Bite Club Episode 1: Mangia Ninja!
This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #125. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath, who adds any typos or factual errors that might appear within.
I have a friend named Steph. Steph is one of my oldest and dearest friends, but I don’t get to see her nearly as often I’d like. I count on her to be there for me when I really need her, though, and I hope she still believes she can count on me, too.
The other night I sent her this text:
“I googled unique restaurants and there’s one called Ninja where you enter a Japanese village and are occasionally attacked by ninjas.”
“Yes!” she replied. “See you there at 6.”
And so we go.
Overdraft Sapporos and a smoking cauldron of edamame, we become re-immersed in each other’s lives. And, occasionally, ninjas appear out of nowhere to scare the ever-loving piss out of us.
Steph tells me about a hard month she is having. It‘s my turn to be there for her this time. I won’t go into detail out of respect. Did I mention the ninjas do magic tricks? The ninja star chocolate mousse cake, for example, begins merely as a thin wafer flat on a metal serving dish. I am instructed to pour oil on it, and the ninja sets it on fire. He then slaps a lid on top and Steph and I are asked to each give the lid a karate chop and make a “hi-ya!” sound. We do. He removes the lid and there is the cake, in all its soft, gooey glory.
As Steph is telling me about being knocked for such a loop by one particularly awful piece of news that she had to sleep for like two whole days, a ninja springs into our hut and presses a long, fake silver dagger right up against my throat. We can’t stop laughing. Steph snaps a photo.
When you arrive at Ninja with one of your oldest and dearest friends, you ride an elevator down one floor. I know to be careful, so when the elevator stops and the doors open, I take one for the team and step out first. A ninja shouts and lunges at me with a light-up toy sword. We are glad I’m not impaled. Then Steph and I, and the two poor strangers who’ve taken the elevator with us, are sent along a winding path with low ceilings that leads to the village and the restaurant proper.
Because she’s one of my oldest and dearest friends, someone who needs to know I’ll be there for her with unconditional love through thick and thin, even if we don’t see each nearly often enough, I make Steph go first. After all, I want her to be the next ninja victim. She is.
After all, I want her to be the next ninja victim. She is.
As I said, I don’t get to see Steph as much as I’d like, so when I do go out with her, there’s some pressure to make it more meaningful. Especially when it’s an occasion like a holiday or a really miserable month or even a miserable year. This one ninja who does card tricks walks over and informs us he usually performs for larger groups but would be happy to make an exception and do a show for just the two of us. We say why not and among other dazzling deceptions he ends up pulling one of our chosen cards — the 10 of clubs — not from the deck but, after reaching into his back pocket, from the inside of his wallet. Yes, the ninjas at Ninja have wallets. Why question it?
So Steph and I talk and eat and peer around the nooks and crannies of the village and keep our guard up as we let our guards down. Man, it feels good to see her. Friendship really puts things into perspective, reminding you what really matters. Select menu items, and this is important to know, have large ninja stars next to them to indicate they arrive with a particular level of flair. I refuse to order anything without a ninja star next to it so there is a lot of glowing neon smoke at our table at all times.
Later, after we take a long walk through the financial district, reminisce about the old days and then part to our opposing subway cars – Steph downtown to Brooklyn and me uptown to Queens – Steph texts, “Best dining experience ever” with an upside-down smiley face.
So now, that’s our goal. We don’t have an official name for it yet or a set schedule, but Ninja inspired us to start a new tradition – it was the first supper of the Bite Club, if you will – where we’ll find fucked-up places to eat together. We’ll go for the food or the ambiance or sometimes both. Mostly we’ll go for each other, to laugh away our troubles – and maybe be attacked by masked warriors in the process. Except, we hope, only if we want to be. We’ll keep you posted.
Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.