I’ve never been the type of person to shy away from being vocal regarding important realizations. For instance, if you’ve become one of my favorite people, I'll tell you. If I think you’re being a tool, guess what, I'll tell you.
To be honest though, if it’s gotten to the point where I’m calling you a tool, I’ve probably already given you several chances and dumped your so called “friendship” in the trash. I simply don’t have a lot of down time so I only want to spend it with people I care about. I believe in quality versus quantity.
Since my friends also have busy schedules, many of our “catch ups” are spent conversing over food, drinks or coffee; occasionally there’s a combination of these. None of us get out very often so when we do, it’s a small celebration of sorts. Recently I went with two of my favorite people to one of my favorite places in Salem, Oregon called, BonJapan86 Yaroku. Normally my food stories are just a quick photo and description on Instagram or Facebook but this place is so much more than that.
If you've got the time and patience, he's got the skills and flavor. Owner Muneaki Sugie of BonJapan86 Yaroku is a one man show. Give him time to do his thing and he'll produce Japanese flavors like no other. Hearing my friend say, "This cutlet has me shook!" makes me giggle but it's also an indication of great food.
Sugie immigrated from Japan and eventually settled in Salem (God knows why). He’s the only worker in his small restaurant and everything he makes is insanely delicious. BonJapan86 is not a trendy place where the décor is slick, it’s not the type of place where everyone is Instagramming (though they really should) and it’s certainly not a place where you’ll find any sort of fancy, fusion cuisine. This place serves simple bento boxes during lunch hours and transitions into a low-key izakaya, (small plate, comfort food) in the evenings. It’s authentic, delicious and you’ll probably see quite a few Tokyo International University of America students there.
If you’re in a rush or irritable when starving, this place is not for you. Everything you order, Sugie turns around and makes it in the kitchen by himself. Depending on what you order, your dishes often come out one at a time. Please understand though that every dish is amazing; every dish is worth the wait. The kicker is that everything runs about $5-$12.
So this is how your evening at BonJapan86 will most likely unfold. Wave a Sugie and find a table. Sometimes there’s other people there. If that’s the case, settle in near the tv if you can (because you’re food might take a while). He keeps it on a Japanese channel which is highly entertaining despite not being in English. (We recently watched a reality cam show about smart dogs doing adorable things to find their owners.) Next step, order a shitload of saké. There’s something to be said for good conversation and saké. I personally recommend unfiltered but Sugie told us we drank it all so you’ll have to wait until the next reorder. Whoops. Until then, go for the sparkling! Peach and Citrus are both delicious; you’re welcome in advance. While talking and drinking, your food eventually starts to roll out and by the end of your meal, you’re full, you’re happy and you’ve had a great time.
My friends and I laughed at being told we drank the last bottle of unfiltered saké. We laughed when I tried to photograph a flower shaped carrot that I somewhat broke (but salvaged for the photo). I laughed when my friend described taking smartphone photos via the nose when hands were not free and then demonstrated when I asked to be shown.
While I poured saké, I joked about exposing them to an obscene amount of germs via my job. We shared all the food that was put on our table, not caring who touched what and we talked about everything and nothing at all. These are my favorite types of moments with my friends. Moments when I realize that I don’t have to be anyone but myself. I can say important things or nonsensical things and all of it is acceptable. Not just acceptable but valued. I am valued around the people I care about and in return, I value them whole heartedly.
I guess that’s also why BonJapan86 is one of my favorite places. I value Sugie and his business. I can be myself and not worry about my environment and in return he is able to do the same. I respect that he is one person and that his food takes time to prepare. I want him to succeed and I want other people to know how wonderful he is. If a restaurant could be my close friend, it would be BonJapan86. So if you’re ever in Salem, Oregon and you’re in the mood for delicious Japanese comfort food, think of Sugie and bring your favorite friend. You’ll be happy you did! Shit, I'll probably be kickin' it in the booth next to you.
To my friends who adventure with me and also sit with me doing nothing at all, I heart you.
990 12th St. SE
Salem, Oregon 97302