R: Bay Ridge/95th Street, Brooklyn

Posted on June 5th, 2012 by Viveca in The End of the Line

Last stop Bay Ridge

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ooph. No beautiful glowing glass art at this station. The first thing I saw was a homeless person, possibly sleeping or possibly dead, lying on the platform. I looked again, and it was just a dirty, green, puffy coat. Large patches of subway tiles were missing, and the water-stained concrete showed through. The station had some old charm though; an elegant but faded mosaic made a design border around the tops of the walls, and square subway tiles interspersed with rectangular ones in pleasing patterns.

Welcome to Bay Ridge

I jogged up the stairs, nervous about lingering too long under whatever was producing all the white blotches on the ground. The bird poop-covered stairs reminded me of the 6-train exit at Pelham Park. The brick wall on one side of the exit still bore the faded paint of a shoe shine business. On the other side, Snoop Dogggg advertised a 4G phone. Four Gs, get it? Yeah, I didn’t. Damaso, not understanding which part I didn’t get, tried to explain 4G to me, which of course made me feel patronized and irritated, before he realized I hadn’t noticed how Dogggg was spelled. With four Gs. Now I get it.

Next door to the subway exit was a Japanese restaurant, and across the street we could see a 24-hour diner, a bar and grill, and another diner—so many options! I didn’t particularly want to go to another diner, and I definitely didn’t want another bleu cheese burger, but the Japanese place seemed too easy after all the times we’d needed to search to find any restaurant at all. It was perfect; besides adjoining the subway station directly, it boasted an A on its most recent health department inspection, and I had even been craving sushi. I asked Damaso whether I was just being snobbish to suspect we might have better luck in the diner. He confirmed that I was, in fact, just being snobbish and said there was no reason to think we couldn’t get good sushi in Bay Ridge. Plus, it had a chalkboard sandwich board out front advertising Monday’s specials. Had they left the board out for six days, or did they place it outside on a Sunday? We checked the back, but it listed Tuesday’s specials.

Upon arrival, we asked whether there was a Sunday special. The waitress giggled and said “Maybe next time.” Shobu Sushi and Grill didn’t appear to need a daily special to lure in customers tonight. It wasn’t even 6 pm, and one couple sat in the front alcove, and a multiple-generation group of eight Russian speakers filled the small restaurant with sound. After a giant extended brunch with friends, I wasn’t even hungry, in fact, my throat itched, and I felt cranky and tired, but I’m hollow, and a card on the table advertises an Amazing Roll of yellowtail, tuna, white tuna, avocado, caviar, and “chef special sauce.” Just yesterday I was in a conversation about white tuna, which isn’t a tuna at all but a butterfish.

Damaso focused on a different ingredient; he’s allergic to shrimp, lobster, and crab, so he asked what was in the special sauce, and the waitress just shruged. I suspected it was mayonnaise, but why risk anaphylactic shock? Damaso explained his allergies, and I suggested she ask the chef what ingredients were in his special sauce. The chef was behind the counter directly behind her and probably heard the whole conversation. She turned to him, and if words were exchanged I missed them, but she seemed to think we had an answer although we were both looking at her blankly and expectantly. She announced, “The sauce is sweet. And maybe sour.”

We continued staring at her until she added, “He says it doesn’t have any of those ingredients you don’t want.”

We asked for the Amazing Roll, the Naughty Girl roll, (spicy salmon with roast onion crunch), and an order of edamame. I pretended to need to wash up so I could check out the place. Chelsea Thai at the end of the L-train line had a shrine, and several of the restaurants had Jesuses, but what I thought was another shrine here was a knick-knack rack filled with yellow jade (plastic?) frogs and waterfalls. The Christmas lights and plastic flowers reminded me of half the places we’d been, but I actually liked the male/female bathroom signs, which were vases with real Gerber daisies where the figures heads would be. A girl in sequin-covered light-up sneakers was assembling a wooden puzzle on a back table, and a woman was planting in the garden out back. I love the smell of public bathroom cherry-almond soap, which still reminds me of rest stops on childhood road trips even though Jergen’s now actively markets it for retail sale.

Amazing roll

Art

Returning to our table, I perused the certifications and licenses posted on the wall. Three men had passed the “Food Protection Certificate” course. I didn’t write down their names, but I think they were something like Zimei Wong, Hong Wong, and Wong Li Xi—in any case distinctly non-Japanese.

Our food arrived fairly rapidly. Nothing was great; even the edamame were cold and bland. The toasted onion flakes gave the Naughty Girl a nice crunch, but the Amazing Roll was coated in what looks and tastes like mayonnaise. I don’t like mayonnaise as much as I think Japanese people do. I have heard rumors of donuts there that are filled with mayonnaise instead of jelly or cream.

Naughty girl sushi

naughty girl sushi

Naughy girl sushi

Roll and edamame composition

Growing up, my family had two ways of describing a meal: “good what there was of it” or “enough of it such as it was.” Neither description fit this meal. Bad as it was, we ordered more. We skipped the specials and split a tuna-avocado and a spicy yellowtail. Both were serviceable, about what you’d get in a plastic package at the corner deli. The waitress offered us fried ice cream, mochi, fried banana, or fried cheesecake, which almost sounded weird enough to tempt me, but instead we dipped into the bowl of free guava hard candies, which turned out to be the best part of the meal.

As we walked out, we were both looking forward to a stroll around the neighborhood. It was still light out, the first stripes of sunset were visible behind the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge about three blocks to our left, and fascinating stores beckoned with signs saying “Organic Candy” and “International Food.” But it was cold! While we were eating the temperature had dropped significantly, and it was too cold to linger. We ducked across a car service dispatcher’s “Hyper-Active Driveway” and into International Food. From the outside I’d surmised “international” meant Russian, but they offered a fair assortment of Polish canned pork patties, Israeli matzo, Norwegian smoked fish, and Chinese tea. I loaded up on heavy multi-grain bread, fish roe spread, lingonberry jam, herring, pelmeni, Russian salad, salami, and various other goodies. The exotic groceries compensated for the bland meal. I bought so much the counterwoman asked whether I preferred milk or dark chocolate (dark, duh!) and then threw in a large bar as a gift.

International deli

Bulletin board, international store

Groceries

Four grocery bags slid around on the plastic subway seats next to me, but I resisted snacking from them on the ride home. On the way there, I’d gotten on the R at Jay Street-MetroTech, a transfer that wasn’t even possible six months ago. I’ve started putting red stars on my home subway map at each terminal we complete, but my map still says Jay Street-Borough Hall. If I’d started this project last year, the V would still be running, and I could eat on the lower east side. Since I’ve lived in Brooklyn, at least the V, W, and 9 trains have disappeared. I wonder how much the map, oops, The Map, will change while I’m still working on this project, and which train lines won’t be here in a year. If I run out of stops, maybe I will travel to the termini of the ghost lines that no longer traverse the city. More likely, the MTA will keep moving lines, and I’ll never be done chasing the restaurant at the end of the line.

Photographs by Damaso Reyes

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