It's that time of year again: deadly fish are finally back on the menu. Now through February, a handful of highly trained chefs will be slicing and serving poisonous blowfish (a.k.a. fugu) at their respective restaurants. For the most affordable, authentic fugu experience around, hit Azusa of Japan. Fugu's skin, liver, intestines and gonads are loaded with the poison tetrodotoxin, which can kill you either instantly, or over the course of several excruciating hours. To prepare this tasty death wish, chefs must obtain a much coveted license, which grossly inflates fugu's price. Azusa's prix fixe, however, is only $79 -- cheap for fugu, but still expensive enough to reassure you that they're not just winging it with some hack in the kitchen. The deal includes a fugu skin appetizer, fugu sashimi, fugu hot-pot stew, a fugu fin entree, and enough sake to help you forget you're eating a creature that only minutes ago had lethally poisonous balls. Other reasons Azusa is the spot for fugu fun:
- If the rice wine doesn't numb your fear, the martinis are a ridiculous $4.75, and a full bottle of Black Label's only $65.
- Instead of skittish Americans, you'll be courting cardiac arrhythmia and respiratory distress surrounded by Japanese businessmen -- whose readiness to commit hari-kari to atone for minor professional shortcomings makes them reassuringly calm during fugu consumption.
- Azusa offers traditionally appointed private tatami rooms. So if instead of dying, you slip into a zombie-like state for two days, the shoji screens will discreetly keep your comatose body from becoming the butt of other diners' jokes.
Like sober sex, fugu season's over way too quickly. Miss out, and you'll be stuck with less exotic fatal fare: street gyros, meals prepared by your girlfriend, and the "Shastay Special" -- all of which can kill you, but none of which provide the combination of atmosphere and danger that make Azusa the spot for your seasonal game of Japanese roulette.