My interviewee (who, for the purpose of this piece, I will refer to as Taylor since that’s his name), recently asked me that question that everyone asks on a long road trip with an acquaintance, on a college roommate questionnaire, on a Tinder date, or – in our case – in a text message on a Friday afternoon where neither of us wanted to be at work but we were stuck there anyway: “What food would you eat if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?”
Um, that’s easy, sushi. Now let’s talk about what three books we would bring if we were stranded on a desert island.
He told me tacos (also a good answer, I have to admit) because (brace yourself) “I’ve never had sushi.”
Skirrrrch (that’s supposed to be the sound of slammed car brakes).
Pffffff (that’s supposed to be the sound of a spit take).
WAIT A MINUTE (that’s supposed to be the sound of me saying out loud “wait a minute”).
“You’ve never had sushi before?”
I know it’s not like he said he’d never had spaghetti before, or waffles, or a Wendy’s Frosty-french-fry combo.
But sushi! It’s such mainstream and attainable fare. You can find it anywhere. You can purchase it at any hour of the day. You can have it delivered. You can buy it at the grocery store.
I’ve seen children eat it.
And sure, plenty of people have had it and don’t like it, but to never have tried it at all?!
I told him we needed to remedy this situation very soon. He didn’t quite understand my surprise, so I told him to think of it like if I had just admitted to never having had a taco, or that the sequel to Eat, Pray, Love was one of my top three desert island books.
We agreed (I informed him) to meet at Sticky Rice (or else) that weekend for an experience he will never forget (because I planned to document the whole thing).
And for some reason…he accepted.
Friday, March 15, 5:50 p.m.
My interviewee Taylor walks in, panting heavily and sweating profusely. I ask him if he had just gone for a long run, in an effort to give him an excuse for his appearance other than the real reason which was being nervous about eating sushi for the first time.
I then told him that I was afraid he would flake on me last minute, in a tone that indicated a joke to cover up my actual concerns that he would flake on me last minute.
My interviewee spoke very minimally during our pre-interview conversation, with occasional glances towards the exit – assumedly plotting out his escape route if things took a dark turn.
He asked if we could just start.
I said sure.
Tell me your name, the date, and the reason for this occasion.
Hello my name is Taylor O’Sullivan, it’s March 15. It’s approximately 6:16 p.m. This is my first time trying sushi.
Why are you here?
Because I accidentally told people that I had not had sushi.
Sushi is a very standard part of American cuisine. Why have you waited so long to imbibe in this easily obtainable and completely conventional food product?
Fear of fish. The idea that I pee in the water that these fish swim through is gross. I’m a germaphobe. That’s really it. I pee in the Atlantic Ocean all the time. And these fish are coming from the Atlantic Ocean.
Do you eat other fish?
No. I’ve had a bite of tuna before.
No. Wait, it was salmon, not tuna.
What’s the story behind that?
My dad made it one time. He was like “Taylor, you have to try this.” I did. I swallowed it and then I went to the bathroom and I spit it back out.
Did you know Caesar salad has anchovies in it? That’s disgusting. Once I found that out I stopped eating Caesar salads. I haven’t had a Caesar salad since I read the packet.
Pause for a break where the waitress came over and Taylor told her how he’d never had sushi before, and she told him he’s very brave.
Have you ever been on the brink of eating sushi, for example with a girl that you liked, but backed out last minute?
Yes. There was this girl from high school voted most likely to have a crush on. Don’t look it up if you have that yearbook. We were back home from college on break and I was like, “I’m going to see if she wants to get dinner.” And she said yes. And I said, “Sushi, question mark.” And she said yes.
And why did you suggest sushi?
Because I heard it’s an aphrodisiac.
And it’s adult.
And then what happened?
I stopped corresponding with the young lady.
Because what was going through your head?
“I don’t want to get sushi.” So I ghosted her.
What has been going through your mind this week?
How can I get out of this, number one. I even got myself sick on Wednesday just so I could get out of this. And when you asked if I wanted to do this today and I asked to postpone, you said no.
That’s true, I did.
So yeah. What was going through my head? I’m sick, why do I have to do this. It’s probably not good anyways. I don’t know, I was Googling “Is sushi good.”
What did you find?
Some people said some sushi is good.
Did that Google search help?
No. Not at all.
Did it help your nerves?
It just made me feel gross that I’m thinking about sushi.
What advice have you gotten from people who know you’re doing this?
Swallow it whole. Chase it with soy sauce. Chase it with hot sauce. Just open that gullet.
What do you think it tastes like?
That’s your answer?
No … yes. I don’t know. Rice? Seaweed? Raw fish that you bite into?
What are you thinking right now?
Sushi, sushi, sushi, sushi…let’s get this over with…sushi, sushi, sushi, sushi. And then what can I do to get rid of the sushi taste afterwards.
I’m also thinking about getting a grilled cheese after this.
A Photo Montage of a Young Man’s First Taste of Sushi
As captioned by Taylor himself.
I later attempted to make an escargot joke, but Taylor was too busy trying not to throw up to appreciate it.
Each month, beginning like a year ago when they started officially declining as a business, Applebee’s has released $1-$2 drink specials to remind everyone why they should keep coming to this failing chain.
The drinks change with the months – sometimes it’s Long Island Iced Teas, sometimes it’s Bahama Mamas, sometimes it’s glasses of Blue Moon. One time it was $1 margaritas, or “dollaritas” according to someone clever on the internet.
This month? Rainbow Punch.
According to the Applebee’s website, Rainbow Punch is “authentic punch made with Absolut vodka and the combination of green apple, ginger, and lemon flavors.” Once blended and poured, the cocktail is then garnished with a slice of Airheads Xtremes Rainbow Berry candy and served in a small beer stein.
Obviously…I had to try it.
I invited the only other person I knew I could convince to meet me at Applebee’s for such an experience (who was also supposed to write a blog about this drink but did not) and prepared for an unforgettable evening.
Upon arriving at my nearest neighborhood Applebee’s Bar and Grill (I discovered that there’s one only ten minutes from my house, uh oh!), I ordered my beverage and then watched closely as my bartender Taneika got to work.
Instead of the meticulous, ingredient-after-ingredient process that most bartenders utilize – search for each individual component, measure it out, muddle some stuff, slap a mint leaf between your hands, form an ice cube into a sphere, shake it all up, and on and on and on until you’ve almost forgotten what you ordered – Applebee’s Rainbow Punch simply calls for a splash of vodka and a pour of their specially created cocktail mixer.
Which, if that’s not efficiency, I don’t know what is.
Once Taneika added a healthy portion of the main ingredient (ice), she poured in the most important ingredient (vodka) – just a splash since this drink is only $2 so don’t get too generous, is what I’m imagining was said during the Applebee’s Rainbow Punch training session – then filled the rest of whatever remaining space the excessive amount of ice allowed with the mass-produced punch concoction.
I found the Rainbow Punch to be tart and refreshing, with a juicy yet intricate flavor profile that brought with it an opulent mouthfeel. The green apple hit my taste buds instantly, but was quickly softened and complemented by the subtle lemon zest peeking through. And I found that, if I concentrated really hard, I could almost taste the hint of ginger that the cocktail description alluded to.
The Airheads Xtremes Rainbow Berry candy, I soon discovered, is not merely there for aesthetic purposes. Just as red wine is strongly accentuated by a piece of rich dark chocolate, the Rainbow Punch is best consumed when paired with its adjoining garnish. The sour sweetness of the candy masterfully softens the punch’s austere complexities while bringing out the pertinent flavors of modified corn starch and green dye #12.
Although this drink may seem like it is best enjoyed on a hot summer day atop a lounge chair next to the pool, Applebee’s has released it in March to celebrate Irish heritage alongside the rest of the world honoring Saint Patrick.
The green hue of the cocktail commemorates Ireland’s national flag, a discernible nod to the native people of Ireland. Meanwhile, the Airheads Xtremes Rainbow Berry candy symbolizes a prodigious rainbow filling the Irish sky, arced atop the drink to insinuate that the cocktail below is, in fact, your very own pot o’ gold.