Our family found the perfect solution to the family Thanksgiving gathering following the contentious, antagonistic 2016 election and its shocking outcome. When the plan was first presented I wasn’t impressed. I’m a traditionalist who has always gone to great lengths to invite friends and family for an old fashioned Thanksgiving gathering in my home with turkey and stuffing and cranberry relish and pumpkin pie, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. That’s my vision of Thanksgiving and I was not excited about a Japanese dinner and show in its stead.
But that was then, i.e: before the election.
Now the election was over and a family gathering with opposing opinions and passions was bound to be awkward. Those who had supported Hillary didn’t want to talk about it at all while Trump supporters could speak of nothing else.
While those in Trump’s camp said things like, “He won. She lost. Get over it!”, Hillary’s supporters were still raw with grief and disbelief. They couldn’t imagine how any discourse could take place with someone from the other side, even those they’d loved and respected all their lives.
But this election had changed all that. If it hadn’t been Thanksgiving, we probably wouldn’t have been in the same room, perhaps ever again. Except maybe for a family wedding and funeral.
But it was Thanksgiving, and our group was to meet in the foyer just inside Ichiban, a Japanese restaurant on the western edge of Harrah’s Casino in Reno. It boasts “The best tasting show in Reno.” Skilled chefs wielding ultra-sharp knives and various other culinary implements prepare sizzling food, from appetizers to entrées, with breath-taking flourishes and life-threatening displays, right at your table, within inches of you.
We showed up early for our reservation. Then, buzzer in hand, we waited for the others in the foyer. First to arrive were Ron’s daughter and grandson, “Brenda” and “Phil,” whose votes and passions coincided with ours. No problem there. Then his son and daughter-in-law, “Drake” and “Amanda,” and their kids, “Jake” and “Emma.” Again, no disagreement. However, the dissenters, my sister and brother-in-law, “Rick” and “Marilyn,” and Amanda’s parents, “Bob” and “Kathryn,” trickled in to fill up the 12-seat table.
Brief, insincere hugs all around. Mid-hug, Bob gloated, “I told you Trump would w…”
The buzzer in my hand came to life; humming and vibrating. “Our table’s ready,” I quickly cut him off. Our entire party snapped to attention and, led by a non-asian woman in a green silk kimono, entered through a Japanese-style doorway. She led us to a configuration in the center of the restaurant where she indicated we were to sit around the outside edge of a 12-foot-wide U-shaped table, in the middle of which was positioned a stainless steel grill. Amanda served as a buffer zone between her parents and the rest of us. They sat at the end of one leg of the U. My sister Marilyn sat next to me; she and her husband Rick at the end of the U’s other leg.
No one spoke while the fan-shaped menus were studied. As it turned out, the width of the table made dialogue difficult, if not impossible, anyway. The only one you could converse with, without shouting, was the person on either side of you. And sometimes not even them.
Ichiban is the noisiest five-star restaurant I’ve ever been in. Each of the tables was the same as ours; the chef in its center entertaining his diners, banging metal gadgets on the steel grill, throwing and catching them and other objects behind his back (to his diner’s cheers and applause), and last, but not least, producing loud, fiery explosions on the stove.
At our table, anyway, the only ones inclined to shout over the din were those crowing about their candidate’s victory. Everyone else was content to focus on the food and the show. I ordered a small carafe of hot saké to see me through.
Throughout the dinner, whenever someone attempted to make a statement across the broad expanse of table and grill, the chef created a ruckus. The first was an onion volcano. That onion exploded — BOOM! — and a jet of flame shot up at least six feet as we sipped our miso soup and nibbled the delicate cucumber salad.
Not that anyone could have been heard over the hubbub anyway, but it was almost as if the chef was in on the joke and timed his culinary displays to coincide with their attempts at conversation.
Next, he drummed a little tune, beating spatulas on the grill, and tossing one or both over his head, catching them without a glance in their direction. He was a skilled entertainer. An assistant came out from the kitchen with our entrée items which he held in place while the chef created another fiery conflagration before our eyes. When it died down he artfully flipped our entrées onto the sizzling grill: small lobster tails, scallops, chunks of filet mignon, chicken and vegetables. All this was accompanied by the clatter and banging of spatulas on the cooking surface as he acrobatically flipped and tossed the food about. Then with the world’s sharpest knives, he sliced them up so fast the knife was a blur, all the while rat-a-tat-tatting on the steel cooking surface.
With theatrical flourishes he served them up on our plates, dished up sticky rice after throwing the rice bowls around, magically transferring their contents from one bowl to another in mid-air, and left us to dine. Little conversation was attempted while we concentrated on getting food into our mouths with bamboo chopsticks.
The racket, both at our table and throughout the restaurant, did not let up the entire time we were there. We finished our Ichiban Thanksgiving dinner with green tea ice cream.
We paid our bills and left. At the door, we quickly said goodbye to our relatives and hurried off in five different directions.
Perfect Thanksgiving Dinner, all things considered
In retrospect, our Japanese Thanksgiving dinner was absolutely perfect. Not only was the food magnificent, the entertainment was excellent — truly “the best-tasting show in town” — it may have been the only way we could have survived this awkward social event without painfully and bitterly ending lifelong relationships. A small price to pay for having to forego a traditional turkey dinner.
Maybe time will heal all wounds. Maybe by next Thanksgiving things will be different. We can only hope.