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The final course was the last bit of the lobster flesh and carapace in a wonderfully soothing light miso soup. It was better than any dessert and will send you out with a warm belly into a chilly night.

We paid the bill and adjourned to the parking lot, and we talked and talked in two languages until concluding with hugs all around, bows all around, and a flurry of arigatos.

What did I learn? The full service of aji and of lobster were revelations. Otherwise, I was surprised by the lack of really scary or outré offerings, but I don't think Shima Sensei and Masako were trying to spare me. (Jim had already briefed them that I've eaten guinea pig in Ecuador and fried grasshoppers in Oaxacan restaurants, so am not easily intimidated by food.) A bigger surprise was the choice of an all-sashimi dinner (rather than sushi) for what Japanese would order at a no-limits dinner at Ota. But our neighbors at nearby tables, including many Japanese groups, were eating some pretty-looking sushi that I'd happily try, too -- not big Americanized party rolls, but elegant little nigiri with understated garnishes of various colors.

At other occasions at Ota, I've simply kept my eyes peeled for what other diners are eating and pointed at anything that looked interesting, e.g., a large sea snail cooked over burning sugar. That tactic works as well. You wish that the restaurant were a little more comfortable and a lot quieter. (It was a quartet of American males who were making most of the noise during that packed Friday night, conversing in athletic-arena shouts.) And getting a seat at Ota, whether counter or table, is sort of a pain (even with a reservation you have to wait awhile in the parking lot). But once you've done it, once is not nearly enough. This is a master at work, a Sensei of Sushi.

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