Thursday, August 4, 2011

Aug 2011/ Spring 1995 - Give me the damn Tic Tacs

Every time I come to the Los Angeles area I have dinner with my old friend Oliver, so for this trip I booked a hotel room in Marina Del Rey so we could go out.  Unfortunately he had to cancel due to work commitments so I did some research and found a sushi place in LA called Sushi Zo.  The reviews were fantastic, describing this amazing culinary experience that included some very strict rules about how you actually ate the sushi and rules about mobile phones.  One review even noted that a woman was told to sit down and eat the piece of sushi in front of her before going to the bathroom.  Sounds like my kind of place.

After a quick drink with Kendall and Maria @ the Marina Del Ray Marriott I headed over to Sushi Zo, parking in the strip mall lot.  Walking past Papa John's, a Chinese Take-out place and then Starbucks I stepped up to the entrance, walked in and was greeted by one of the waitresses.  

"May I help you?"

"One for sushi please."  

"Sir, this is Omakase restaurant."

"Yes!  I read the reviews online.  This place is the best!"

She offers me a seat at the sushi bar or a table.  I should have sat at the bar, next time.  After washing my hands with the washcloth, my beer arrived and the sushi dishes started to flow, one at a time.

"Sir, Oyster with special sauce.  No soy sauce please"


"Sir, Yellowfin Tuna with scallion and wasabi.  No soy sauce please."

The plate had 4 rectangular pieces of melt-in-your-mouth yellowtail.  With every dish came a description of what it was and instructions on how to eat it, whether or not I was allowed to use soy sauce.  There were two or three dishes where it was a little ball of rice topped with some fish I had never heard of and sprinkled on top was a truffle salt.  This had to be the closest I would ever come to experiencing what it is like to dine at El Bulli, the now closed restaurant in Spain which once hosted a Dom PĂ©rignon sponsored 47-course dinner for guests helicoptered in for the affair at a cost of 125K.

My three favorite dishes were the Monkfish Liver, Uni and Ikura.  The quality of the fish was even better than what I've had in Tokyo, and that sushi is pretty much out of this world.  The whole experience was about an hour long and left me feeling satiated, elated, happy.  One of the top five meals ever.  My only regret was there was no one with me to share in this experience.

So this morning I'm talking to my old friend Scott while driving up the PCH to Oxnard.  Scott and I met while working for a computer telephony start-up back in 1994.  He and I would often do side work to make some extra money and one of our clients was through another old friend of mine Pamela.  Pamela worked for a lobbyist in DC and as a result of her job ended up with tickets to all sorts of DC events.  Scott and I were down doing some work in the Spring of 1995 and Pamela's boss gave her 4 tickets to see Fiddler on the Roof so she invited Scott and I to join her and her now husband.  

We shower up, get dressed and it's about 6:30, the show is at 8:00.  At 24 years old I wasn't much of a fine food connoisseur yet so when we walked into The Capital Grille on Pennsylvania Avenue on a Friday night without reservations the hostess sort of laughed at us.  She then told us that she had a table, but it was in this private room and that there was a party of 50 coming in at 8:00 so we had to be out of there before then.  I promised her that we would be gone by then as we had to make it to the play.

She walks us through the restaurant and into this room, completely encased in floor-to-ceiling windows which looked like french doors.  We sat down and it was a surreal experience to have this whole room to ourselves, separated from the rest of the patrons who were staring in to figure out who were these kids getting the special treatment.  The waiter shows up a few minutes later and asks us if we are friends of Senator D'Amato.  Confused we answer no and he tells us that we are sitting at his table.  Scott and I enjoyed this amazing meal, a very guy meal, fried calamari with the hot cherry peppers, two beautiful steaks and some creamed spinach and baked potatoes.  We ate, drank some nice red wine and scooted out of there at 7:50 with just enough time to make it to the theatre for a great performance of Fiddler.  

Scott and I made many trips to DC in 94/95/96 and usually when we did work for Pamela she would take us out to dinner.  This is where the Tic Tacs come into play.  One night the three of us are waiting outside the now closed California Pizza Kitchen on Connecticut Avenue when this maybe homeless guy comes up to us and asks for $5.  Now I'm not going to just give him $5 and we have a lot of time to kill until the buzzer goes off for our table so I start a conversation with him.  

"I'll give you $5 later.  What's your name?"


"I'm Chris, this is Scott and that is Pamela."  

"Can I have $5?" 

"Later.  Are you from around here?"

Ashad wasn't at all annoyed, just a little flustered trying to figure out should he hang around for the $5 or should he take cut his losses and just move on.  He decided to do both.  While we were talking and I was finding out about how he plays saxophone in a band he would periodically turn away to ask the people walking by for money.  Another person walks by ignoring his request for money and Ashad turns to us and says: 

"After dinner go to this club on X street (I forget the location), knock on the back door and tell the guy who answers that Ashad sent you.  He'll take care of you.  Can I have my $5 now?"

I counter with, "Ashad, where did you grow up?"

Another person walks by, Ashad asks for money and another person says no.  I pull out of my pocket some Tic Tacs and offer them to Ashad.  

"I don't want your Tic Tacs."  

"But Ashad, maybe you have bad breath.  Maybe the Tic Tacs will help."

Ashad ignores me and we talk a little bit about his childhood in DC, learning how to play the saxophone, and hearing in his voice the passion he has for music.  About 25 minutes have passed and we keep going back and forth about the Tic Tac's after each person passing by either ignores him or flat out says no.  Finally Ashad reaches his breaking point as he grabs the Tic Tacs out of my hand and yells:

"Fine!  Give me the damn Tic Tacs."  

He pops a few in his mouth and up the street comes this 40-something guy walking alone.  Ashad says, "Can I have $5?"  The guy stops, opens his wallet and hands him $5.  Scott, Pamela and I are completely shocked.  Ashad looks at us as the guy is walking away and says, "Well, how about that." And the four of us start laughing.  

Our buzzer buzzes and it's time for us to have dinner.  I shook Ashad's hand and gave him $20.  

"Hey, can I have $5 more?"

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