I don’t often leave the Safehouse, but when I do, I’m always immediately reminded why when everything inevitably goes directly to hell. Last night I went to this snooty new hibachi joint in Old Town, the historic district of Fecal Creek. At least that was my intention.
The building that now houses Big Wang’s X-Treme Teppanyaki & Cajun Sushi Shack has been a lot of things since it’s original construction in 1949 when Rattlesnake Dick discovered gold in the nearby hills and made his fortune. In its early days, it was a whorehouse, a speak-easy, and a police station (I happened to learn this a few weeks ago as I was serving jury duty at the Anhedonia County Courthouse. The Anhedonia County Museum is located on the first floor and admission is free, so I wandered in one afternoon during lunch recess and learned all manner of fascinating facts. For example, did you know that the Anhedonia County courthouse is the only county courthouse in the United States that has a moat? It was built that way to keep out the rattlesnakes. There are still a lot of rattlesnakes in Anhedonia County, but by God they won’t be interfering with the administration of justice in that courthouse. Crazy.). Anyway, since I’ve been alive, it’s always been some species of restaurant/bar. The first time I ever went in there was in the mid-80s, when I was still in high school. It was called the Silver Palace then, and my friend Mike and I had cut school and met up with two of Mike’s derelict friends who were both over 21 and knew the bartender at this place. We spent the afternoon drinking beer. At some point, I noticed that according to this massive antique silver clock in the center of the bar (which probably hadn’t worked in a hundred years): it was still 1:30, which is what the time was when we first arrived hours before. I pointed this fact out to one of the derelicts I was drinking with, and he said, simply: “Time stands still at the Palace.”
Anyway, that was then, this is now, and now the thing is trying to pass itself off as a snooty hibachi pit catering to the upper crust of Fecal Creek, which turns out to be pretty crusty indeed.
Things got weird before I even got there. I decided early on that since there would most certainly be hard liquor, I would take an Uber. Which I thought was inordinately responsible of me. So my Uber driver shows up in this tricked out luxury black Benz. The app had forewarned me that the driver typically responded to the name “Jerry.” Jerry’s picture on the app showed him wearing sunglasses, which ended up being appropriate since, during almost the entire course of our interaction, Jerry was wearing the same sunglasses.
“This is a pretty swank ride, Jerry. This shit is class. For an Uber? Fuck yeah.”
“Thanks, man,” replied Jerry. “I don’t drive for Uber for money…I’m rich. I just do this to get the hell out of the house and away from my wife at night. Here, excuse me….”
My eyes grew a bit wide as Jerry reached down beneath my legs and pulled a handle of gin from underneath my seat. “Do you like gin?” asked Jerry.
“To be honest with you, Jerry, I normally despise gin. It is, perhaps, my least favorite alcohol. Fortunately, however, the only type of gin I will drink is free gin, of which I shall drink freely. Is this gin free, Jerry?”
“It is, my good man. There are cups in the glove compartment…pour us each a few fingers, if you would. Or, if you’d rather, you can take the wheel and I can pour.” Jerry seemed to have a good thing going, steering as he was, so I elected to pour.
“Cheers, brother, “said Jerry just before shooting this entire cup of gin. “Delicious! Let’s go again…pour some more. Where the hell are we going anyway?” I told him, and as soon as he found a soundtrack he thought appropriate, and turned it up to a volume that absolutely any decent person would recognize as completely inappropriate in any situation, but especially this one, and we were off, into the heart of the suburban desert night.
“Yeah, my wife is an insufferable twat. The sound of her voice makes me homicidal, so I decided to start doing this at night. How about you…you married?”
Well, look at us, I thought. Look at me and my new rich friend Jerry, with his magnificent German car, driving through the middle of town and draining his handle of gin like gentlemen.
We almost instinctively fell into a sort of rhythm of booze, where he’d bring the Benz to a stop at a light, and I’d hand him his gin. We’d cheers, then drink our drinks before the light turned green, at which point he’d hand his cup back to me, and in the time until we got to the next red light, I’d discreetly refill. Repeat. Which we did rather a lot of times before we finally pulled up to the Hibachi Pit. By that point, it seemed weird to just bid Jerry farewell and part ways forever…we were now, after all, I suppose, bros.
“So Jerry, you are clearly my kind of people…you want to come check this place out?”
“Dude, I was just going to offer to pay if you let me hang out with you. I really don’t want to go home.”
Jerry parked the car masterfully, despite our rapidly decreasing gross motor coordination. As soon as he got the fob out of the ignition, he grabbed the gin: “Let me see that bottle…yeah, we might as well finish her off before we go inside. Fuck cups.” And with that, he took a massive belt straight from the bottle, then handed it to me, with the unspoken expectation that I polish the bottle off. Which I somehow managed to do without blowing it all over the digital dash of the Benz.
Jerry got out of the car, and he just kept getting out of the car. By the time he had fully unfolded himself out of the car, Jerry’s six-foot-four frame towered over me, and he had this way of carrying himself that made him seem even bigger. And his clothes weren’t doing him any favors: he was still rocking the sunglasses (even though the sun set a while ago), and then what appeared to be a tux if he had swapped out the traditional tux jacket for this garish red leather biker jacket. Now, having had the opportunity to take the full measure of the man, I decided Jerry looked like a very tall, very pissed off valet at a gay club on a smoke break.
To understand the “X-tremity” of Big Wang’s, one must first understand Big Wang. Or at least where he came from. Big Wang (this may very well be his birth name…he never says anything about it, and I never see any evidence to the contrary) did not open this restaurant because he is passionate about serving his community, or passionate about either Japanese or Cajun cuisine. As far as I can tell, Big Wang opened this place because he is pissed off at his parents. Really pissed off. And not just because they evidently named him Big Wang. Apparently Big’s birth parents were both Japanese, and while on vacation in Florida when Big was just two years old, Big’s dad (Daddy Wang, presumably) was eaten by alligators when he “fell” into a gator pit at a popular tourist attraction. Big Wang and his mother were subsequently taken in by an overbearing Cajun man with a taste for ‘shine, and Big was raised as a Cajun. By the time he was 15, Big had inadvertently become a master of both Japanese and Cajun cuisine.
One night, while working in his stepdad’s Cajun shrimp shack, Big had an altercation with a customer who made a disparaging comment about his Japanese heritage. In a moment of rage, Big grabbed the man by the neck, picked him up, and dunked him in a massive vat of gumbo. In addition to ruining that day’s gumbo, Big went to jail for manslaughter. When he got out, he decided to open his own restaurant: a place where he could serve up both his Japanese and Cajun heritage with a side of revenge. And thus, Big Wang’s X-treme Teppanyaki & Cajun Sushi Shack was born.
At least that’s what I imagined happened, or certainly something similar, otherwise Big Wang’s X-treme Teppanyaki & Cajun Sushi Shack is simply inexplicable.
The outside of the building is nondescript, owing entirely to the Anhedonia County Historical Society’s labeling of the entire district where the old Silver Palace building sits a historical landmark, thus no changes or modifications to the original design are permitted. Which is the way it should be, of course, but it does then make what would be otherwise be simply a jarring experience almost intolerable.
Anytime anyone enters the front doors of The Shack, a truly massive gong is struck. I’m afraid that statement does not truly convey the experience of the gong. If God had a gong, it would be this one. The gong is approximately 10 feet across, and is suspended from reenforced ceiling beams. A honest-to-god sumo wrestler mans a catwalk surrounding the gong, and evidently his entire job is to just sit up there until someone comes in, then just whale the hell out of that gong. And when he does, the sound is, quite simply, pants-shittingly loud.
“Jesus God Almighty!” shouted Jerry, although he was almost inaudible under the rumbling thunder of Gongzilla. We had been knocked off our feet and back about 5 feet by the gongblast. As the sound finally started to fade, all the male staff members, who all appeared to be dressed as either Samurai or, in the cases of management, Shogun. In full fucking traditional regalia, all turned and yelled something in Japanese, in unison, at us. It sounded menacing.
“Haro,” said Jerry exuberantly with a deep bow.
On shit, I thought, Here we go. But instead of decapitating us, the Samurai just seemed to growl disdainfully and go back to their cooking.
As we slowly got to our feet and began to regain our senses, we were rushed by what appeared to my still-swirling senses to be a group of geishas. The women were wearing traditional kimonos and had their hair done up in an intricate style. They simultaneously escorted us over to the hostess stand, served us tea and sushi, and generally fawned over us. The geisha who seemed to be “in charge” asked demurely, “Do you have a reservation?” I didn’t.
“Very well. There may be a bit of a wait. Please follow me to the bar and we’ll let you know when your table is ready.”
Stepping down into the bar was like stepping into another world…if that other world was a nightclub in present-day downtown Tokyo and populated almost exclusively by the Yakuza. Seriously. The restaurant might be busy, but the bar is fucking packed with what appear to be actual Yakuza: wall-to-wall Japanese dudes in black suits and Kato masks. Each booth had built-in scabbards for samurai swords. Yeah. Blatant Yakuza tattoos with the center of the chest clear, pictures of traditional Japanese gangsters on the wall. Instead of a jukebox, there was a karaoke machine, and instead of barstools, there were couches. And instead of bartenders, there were more geishas. These ones were topless. Which seemed odd to me, but it clearly made sense to Jerry.
“This is more like it,” said Jerry, ogling openly and grinning stupidly.
We sat down on a couch and were quickly served something clearly not tea. “Complimentary plum wine while we prepare your table,” our geisha said.
We had only been inside for a few minutes, but Jerry had already been reduced to a barely intelligible drooling fool. He was trying to converse with the geisha with the complimentary plum wine. I think what he was trying to say was something like, “My goodness, you are both beautiful and topless. You move with an easy grace, and your open kimono flows around your erumpent breasts like hot sake.” That’s what I would have said. Instead, what Jerry says is:
“You see, I’ve always said, there are two types of people in the world: you’re either cabbage, or you’re slaw. Do you understand? Shit…hey, what’s the Japanese word for nipple?”
“Oh, ferchrissakes…can we just get more of this delicious plum wine please?”
She obliged. It quickly became apparent that the geishas’ only English was limited to what had already been used on us. If we asked for anything other than more complimentary plum wine, they simply nodded and smiled.
“This plum wine might not be doing the trick,” said Jerry, out of no where. “You like whippits?”
“Nitrous? God yes I like nitrous. You have some?”
With the practiced silent dexterity of a ninja, Jerry reached into a pocket of his red leather jacket, cracked the metal vial, and filled a huge red balloon right there in the middle of lounge. Apparently the Yakuza are unfamiliar with nitrous and its medicinal uses, and thought that Jerry and I were perhaps going to entertain them by making balloon animals, for they all turned to look at us and clap as Jerry finished filling the huge balloon.
“Yes! Very good! Please, make us a giraffe!” shouted the man who appeared to be the Head Yakuza In Charge.
Jerry and I looked at each other and shrugged. “You want a giraffe? I can’t make a giraffe. How about Godzilla! I’ll make you a fucking Godzilla,” and he placed the balloon to his mouth, released the pressure he’d had on it, and inhaled deeply the gaseous contents of the balloon. Before exhaling, he handed the now slightly smaller balloon to me, and I repeated his action for myself, sucking in an unhealthy lungful of nitrous. If one has never done nitrous, one will likely understand what happened next: Instantly, all sound turns to this “whaoh…whaoh…whaoh” sound that is oddly enjoyable, and one loses any interest in remaining or ability to remain vertical. At one point, Jerry appeared to collect himself in a fit of indignant pique, and decided it was Time To Go. But when he tried to crawl/stumble out of the bar area, he was physically prevented from doing so by two of the more burly yakuza enforcers. Jerry took umbrage, evidently, and I took another huge suck off the Nitrous Balloon as Jerry stumbled angrily toward the massive koi pond that took up probably one-third of the total real estate in the bar. I can’t swear to what happened next because, honestly, all I heard was whaoh…whaoh…whaoh but I’m pretty sure I got the gist of what Jerry was yelling, and it wasn’t good: “Goddammit, this is Pearl Harbor all over again. The first wave was this goddamn complimentary plum wine, and now you’re holding us hostage! This is egregious!” His words didn’t appear to register with anyone in the bar, or maybe they just weren’t properly equipped to handle a angry white man in the grips of multiple lungfuls of nitrous, absurd amounts of complimentary plum wine, and, let’s not forget, and at least half-a-handle of shitty gin, for all appeared nonplussed. None of us were ready when Jerry suddenly plunged his hand into the koi pond, yelled maniacally, and came up with a smallish and existentially absolutely panicked koi fish in his hand.
“If we’re not shown to our seats immediately, I’m going to eat this fish!”
Holy shit, I thought…this is about to get weird. There was some minor pearl-clutching amongst some of the topless geishas, and the club music that had been playing scritched dramatically and stopped. But other than that, nobody made a move. Jerry looked around desperately, hoping, I think, that someone would do something to keep him from eating the fish. After several tense seconds, Jerry seemed to sense that his bluff had been called. So he sacked up and swallowed the fish. There were awful choking and gagging sounds, but after about half a minute, he grabbed a bottle of something from a nearby table and took several belts off it, trying to wash the fish all the way down. Once the deed was done, Jerry let out a large, satisfied “Ahhhhhhh,” and smiled triumphantly. Some of the geishas were acting repulsed, but his impromptu fish consumption seemed to have garnered Jerry significant respect from the Yakuza, for they all began clapping and cheering. But just then, in his moment of glory, The Gong was hit, and Jerry was blasted back down to the ground next to me. The music resumed and everybody seemed to get back their drinks, ignoring the two torporous idiots on the floor.
Nitrous really impairs your perception of the passage of time, so I have no idea how long Jerry and I were rolling on the floor, trying (and failing) to stand up, howling and laughing like idiots. We were down there for a while, though. I may have passed out.
Eventually, we were roused from our stupor by topless geishas dumping complimentary plum wine on us, and kicking us lightly in the ribs. Once we were able to get to our feet, we were led to our table.
The restaurant proper was just as bizarre as everything else going on in the building. It was a cross between a Japanese teppanyaki grill and a New Orleans-style seafood shack, with gaudy Mardi Gras decorations everywhere. The chefs were all in full Samurai regalia, with top-knots and full on Katanas at their hips (along with a set of scary looking knives one presumes are more for cooking than slaughtering one’s enemies).
We were led to one of the dozens of teppanyaki tables, with an oval table surrounding a massive grill. There were already 6 other people at the table, all couples. I hadn’t seen them in the bar, but they too had clearly been victims of too much complimentary plum wine.
“You two look like a couple of jaded fucks,” grumbled an unpleasant old man (pretty much all old men I encounter these days are aggressively unpleasant, so I repeat myself. But this dude was just wretched) sitting next to his wife, who appeared to have been rendered silent by drink and fear of near-future domestic battery. The old man’s comment hung in the air for a moment, went unresponded to, and dissipated, so he turned his attention and his face back to his heavily-fruit-festooned cocktail. I felt oddly confident that that was the last interaction we’d have with anyone at our table. A geisha appeared (fully kimonoed) to deferentially take our drink order.
“I don’t know about you, man…but I think I need to try one of whatever the hell that is he’s having,” said Jerry, without taking his eyes off the old man’s fruity drink.
“Yeah,” I told the geisha, “can we each get two of whatever that guys drinking?”
“Two…each?” The notion seemed preposterous to her.
“Damn right. Two each. And can we get some wet naps or something…this complimentary plum wine we’re wearing is gonna get sticky soon.”
She seemed to still be grappling with the concept that two grown American men could want two bullshit cocktails each when she laid two menus in front of us and toddled off, presumably to fetch our drinks.
The menu at Big Wang’s is…diverse, to say the least. It includes sushi rolls with traditional Japanese ingredients like tuna and salmon, as well as more unorthodox offerings like alligator and crawfish. The Cajun dishes are similarly eclectic, ranging from gumbo and jambalaya to fried gator tails, po’boys, and crawfish étouffée. And of course, everything is served with a heaping helping of Big Wang’s Signature Hot Sauce, which is said to be made with the tears of his enemies.
Soon the waitress brought our cocktails. Two each. They seemed to be a bottle of rum poured into a hollowed out pineapple, and then garnished absurdly with an entire tropical rainforest. Once the drinks were placed in front of us, it was obvious that would be the last we would see of the other people sitting at the table until our drinks (and their ludicrous garnish) had been properly dispatched.
We decided to go all out and ordered the “Wang’s Ultimate X-treme Teppanyaki X-perience,” which appeared to be basically one of everything on the menu and cost $375. This turned out to be a mistake.
At once, our view-obstructing cocktails were removed and replaced with large glasses of Sapporo beer alongside small decanters of hot sake.
“Hot damn! Sake bombs! That’s more like it. If I see anymore plum wine I will light somebody on fire.”
The lights in the rest of the restaurant seemed to dim, and suddenly our table was the focus of several spotlights. There was dry ice smoke. This meal seemed to have its own soundtrack, as aggressive Japanese techno music began blaring from the speakers.
The teppanyaki chef, a massive and terrifying bald man with tribal tattoos on his arms, whose nametag said “Perfecto,” started the show by flipping his spatula in the air and catching it behind his back. He then proceeded to juggle knives, light things on fire, and do all sorts of other dangerous stunts. At one point, he even pulled out a chainsaw and started revving it menacingly.
Suddenly, Perfecto seemed distracted by the drinks in front of us. His threatening scowl suddenly lightened into a conspiratorial grin. “First, we drink sake!”
“Sake bomb!” shouted Jerry as he dropped our respective sake glasses into our respective Sapporos. “Banzai!” shouted Jerry.
“Very gooooood!” hollered Perfecto through a thick Japanese accent of dubious origin. They both looked at me expectantly.
“Oh…” I said, hoisting my drink quickly for the toast. “Banzai!”
Perfecto grinned again. “Very gooooood! Now we drink…Banzai!”
I’m not sure exactly how much sake bomb I was able to drink before all of our glasses were shattered by The Gong only seconds later. We were now pretty much directly underneath The Gong, which was putting us in more subsonic distress that human bodies are meant to experience. I’m pretty sure I swallowed some glass. Guess I’ll confirm later. What was really bothering me, oddly, was that knowing The Gong was right above us, which meant that Sumo wrestler was right above us. And I was suddenly alarmingly aware that if I looked up, I might get an eyeful of Sumo taint, which, in my steadily deteriorating condition, would simply be Too Much. I must let my Ultimate X-Treme X-Perience by sullied by the fear of hanging taint.
The waitresses quickly swept up the glass and mess and delivered new Sapporos and sakes, and soon Perfecto was ready to get back to work.
“Fried rice!” shouted Perfecto. He dumped a mountain of white rice onto the grill, then pulled out a pair of nunchucks and put on a truly impressive display of martial artistry, swinging the deadly chained-clubs all over the place. Then he cracked a couple of eggs, and soon set about whaling the hell out of the eggs, using the nunchaku to scramble them. It was noisy as hell and made a mess of everything. He finally put the ‘chucks away and started composing the fried rice.
Evidently, an important part of the Ultimate X-Treme X-Perience is drinking sake in whatever form between each course, but you had to drink twice as much each round. So this time Jerry and I and Perfecto drank two sake bombs each. All of us were quite tight by the time Perfect sprang the next course on us.
“Shrimp and scorpion appetizer!” shouted Perfecto.
He threw a bunch of shrimp and some scorpions onto the grill, and while they cooked, he started juggling knives again. At one point, he used his spatula to flip a shrimp into the unpleasant old man across the table, but missed and caught him right in the eye. Maybe it wasn’t a miss at all…perhaps Perfecto just didn’t like the cut of this dude’s jib. I was Olympically drunk at this point, so I’m not sure if he actually cut any of the shrimp or scorpions up, or if he just scooped them off the grill with his bare hands and threw them into a bowl. But either way, they ended up in front of us, and we were expected to eat them.
This, along with all the drinking and the nitrous and the koi fish, was apparently too much for Jerry, who had turned a surprising shade of green. With sudden solemnity, he excused himself and ran toward the bathroom to do the Big Spit.
I’m not a big fan of seafood, so I was already dreading this course. But when I saw the scorpions, I nearly lost my dinner too: they’re not seafood, they’re insects! Fucking bugs! They were still wriggling around, and their pincers were snapping menacingly. I have a pretty strong stomach, but this was pushing it.
“Um…do you have any ketchup?” I asked Perfecto weakly.
He scowled at me. “No ketchup! Big Wang’s Signature Hot Sauce!” he shouted, pulling out a huge orange bottle that looked like a miniature fire extinguisher, and shooting a blast of whatever it was into my bowl. Instantly, the scorpions stopped wriggling, died, and burst into flames.
“That’s just bear spray!” I knew I’d seen the bottle before.
“The tears of Wang’s enemies!” retorted Perfecto.
I knew there was no way out.
“Oh god…” I muttered, picking up my chopsticks and preparing to eat what might be my last meal. I closed my eyes and popped a shrimp into my mouth, then quickly followed it with a big scoop of rice. I chewed quickly and swallowed, then took a big gulp of Sapporo.
“How is?” asked Perfecto, glaring at me.
“It’s…crunchy,” I managed to say. “And the Hot Sauce has blinded me. I’m hoping that’s temporary.”
Perfecto cackled gleefully. “Very goooooood!” he exclaimed. “More sake bomb!”
I groaned inwardly, but I obediently raised my glass for another round of toasts. As we drank, Perfecto started working on the next course.
“Okonomiyaki!” he shouted. He dumped a bunch of batter onto the grill, then added some cabbage and other vegetables. As it cooked, he kept adding more and more ingredients, until it was a huge, steaming mound of food. Then he started hacking at it with his knives, chopping it into smaller pieces. “And obligatory onion volcano!” he shouted again, tossed several onions on the grill, and for the next 3 minutes, constructed a 8-inch onion volcano. He then filled it with some sort of rice-based booze and set light to it, causing it to quite literally erupt. The people at the table who weren’t burned by the blast cheered wildly.
Finally, he scooped some onto our plates and doused it with a sticky-sweet sauce. I took a tentative bite. It was…not bad, actually. I mean, the sauce tasted like a bum’s nutsack, but the rest of it was actually pretty tasty. I ate a few more bites, then washed it down with another sake bomb.
At this point, I was so deeply inebriated that I had the urge to leave Big Wang’s and go to either church or an inpatient detox program. I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes, letting the sake and Sapporo and plum wine and nitrous and gin wash over me. Perfecto started shouting again, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. It sounded like he was announcing the next course, but I couldn’t be sure. I opened my eyes just in time to see him throwing a live octopus and a small, very live alligator onto the grill.
“No…” I moaned, burying my face in my hands. This was too much. I was done. I couldn’t take anymore. And where the hell was Jerry? He was my sky hook at this point, and also my ride home. Sure, I could summon another Uber driver, but I’d bet a testicle whomever they send won’t have a handle of gin under their seat. Besides, Jerry and I had been through too much already to not see this through to the end.
Perfecto scooped the octopus onto my plate and added some sauce. “Eat!” he commanded.
“No, I can’t,” I said, pushing the plate away. “I’m done.”
“No, no, no!” shouted Perfecto. “You must eat! It is part of the Ultimate X-Treme X-Perience!”
“I don’t care,” I said. “I’m not eating that.”
Perfecto scowled at me. “This is suck!”
“This is suck, Perfecto,” I concurred, relieved we could agree on something.
Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out his pair of nunchucks.
“You will eat,” he said, waving the nunchucks even more threateningly than before, when he was scrambling eggs.
“No way,” I said, backing away from him. “I’m not eating that octopus, and you can’t make me. I’ll fight you.” I got to my feet and prepared to give Perfecto a taste of the Celtic Long Knuckle.
“We’ll see about that,” said Perfecto, advancing on me with the nunchucks.
“Whoa…hey…settle down,” said Jerry, returning from his egestive adventures in the toilet. “What’s going on here?”
“He won’t eat the octopus!” shouted Perfecto.
“Well, I wouldn’t either. So what?” said Jerry, who had evidently taken a large knife from one of the nearby tables. “Let it go so I don’t have to cut off your hands.”
Perfecto considered this for a moment, then reluctantly put away his nunchucks. “Fine,” he said. “But no more sake bomb for you!”
Jerry helped me out of my chair and steered me towards the door. “Come on, buddy,” he said. “Let’s get you out of here.”
As we left, I could hear Perfecto shouting at the other customers, trying to goad them into eating the octopus. But I was done. And barely conscious, really. I’d had enough of Perfecto and his X-Treme Teppanyaki & Cajun Sushi Shack.
Never again. Two Stars.