Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Comfort of a Cocktail

I used to be intimidated by alcohol.  I didn't know what to do with it but pour it into half a glass of orange juice or Coca Cola, neither of which I like very much.  In recent years, though, I've begun to understand it.  There was no specific experience or learning curve that brought upon this understanding.  It just happened.  One day I found that I like whiskey.  I'd tried whiskey before, but it never suited me.  Until one day.  Now, I can pour some whiskey over some ice, add some sweet or dry vermouth, a dash of bitters, maybe an orange slice or a lemon twist, or some brandy with grenadine and sweet vermouth, or just benedectine.  Or a little benedectine and some lemon juice.  I just get it.  And in that, I feel secure, at home, comfortable.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Hallmark Day

I'm not a cynic, but Valentine's Day does not particularly excite me.  The whole thing feels like a commercial ploy.  I love the idea of showering my husband with love, but why on February 14, why with stuffed animals or big, red, heart-shaped boxes of bad chocolate . . . basically, I don't like being told what to do, or when to do it.

My husband is currently on the phone with our friend who called for advice about what to get her boyfriend for Valentine's Day.  He answered, "I don't know.  I'm different than most guys.  I'd just say a bottle of liquor."

Then she asked him what we're doing for the 'holiday'.  He replied, "We're not big Valentine's Day people, because, you know, every day in this house in Valentine's Day, heh, heh.  We'll probably just open a bottle of wine and eat some cheese."

That sounds about right.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The City Observed: Katsuya

Katsuya is a trendy Japanese restaurant on the corner of Hollywood and Vine.  It is often the backdrop of paparazzi photos and videos featuring the likes of Mark Wahlberg or Charlie Sheen exiting its large glass doors and gliding into their fancy cars at the valet.  There is a lot of Hollywood hype about Katsuya, but I’d also heard that the food is good.  When Dine LA Restaurant Week rolled around, I convinced my non-seafood-loving husband to choose this as our semi-annual dining splurge.

Katsuya’s decor is within a color palate - deep reds, pinks, and blacks – that one might find described as ‘sexy’ in the local glossies.  The clientele is largely made up of the kind of people I’d expect to see standing behind the red velvet rope of Hyde Lounge or Teddy’s, or on the rooftop of The Standard Hotel – that is, trendy – hoping that their shiny lip gloss or fleur-de-lis-emblazoned blazers will help them get discovered.  Joseph and I sat at a corner table at the back of the restaurant, and my unobstructed view of everyone kept me quite entertained. 

My amusement over the atmosphere of the place didn’t, thankfully, inhibit my ability to take the quality of the food seriously.  I really enjoyed it.  The Albacore Crispy Onion was so tender and intriguing in its flavor and texture, with its marriage of soft and crispy, marinated and grilled, that even my non-seafood-loving husband ate a full portion.  The Baked Miso Marinated Black Cod was decadent and reminded me of dusk, if dusk had a flavor.  As enamored as I was by my cod, I was less impressed by Joseph’s dish, the Beef and Mushroom Toban Yaki.  Although the beef did meet all expectations for medium-rare Kobe, the mushrooms didn’t add much of the earthy flavor that I generally expect from them.  Joseph was pleased, though, nodding his head enthusiastically and widening his eyes for emphasis when I asked, “How do you like it?”

Katsuya is known for its cocktails almost more so than its food, therefore, despite the exorbitant price of $14 dollars per, I ordered the Eastern Raspberry Sidecar: “hand pressed fresh raspberries intertwined w/ Hennessy VS Cognac & Nigori Sake, rounded out w/ Cointreau and freshly squeezed lemon”.  I love sidecars as well as every single ingredient on this list, thus I assumed this cocktail would suit my taste.  It did not.  It was watery and monotonous in flavor, like a frappe with too much ice that’s begun to melt. 

Overall, my experience in Hollywood and Vine’s trendy restaurant with trendy cocktails and trendy food was, maybe not top-notch, but upper-middle-notch. I’m glad I went and that I’ve got Katsuya under my belt now (being able to say I’ve been there might help me get discovered).  I will say, though, that I was somewhat disappointed that not a single paparazzo showed up to snap my picture when I exited the glass doors and glided home, along the Walk of Fame that had been wetted by rain (those charcoal tiles are slippery!).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Rainy Season

Rainy season is among us, and it’s more insistent than in recent years.  Two weeks now, but tomorrow finally looks to be the last of it.  Rain in California is different than rain elsewhere. It can be dangerous.  Just a few inches, and news outlets scramble to keep up with mudslides, flash floods, and car accidents caused by slick roads.  It comes down in spurts, rather than in steady streams.  It’ll trickle for a while, just a light sprinkle, and then there’ll be a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder, and a violent downpour that never lasts longer than five minutes.  Sometimes there’s hail, and everybody logs on to Twitter.

My friend Maggie once described me to someone by saying, “She likes good weather.”  That’s accurate.  I like sunny skies and warm air, foliage and greenery, and learned, upon moving to California, that I love succulents and cacti.  When I lived in New York, I was amused by the odd olfactory experience of the city.  “Every corner has its own smell,” is a phrase used as frequently as “Only in New York” to describe the city’s unique qualities.  You feel tough, unshakeable, thick-skinned, when you know that putrid aromas can’t assail your devotion to the world’s greatest city.  A rainstorm tends to momentarily stifle the myriad odors, but not for long.

In Los Angeles, you’d use the word scent rather than smell, as it really is a fragrant town  (cherry blossoms in the spring, pine in the summer, maple and other perennials in the autumn).  I am swayed by things like this.  I’ll pause on a walk in the Hollywood Hills to determine the source of some lovely scent, and my feelings for California will be strengthened.

Joseph and I are fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood that is extremely walkable by LA standards, and even, I’d say by San Francisco standards.  One of our favorite things to do is to walk to the Hollywood and Vine neighborhood for dinner and drinks.  It’s a thriving, bustling boulevard, Hollywood between La Brea and Gower, and it helps us feel like we still live in a cosmopolitan city.  Last weekend, we had reservations at Katsuya for 8pm, but it was raining, as it had been for days.  We momentarily embodied an Angeleno stereotype when we considered driving the  single mile, rather than walking in the rain.  I’m proud to say that we didn’t succumb.  We dug umbrellas out of the closet, and we walked.  In the rain.  Like New Yorkers.  And I reveled in how nice our wet city smelled.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The City Observed: Wilshire Spa

It had been an extreme winter. I’m not referring to the weather – I live in LA; I’m referring to life and activity. October through December saw a mess of meetings, obligations, rehearsals, online marketing, offline networking, panic attacks and meltdowns, all in preparation for a December performance of one of my original theater works. The highs were terrific, the lows unbearable. Then came Christmas and the New Year, which I enjoyed by ceasing all activity, by sitting in front of a television, alternating my attentions between video games and movies, eating all holiday treats imaginable and drinking cocktails one after the other. Looking back on 2009, and particularly autumn, I felt less than extraordinary, I felt ordinary: easily wrapped up in life’s mundanities, chasing my own tail.

My husband had given me a spa package for my birthday in August, and I’d been holding on to it all this time, waiting for the precise moment when a visit to a spa might save me from utter demise. During the aforementioned months I thought, “I’ll wait until all this over, and I’ll go to the spa to recover.” After the December deadline, I thought, “I’ll wait until the holidays are over, when my body will be all tense from the East Coast cold.” When I returned from the East Coast, I thought, “I’ll wait until after Sundance, when I’ll need some deep relaxation to bring me back to Earth.” Finally, a few weeks ago, I looked at my gift certificate and saw that it was set to expire on February 22. I had to make time to use it. I made an appointment for the approaching Sunday. I now declare that if I had the means, I would implement a weekly ritual of Sunday visits to the spa for the saving of my soul, so cathartic was it.

The entrance to The Wilshire Spa is at the back of a tall, corporate multi-use skyscraper on Wilshire Boulevard. The reception lobby is unpretentious, showcasing no particular luxury or status, showing no signs that it is indeed the portal to an underground bliss. Below a set of stairs, in the sub terrain of the mid-Wilshire district, lies a sumptuous Eden of tranquility.

Basic accoutrements for a pampered experience are provided free by the facility: towels, shampoo, conditioner, soap, q-tips, hair dryers, slippers, coffee, tea, and cucumber lemon water. Two banks of vanity tables give ample space for post-pampered beautification. Behind a pair of doors to the left of the vanity bank sit three tranquil rooms, each heated to a different degree and lined with certain minerals – one onyx, one yellow ochre, and the other mineral salt – each of which, according to descriptions on the walls, has unique calming properties. A set of doors to the right side of the vanities opens on to three baths of varying degrees: cold, hot, and extremely hot. I have a high tolerance for heat, and was pleased when I found myself dripping with sweat immediately upon entering the hot bath; I could only stand five minutes at a time in the extremely hot bath before craving a quick dunk in the frigid water of the cold bath. The proper cycle for getting the most benefit to your circulatory system isn’t something you’ll need to research beforehand – the desire to go from hot to cold and wet to dry will happen naturally. After cooling myself down in the cold bath, my physiological needs led me to the sauna – a typical wood-lined room kept at a controlled heat that I found to be perfectly comfortable, a place where I could lie back and read for quite a spell before finding the pages of my book wet and crinkled from my sweat. The steam room, on the other hand, was far too hot and steamy, even for someone of my high tolerance. I nearly suffocated after a mere thirty seconds in its billows. I removed myself quickly and re-embarked on my cycle of hot bath, really hot bath, cold dunk, and dry room. After a time, a masseuse in black lace bra and panties motioned for me to follow her.

My husband had thoughtfully chosen for my gift the Signature Body Massage after learning that it included two of my favorite things: a massage and a facial. That wasn’t the extent of it, though. My masseuse placed a clean sheet of plastic on a table, splashed a bucket of warm water over it, and instructed me to lie upon it face down. Then, she scrubbed. The website describes this as “a treatment that uses exfoliating cloths to gently remove dead skin cells from your body”; ‘Gentle’ it wasn’t - it was firm and intense. Tension was immediately tossed away - I was like a fleshy mannequin, a pliable material in the form of human only that the masseuse sanded, molded, pushed and pulled into a more perfect form. Entirely nude I lay there, face down whilst she scrubbed me with loofah gloves and cucumber salt. Her gloved hands knew no bounds – every inch of my body received a scrubbing: shoulders, elbows, stomach, inner thighs, groin, and recesses of my behind all received equal attention.  This wasn't a massage for the modest.  She’d turn me from stomach to back to side to side all with a swift push of the hands. At times she’d scissor my legs open, other times fold them over each other to gain access to all surfaces. The scrub lasted at least thirty minutes, enough time to rub off at least my first layer of skin. When there couldn’t have been another single dead skin cell to remove, she squirted a warm lotion all over me and gently rubbed it in. Then, she poured three full buckets of warm water over me. This was my favorite part. It felt like I was lying on the wet sand of the beach as the tide washed over my spent body. Next came a deep and thorough full-body Swedish massage that the masseuse administered with strong arms, digging elbows, and crisp palms.  Again, she left no stone unturned, treating all parts with equal attention, from my fingertips to my spine to my skull. Finally, she worked a green tea conditioner through my hair, layered cucumbers on my face and eyes, and doused my flesh in warm milk. This pure adventure in beauty manipulation lasted a full eighty minutes. I went in an ordinary human and exited a glistening goddess.

My milky, glowing aura stayed with me a good two days. Now, I appear to the world as the self I’ve always been. With my newfound knowledge, however, that I can be so completely transformed in the underworld of Los Angeles’ Korea Town, I won’t wait so long for the perfect time to visit. Perhaps the more often I go to the Wilshire Spa, the more likely I’ll manifest myself into a glistening, enlightened goddess in my daily reality. Good riddance, stress, I’ve found my spiritual practice.