Part 4 of 4
Part 1: Motion Sickness
Part 2: “Jew eat?…No. Jew?”
Part 4: Adulthood Begins: The UCLA Dorms
I had the T-bird through all of senior year, and it sailed like a catamaran on through the streets of San Carlos. It rode smooth and fit like a glove in almost any fast food drive-thru I could find in the burbs. Its cavernous interior was large enough to fill with all my friends, which by default made me the chauffeur of our group. The back seat was particularly cozy. I know this, because the first—and last—time I went to a drive-in double-feature I could fully extend my legs across the car’s backseat while making out with Bianca Cargoni. There was still room for a tray of nachos and a ramekin of jalapenos too. [Side note, I feel like there are so few opportunities to enjoy cheese from a pump these days, don’t you?]
Bianca and I watched the entire first movie, What Dreams May Come with Robin Williams, which I didn’t really like, and we sucked face during the entire second film—Practical Magic with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock. The fact that I would have preferred watching the romantic comedy about two sisters making love potions to protect their seaside coven rather than make out with a girl was probably a sexual-preference-red flag someone should have taken note of; but we were too busy trying to live up to the cliché of our parents’ generation—hooking up at the drive-in—that the truth of my sexuality wasn’t really a priority for me or Bianca.
I should point out that Bianca was my first serious girlfriend. Can you blame her? I was adorable. I looked like an emperor penguin with braces sans the waddle. I mean, back then, I was really cute, pudgy, but cute, and there were throngs of women who wanted to be with me and the black Champion Sports hoodie I wore almost daily. Want? Settle? Same thing when you’re in your teens, right?
Back in elementary school I had a new girlfriend every two weeks. Not exactly sure what caused the relationships to start and end because we never went anywhere, we never held hands, we didn’t talk on the phone, and when I saw them at recess I would pinch their butts or pull their pants down and run away calling them names. FYI, I did my time for that in the principal’s office. The school nurse made me gargle with salt water, preaching it to be the cure-all remedy our parents never seemed to utilize, replacing my father’s leather belt strap with her weak iodized solution. But this was different. I was older, had considerably more hair coming out of strange places on my body, and Bianca was a woman; a young one I know, but a woman.
Having a high school girlfriend was so different from the girls at recess. One evening she came to celebrate my birthday with me and my family downtown (a challenge most girls wouldn’t knowingly take on) at La Gran Tapa; this wonderful Spanish tapas bar. Afterwards she took me stargazing on a quaint bridge over a ravine in the middle of the Old Town. “If you stare long enough we’ll see one shoot across the sky,” she said, hoping we were making a romantic moment the two of us would one day tell our grandchildren. I felt like I was an adult in a bad Woody Allen movie; cold, uncomfortable, and unsure of what bird shit and used condom wrappers I was sitting on.
Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to have a girlfriend. For so long the jocks and big burly football guys made me feel uncomfortable about my androgynous hair and personality. One of them, who I had never spoken to in my entire life, passed me in the hall one morning on my way to the bathroom and grunted, “are you gay?” I didn’t know how to answer his question. I mean… he didn’t even start with a greeting or salutation before taking a chop at my character and pride. I pretty much pretended not to hear him, which, I quickly realized was one of the loudest ways to silently answer his question. But I had a girlfriend now; and that made me straight. That made me normal.
Bianca eventually broke up with me. Immediately after she learned I’d kissed and told my AP Art History class the intimate details of our evening visits. We played telephone long enough that I had exceeded my proverbial minutes and run out of things to pass along about our relationship. The scandalous was all that was left…can you blame me? Trisha Saxton was one of my most curious patrons with her front row seat to my back-of-the-class story time performances. I thought she could be trusted, but soon learned how she told every girl she knew and they in turn would do the same. She wrote notes. The kind that got passed between classes after generating three pages of Mead notebook paper with six different colors of bubbly calligraphy folded into an origami arrow pierced heart. Soon enough, Bianca was ringing my doorbell and telling me I was the biggest jerk she’d ever met. I didn’t see what the big deal was. I thought everyone in high school wanted to brag about the “sex” they were having when in reality it was generally no more than first base…it was more like a foul ball….or foul balls I should say. We’re friends now and it’s all water under the bridge, but I still haven’t received an invitation to her wedding!
High school continued and so did my status as an eligible bachelor. I graduated as a salutatorian, which meant I had an average 4.0 GPA and I got to wear a white robe during the ceremony. Which is great, because wearing one of the dark green and gold robes would have felt like a pressure cooker and forest green is definitely not my color.
Graduation was fun, but grad night was better. I still have the XL shirt they gave us and wear it around the house as a reminder of my adolescence. “Arctic Adventure 99” it says on the front between two fat Emperor penguins in graduation caps. It’s like I modeled for the shirt’s designers. There was an irony to grad night. The school locked us in the gym and lunch quad like we were prisoners. And of course everyone went crazy and reeked havoc on the school grounds. What did they expect? A bunch of kids felt like they had been trapped in an evil institution for their entire life and the one day they’re told freedom has come, they’re lured back in with junk food, cheap hypnotists, a two story replica of the Titanic smashed between the basketball hoops of the gym, face painting and laser tag. I did my part in “La resistance” by peeing on the toilet seat a little in the boy’s bathroom, but that’s about as rebellious as I got.
Little did most of us realize the prison we were leaving behind would just transform into a minimum-security facility in college. And BOOM! My A.D.D. trip down memory lane was officially over. The right blinker was flashing and we were getting off the 405 towards UCLA.
My mind focused and cleared itself as we pulled up to UCLA’s Hedrick Hall and some short, bald, crooked toothed, teenage Korean kid wearing a “UCLA Campus Security” uniform, glasses, and a walkie-talkie told us we had ten minutes to park in front and unload.
Before we left the car my dad turned and said, “Phil, if you’re going to do drugs and I’m sure you will, please be safe when you do, and make sure to tell me about it cause I might know a thing or two about em.” Avoiding the awkward conversation all together I continued to open my door. But he continued with one hand out and the other palm up to his mouth and said, “oh and whatever doesn’t fit in your hands or your mouth is just excess.” He was referring to female breasts and that’s when I showed some teeth and grabbed my twelve-inch TV/VCR combo from Costco and started walking towards the registration desk. I was speechless and unsure of how to respond. I was also disappointed to know he had the entire two-hour drive to come up with some bit of fatherly wisdom that would get me through the next four years of my life at UCLA, and instead I got an instructional hand gesture that might translate to “drink milk from this cow gently” in American Sign Language.
Franticly, my mind hurried to race through more and more of my adolescence as if once I walked into the building it would be lost or somehow tainted forever. I feared stories like washing my father’s car for five bucks for an entire afternoon with details like being too short to reach the center of the roof which is why it never got cleaned, would some how become generic and less vivid (i.e.: we washed dad’s car). I had already forgotten my 5th and 11th birthday parties, would I lose the memory of my Bar-Mitzvah too? [That might actually be a blessing as opposed to a curse] The more I grasped to remember days of the past, the more I could only focus on the terrifying first steps into my future. Scared of moving forward alone. Scared of losing who I was and where I’d came from. Scared to become someone else. I tried again to crush and swallow my fear, but the TV/VCR combo was painfully heavy and I needed somewhere to put it down.
I was joining a world where I could be in bed at whatever hour, choose when to attend classes, and spend most of my time at a coffee house pretending to read a book on Nietzsche for fun just by having it open on the table. It’s during those empty campus coffee house open-mic nights that I was going to meet my significant other and decide what kind of family and picket fence we’d want.
Classrooms the size of movie theaters hearing lectures on Sociology and Communication Studies is how I was going to be a leader of my generation. My dream was to make movies. The kind that make a difference by shaping morals and building integrity. Movies like Pretty Woman, A Place in the Sun, and Beaches.
Finally I was going to spread my wings and enter adulthood. The moment I’d been waiting for. Soon I’d be 21 and could legally drink without supervision. Even sooner I’d have a crappy fake ID, go to Frat parties, and paint my face blue and gold for UCLA football games, while screaming at the top of my lungs “you can’t spell SUCK without USC!!!!” But before all that, I would have to share a room the size of a shoebox with two male strangers on the fourth floor, north side of the Hedrick Hall. The wise sophomore students called it “four north.” I didn’t fault them for their lack of originality. After all, one in three UCLA students were Asian. “Hold the elevator!”
The Wallace in Culver City
After a brief tour of the campus, my father and I ate dinner in Westwood. But since that place is no longer there, I’m going to tell you about one of my new favorite restaurants in Los Angeles—the Wallace.
The Wallace is in Culver City, which was sort of a joke in college, but is hip and trendy now. Jamie, a foodie friend recommended it a s place for us to meet up for dinner, because she’d been before and was always down to go back; a telling sign of a good restaurant don’t you think?
Once situated at our table on the patio out front we took the obligatory look at the cocktail menu. Jamie said they had good cocktails, so I looked, but in general I tend to think a better test of a good spirits program is the venue’s ability to make the most simple classic cocktails really well. If they can do that, then it’s clear someone behind the bar knows their spirits and knows the basics. IMHO that’s all that counts.
But instead of ordered a martini or an old fashioned, I went with the flashmob, which was their take on an old fashioned with angel’s envy bourbon, byrrh (A wine-based aperitif, Byrrh has the specific characteristic of being flavored with quinine), and sour cherry bitters. And it was very well done!
When your handed a cocktail menu at the Wallace you immediately do a double take. Under the citrusy heading in bold print it reads morning sex. Naturally to read further and it’s a bourbon based drink with passion fruit, chai, lemon and peychaud’s bitters. And they serve it with an edible flower; a vibrant cadmium yellow pansy with deep purple center.
We also got the get lucky too. That was the fresh peach, mint, hayman’s old tom, giffard crème de apricot, brown sugar, and lemon.
The grommet is both rum and el silencio mezcal, velvet falernum, blackberry liqueur and lime.
From the non-boozy part of the drink menu one of us ordered the flower power which was a hibiscus and pomegranate carbonated soda. It was refreshing and not too sweet, but more importantly, it was really pretty.
Chicken liver mousse with balsamic onions and five spice.
Gruyere and black pepper popovers with parmesan chive butter. I love popovers. It might be an addiction. And I know they’re a pain in the ass because they have to be made fresh or they’re no good. So I have a lot of respect for restaurants that offer them. Even more when they’re complimentary like they are in San Francisco at Tyler Florence’s Wayfare Tavern.
Shishito peppers with edamame, miso, lime and sesame seeds. This was different. I’d never seen edamame and shishito peppers mixed like this before, but it worked well. The miso sauce was a little sweet and caramel-like with a strong umami undertone that we could cut with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Braised white beans with sofrito, smoked paprika and shaved parmesan. A solid dish, and who doesn’t love foods that come in a jar with a side of grilled bread.
Smoked trout with cucumber, radish, celery, yogurt, and almonds. The almonds were any interesting touch adding a little bit of meaty crunch in the mouth that’s different from the potatoe chips they were served with.
Crispy sweet potatoes with ginger, lime, cilantro and curry ketchup. As good as they look….and a very generous portion.
Sprouting broccoli with tahini, marinated feta, and dukkah.
Cauliflower with creamy parmesan, almond bread crumb, and rosemary. Yum! I wish cauliflower were served like this all the time. They grilled it so there was a hint of char, but there was also some bite to the flourrets.
Indian eggplant with curried yogurt, cilantro quinoa and pine nuts.
Albacore tartare with avocados, capers, dijon, sesame, soy and crispy nori. These were different flavors for a tartare, taking it to a slightly more brackish place than the typically more bright I’m used to in a chopped raw fish ensemble.
The lemonfish crudo was fantastic. The plate was beautiful. Like a cathedral rose window right in front of me….and edible. Pickled plums, avocados, serrano peppers and peppery micro greens were all tied together with a drizzle of good olive oil and vinegar. Too pretty to eat, but too good to not lick the plate.
Fried Mary’s chicken atop a buttermilk biscuit, celery, fennel, and house hot sauce. The meat was moist and the hot sauce was good, but the breading lacked texture and flavor.
If you’ve got the I-need-fried-chicken itch, this dish will certainly scratch it, but the fried chicken at Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc or Forestville’s Backyard is better.
Grilled octopus over potatoes with smear of piquillo pepper and salsa verde.
For dessert. We ordered the almond cake with roasted market peaches, ginger streusel and a generous scoop of peach sorbet. Two things I love, a good peach and all things almond flavored. The cake was perfect—moist and a little dense—and it soaked up some of the ginger peach reduction. Really great dessert.
But as good as the peach and almond cake was, the housemade gelato, sorbet, and sweets is the most amazing dessert I’ve had in awhile. It’s so simple, and so good, it’s puzzling more and more restaurants don’t do something similar, because the worst part about dessert is only being able to order one of two dishes. This gives you a decent amount of three different ice creams (two gelatos and one sorbet) each paired with their respective baked good. The combinations are thoughtful, and yet mixing and matching is a lot of fun too.
Since this changes from time to time it’s really whatever combination is inspiring the chef that day. We had:
Bourbon pecan ice cream with banana bread pudding.
Peach nectarine sorbet with a mini blueberry tart.
Oatmeal ice cream with a blondie brownie.
All six items on their own are great, but together….together, we couldn’t stop talking about how good everything was.
And that’s how you want to send your guests off at the end of the night—full, and yet wanting more!
Part 1: Motion Sickness
Part 2: “Jew eat?…No. Jew?”
Part 4: Adulthood Begins: The UCLA Dorms