heart wrenching family situation. God, this man is going through so much — how is he even functioning?
If hugging hearts were possible, I think I did just that. I showered this sad man with love and through the 15 days we spent together in Texas, I saw his broken soul transition to one filled with dreams, happiness and… hope.
Before him, I had no idea love so strong, so pure, so unconditional existed. I didn’t even know I was capable of giving another so much. As we said our farewells at the airport, I remember thinking: I don’t need anything in return. I only want to love him.
South Beach Miami, a year and some weeks later. I fly in from NY. Him from Europe. We still live on different continents but somehow maintained a relationship. South Beach is another neutral location we chose to meet over the year. I don’t care where we were. I just want to be with him.
Relying on local recommendations I learn of Chalan on the Beach, a Peruvian place, and reserve it for our first meal together in Miami. After reading online reviews, I am immensley looking forward to going. I tell him over and over how much I love ceviche and thrilled for Chalan. He tenderly smiles down at me, softly kisses my forehead before cupping my face with both of his hands, tilting my head up for a kiss. He knows exactly how to make me melt. Believe it or not, he found my slightly neurotic obsession with food endearing. Very strange.
Over a below average, roughly prepared ceviche, he continues telling the same story I heard a year ago in Texas. The failed marriage he cannot get out of because of hardships with his family situation. Our conversation is like the careless ceviche at Chalan — underwhelming, but I told myself to maintain an open mind about Chalan and with his words. I was so excited for our meal but most of all, being with him.
The remainder of our time in South Beach is great. Over-priced, underwhelming foods but such a fun city. As we are parting ways at the airport I remember thinking that South Beach is like him: loved by all with a good reputation, yet expectations need to be kept low. Otherwise, the disappointment by the results or lackthereof hits pretty hard.
Upon his return to Europe, he lost a parent. My heart ached I wasn’t physically there with him so I did the only thing I could do: be there and love him with no questions asked. No expectations.
By the way, Chalan should be skipped.
Tokyo, Japan, another year and some months later. I still fly in from NY. Him, still from Europe. We still live on different continents.
Our flights land late. We are at an izakaya (Japanese pub). It’s around midnight and we are having our first dinner together in months. There is ceviche on the menu but I am not in the mood. I am listening to the same story I’ve heard many times for two or so years: failed marriage, family hardships but this time, there is an addition to his woes. He had lost a parent. I continue listening, attempting to empathize with his situation.
Our relationship is reminiscent of ceviche I love so much. Delightful and spicy with a lingering after-taste that oddly brings happiness. I am addicted to the constant inconsistency of the flavors, textures and sensations.
This time, the inconsistency of him and the future he keeps promising are wearing on me. I am no longer as sympathetic and open-minded as I was for so long. The remaining empathy has evolved into impatience. I get it. Life is hard. Making life altering decisions are difficult. My mom died a few years back so I know how disorienting life can be after losing a parent. But his situation and… set of things he hasn’t sorted for so long, now sounds more like a slew of excuses. The warning signs telling me to walk away are as massive as the billboards in Tokyo. They are flashing danger, danger, danger, as big and bright as the neon engulfing the great city.
I set a deadline and if he doesn’t get his shit together by then, I am done. The months pass and the deadline arrives. He is still full of the same excuses. I know what I have to do but it’s… hard.
I should’ve known he was not getting a divorce — or at the very least moving out of the home he shared with her. I don’t blame him, he has it too good. She travels 95% of the time so she is never there. Grown-up responsibilities like rent and bills barely exists for them as they cruise through life on her ex-pat package, living a luxurious lifestyle, residing in posh areas virtually free. He spends his time flying around the globe in business and first class, basically living the dream. Why would he choose to leave that life behind? Because he loved me, or said he did. But the biggest offense was that he valued his lifetyle more than our love and clearly more than me.
Deep down I knew I spent too much time convincing myself to believe in him and what we had. I knew I had been angry with him for a while, the respect I once had for him was lost. I wasn’t even sure I liked him as a person anymore. I knew from the start but it took far too long for me to accept the fact that he is a man comfortable leading a double life, lying to everyone around him with close to zero qualms.
I never loved another so much, logic, reason and rational were forgotten. I allowed myself to fall for someone who was so convincing with his words I compromised my values. So charming, my morals flew out the window, and so concerned by how others view his stature, deceit became his norm. Never, ever, ever again. From now, it’s all about actions. Words can be saved for a blog.
Tokyo was the breaking point where ignoring the notions I suppressed for so long, finally broke free from my mind and stabbed me right in my heart: ”Wake up. You are and will always be an after-thought to him.”
So I walked away and stuck with the decision never to go back.
I ate ceviche for the first time the other night since I can’t recall when. I have yet to find ceviche in Japan I can’t get out of my mind.
Japan does many things well. Ceviche isn’t one of them. I have a theory it has to do with the ingredients; good quality lime and cilantro are rare in Japan. When it comes to food, my standards are annoyingly high.
Raised in and living in four fantastic food cities (SF, NY, LA and Tokyo), I am grateful my parents gave me access to foods, ingredients, dishes and cooking styles from all over the globe. I grew-up experiencing so much from the time I was born that I reached a way of living, a life mantra if you will, from a very young age. I taught myself to fall in love with things I never knew I loved and continue abiding by that ethos. It has paid off I think, at least when it comes to food.
I still remember pleasantly surprised in Austin by the ceviche which caught me so off guard. Highly disappointed in Miami — a city known for its food, especially seafood — with almost all of their restaurants. “Learn to manage expectations.” is what I’m constantly told yet continually fail to practice. I know things don’t always go the way I want; I’ve been let down more than I care to remember. But the ups and downs of the discovery process reminds me I am human. As humans, sometimes all we can do is try our best to make the most out of every situation. And then we move on. Rinse. Repeat. Isn’t that what makes life worth living?
With every discovery and even disappointment, my palate and favorite foods are ever changing. Just like my outlook on life and especially, my taste in men.
Truluck’s, Austin, Texas
400 Colorado Street
Austin, TX, United States
Chalan on the Beach, South Beach, Miami
1580 Washington Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139, United States