They always hold off on the summer menu until the softshells are in season, after the other restaurants lining the street across and alongside them already have it, when they’re offering summer beers off-menu and on special and they’ve already had people show up and ask when they’ll change it over. The answer is always that they’ll see, they don’t know yet, soon.
Today, though, Tatsuya stops by the fish market and comes back with a styrofoam cooler full of them, snapping at the air and crawling over each other, triumph in the strain of his arms and the small smile on his face. The rest of the staff haven’t arrived yet, so it’s just the two of them and their crabs and a second cooler full of oysters. It’s like the ocean in the harshly-lit kitchen, the smell of salt and the idea of tasting just one of the oysters with a little cocktail sauce--shit, do they have enough horseradish?
“Do you know where I put the plastic pitchers?” says Tatsuya. “I want to do frozen mules.”
“No clue,” says Taiga. “Let’s get these into the walk-in.”
He picks up both of the coolers himself, to Tatsuya’s tacit protest of a frown (Tatsuya had already carried them to the car, and then from the car into the back of the kitchen, so it’s only fair) and into the fridge. Tatsuya follows before the door swings back, pretending to look for the pitchers on one of the shelves but really there to bump Taiga’s arm and pull him into a kiss, press against him for body heat. This is probably unsanitary, Taiga thinks, the same way he does every time they do this (including when he initiates).
“I’ll check the basement,” Tatsuya says when they break apart, his face a little bit flushed (Taiga doesn’t have a mirror handy but he’s pretty sure his is too).
Oysters and soft shells are on special tonight; they’ll do that a few more days and rotate how they serve the soft shells before they decide what they can fit on the summer menu. Maybe a softshell sandwich for lunch and deep-fried softshells with greens for dinner, frozen mules and frozen margaritas, oysters as an all-day app (but they’ll have to figure out the supply for that one) and some kind of surf and turf, a summer fruit salad? Taiga’s mind is spinning with ideas, meals he’s wanted to test out and now has a limited window to try, summer standbys that he’s been waiting to eat just as much as the customers, Tatsuya’s favorite summer cocktails where the booze is drowned out by citrus and sugar and ice, stuff with enough alcohol to sit in the freezer and never go solid. It’s not the searing dry-heat of the dead of summer yet, but they’re getting closer to it, flip flops sticking to the sidewalk and the moments between stepping out of the restaurant late at night and turning on the air conditioner in the car a rude awakening.
When the season happens, Taiga can barely remember missing it and wonders why he ever had, if he ever had--but it’s also the season where they close the restaurant one day a week and go to the beach and he surfs and sometimes convinces Tatsuya to come with him, and Tatsuya grills steaks and shrimp and corn on the cob and salmon and Taiga always says they need to use his salmon cakes recipe in the restaurant but they never do, because Tatsuya loves the validation but he also loves having something that’s just for them and not for the customers (and Taiga loves that too, like the cocktails he makes Tatsuya with sake and cherry cola and aromatic bitters. (Tatsuya is more a chef than Taiga will ever be a bartender, despite all the nights Taiga’s racked up behind the bar.)
They don’t have the same kind of winter out here as they do up north, or in Akita, or even in Tokyo, no snow and a sun that’s still out most of the day. It’s more like a lack of summer than anything else, what it’s not instead of what it is, enough to make Taiga miss the summer even at its worst and least apologetic, for all that comes with it. It might be a stupid demarcation but it’s there, divided like sand on one side and the other of the high-tide line.
They take lunch together in the back alley, the door cracked open in case someone needs them, the first crab sandwiches hot off the fryer and iced tea in extra-large thermoses.
“Too much horseradish,” says Taiga. “It’s overwhelming.”
His nose is starting to run from the sharpness he’d inhaled with his bite, but Tatsuya seems unfazed, chewing thoughtfully.
“It’s not bad. I can still taste the crab in there. Maybe if you ease off the tomato, though?”
Taiga bites his lip.
“Offer a couple of options. Sandwich regular, or sandwich with light tomato and extra-hot cocktail sauce, see if anyone goes for it. Have a sauce tasting event.”
It’s hard to tell if Tatsuya’s pulling his leg or not. Taiga looks up and then squints as the sun starts to shine out from under a cloud. His nose is definitely cleared up now, all the better to smell the weed and car exhaust with. At least the restaurant smells good inside.
“Maybe a sharp sauce will make them order a cool dessert. Are we doing the peach cobbler this year?”
Shit, just thinking about it makes Taiga’s mouth water. But he’d written a bunch of ideas down in the back of his recipe book, like the pound cake he’d made with frozen peaches for Tatsuya’s birthday, maybe covered in lightly-whipped cream.
“Maybe?” says Taiga.
“We should make it anyway” says Tatsuya.
It’s too hot to sit this close together on the stoop, but they’ll be back inside in a few minutes where it’s marginally cooler. Or they can go back into the walk-in for a second or two, find some excuse or other (maybe Tatsuya hasn’t found the plastic pitchers yet).