Futbol Symphony at the Camp Nou, Sushi Perfection at Yasuda and Sarah Jessica Parker in the City

2010/12/04 § Leave a comment

On 29 Nov 2010 at the Camp Nou:

“Barcelona battered Madrid. Not some team of donkeys: Madrid. Only battered is not really the word. Barcelona killed them softly, with precision not power. As Ramón Besa wrote in El País: ‘Goals fall at Camp Nou like autumn leaves: naturally, beautifully and serenely.’ It was the control that was stunning, the bewilderment felt by Madrid. ‘The worst thing isn’t losing, the worst thing is not having a clue what’s going on,’ sobbed AS’s mad Madridista Tomás Roncero.”

“But it was not just about Madrid; it was about Barcelona producing what Santi Segurola described as “a symphony” – one of the most extraordinary displays anyone could remember…”

“Andrés Iniesta and the great Xavi, who combined gloriously for the latter’s 10th-minute opener, modulated the tempo throughout like the baton-less orchestral conductors they are.”

“It is in the hope of seeing a virtuoso performance of the kind that we obsessive football watchers, the truffle pigs of the sports-spectating world, spend month after month snuffling through the muck..”

And the papers go on and on….

So glorious was the performance that I was left in a flush of happiness all day.

I could not have dreamt of a better result against the Los Blancos.  And it was not just the score.  It was the performance itself.  It was commanding, majestic, and oh so beautiful that I understand why the stars of the most expensively assembled side in the world were reduced to petulance and disgraceful behaviour.  It’s like being taunted by a much bigger and older brother for 90 minutes – trying very hard to regain possession of the ball but not even getting close to it as it was passed by the Blaugranas amongst themselves with such precision and style.

It must be noted that the Barca maestros were far from being bigger or older.  They were mostly slight, undersized men who would not have been considered by other clubs in their youth.  Sports and the world in general give much value to those who are taller, bigger and stronger.  And so only a club like Barca, with a definite footballing philosophy of skill and ball possession would welcome these undersized men into their fold so openly.

Perhaps it is also because of their slight physical stature that the incomparable stars of Barca are more quiet, less arrogant and less assuming than others.  But, these Barcelona players  speak volumes on the pitch.  They are Giants.  Heroes.  Demi-Gods.  They mesmerized us for 90 minutes.  The entire bar was holding its breath at the sheer skill and artistry on display.  Everyone’s mouth was agape.  I felt like crying.  My heart was soaring as only exquisite music can make it.  So when the papers called Barca’s game a symphony, I totally agreed.  Last year’s birthday,  J & I were serenaded by the Vienna Boys Choir at the Chicago Symphony Center.  Those little boys and their celestial voices warmed my heart.  This year, those little men in Catalunya and their brilliance made my heart ache.

The day’s riches started with hundreds of greetings from friends and family all over the world.  I felt truly blessed with such outpouring of warm thoughts.

Then I opened my email to find a video greeting from FC Barcelona.  Customized to make me feel like the entire Camp Nou were celebrating my birthday.  I was soo thrilled!  And wondered whether everyone gets this.  A guy at the bar where I saw the game told me that he is a socio and has never received a birthday greet from them.  Was it perhaps  because the club and I share the same birthday?  They celebrated their 111th birthday in style by playing such a sumptuous game for the ages in front of  100,000 fans, some of whom paid  over 500 euros to watch.  But this is what the papers had to say of the exorbitant cost:  “Long before half-time it was clear that, for a seat at this lavish banquet of Barcelona brilliance, you’d have sold at least one kidney, and quite possibly the brace.”  Yes, it was that good.

Although the day could have ended after the game and I could have gone to bed then with a big smile on my face…it was far from over.  J took me to dinner at Sushi Yasuda as he read that Chef Yasuda is leaving New York for good and moving back to Japan in a few days.  We’ve never been there so we were quite happy to have gotten a table.  We wanted to sit at the sushi counter but it was full and we had to settle for a table facing the Chef.  It was my birthday so we requested for  Chef’s sushi omakase.  We watched the Chef work as we waited.  He looked every inch the master.  Strong.  Burly.  But working so deftly with those delicate sushi pieces.  He who handpicks every single fish used for the day and evaluates them on the basis of their freshness and “energy.”

I thought I’ve had some really great sushi in my life.  However, I have not been to Japan so I can’t really say I’ve had the best.  But the plate of simple-looking sushi that was set in front of us at Sushi Yasuda simply blew us away.  The sushi looked like any other sushi except that they were much tinier and we were given strict instructions NOT to use soy and wasabi or to use very, very little of it as the sushi had been prepared with the exact ingredients  to capture the essence and real flavour of the fish.

The first ones we tried (striped bass and sea bream) were good but not extraordinary…but as we went though the plate….it got better and better until we were in rhapsodies and were loathe to finish.  We decided to start with the ones we weren’t particularly keen on…and save the best for last.  However, there were fishes we didn’t rank highly that totally floored us.  Take for example the mackerel.  I’ve never liked fresh mackerel.  Chef Yausda prepared for us wild mackerel from the seas of Japan…and. IT.  WAS.  AMAZING.    It didn’t have that strong mackerely taste that I sometimes find repugnant.  It was very light and very fresh and just astoundingly wonderful on the palate.

Then the scallops.  J did not like scallops.  But the scallop sushi had the perfect balance of  chewiness, tenderness and taste that certainly surprised J and may have turned him into a convert.

Then there were the ikura.  Again, I’ve never been a great fan of these.  But we were in for more surprises.  The ikura sushi was bright, fresh and had these lovely firm texture on the tongue which adds to the delighted astonishment you experience when it pops.  Ah, very lovely indeed.

The unagi came slightly charred on top and had that  piece of salt granule that contrasted with the semi-sweetness of the fish.  The richness of the fish blended divinely with the  rawness and texture of the charred skin and the rough salt.

The uni had always been my favorite.  [We used to lightly roast them in their shell at our beach.  We would crack them open and slurp the uni out with its brine and some accompanying sand grains.  My brothers and I went to an island once, armed with loads of pork chop and fried chicken.  Then we saw a group of people with a big sack of uni and we were filled with envy.  We just had to approach them and ask if we could exchange some of our pedestrian fare with their exquisite ones.  As it turned out, they would rather have meat and offered to give us the entire sack.  In sheer delight, we gave them all of our food and the exchange resulted in two happy camps.]    Going back, Chef Yasuda’s uni was creamier and richer than any uni J & I have ever tasted and we were in pure heaven as it melted in our mouths.

We saved the O-toro for last.  The server was alarmed at some point.  She actually approached us to say that the uni and the o-toro were the best items on our plate and that we have to eat them.  We assured her that we saved our favorites for last.  She left with a smile of relief.  The O-toro was, as expected, sublime.  Nothing more needs to be said.

Because we were not seated at the sushi counter to be able to watch and be served by the Master himself, we told our server that it was my birthday and would love to have Chef Yasuda make some/our sushi himself.  And he did.  After our exceptional omakase, the server came with a plate of fruits and a candle on top of a banana slice and told me it was compliments of the house.  Very sweet.

And perhaps because we were not seated exactly where we wanted to be, it was in consolation that our table was right across the table of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick.  She was without make-up and dressed in jeans, tanktop and mary jane’s.  She could not be mistaken for “young.”  But she had a bright-eyed look that made her look like a girl.  A sweet girl.  I liked her.  She looked less of a celebrity and more like a beautiful woman.  She was simple, soft-spoken and had a beautiful carriage.  I could not help but feel that it was a distinctly New York day.

On our way out…I decided I wanted an autograph.  I stayed outside while  J went back and asked for one.  He came back with a signed menu and a birthday greeting for me.  From the Chef himself.  Despite  the number of people he serves, he remembers who is celebrating anything.  I feel very honored to have partaken from a feast prepared by someone of such skill, artistry and passion.  So we could taste the real essence of fish.  Of sea.  Of river.  Of wildness.  Of calm.  Without being smothered in pomp and garnishing.  To realize the beauty and the majesty of the simple, the humble and the unadorned.

The day was filled with so much blessings and happiness.  With artists and stars.  Of the sporting, culinary and acting kind.  Could a birthday be any better?

{Quotes from the Guardian Unlimited and The Telegraph}


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