Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Misanthrope, or "I'll have what he's not having."

It's not about dick-measuring--and the only reason I bring that up at all is that it's pretty much the first question people ask someone who is willing to eat things most people won't. Something along the lines of "Do you do it so you can say you did?" No. It's really not about bragging rights. It's about trust. I don't trust most people to tell me what in this world is good.

Think about this: at least according to the official story, there are a few million Americans who, as of last November, voted for our current president. While my chances of sitting next to one in California are admittedly slimmer than elsewhere, it could happen. Now am I going to listen to that person when it comes to matters of taste? To put it in less inflammatory terms, America's favorite vegetable is, and has been for decades, iceberg lettuce. Now, regardless of political affilation, you see what I mean. (If only the dems had run iceberg lettuce on the ticket...oh, I guess they sort of did.) Basically, if a food item is something I don't see on many menus, I have to assume it's something that doesn't sell much in the mainstream, which means it's not iceberg lettuce, which means it stands a better-than-average chance of being good. Similarly, if something is only found on ethnic menus--each ethnic minority by definition making up less of this country than white folks--I will give it similar odds, which is to say it's more likely than not worth my eating it.

So when someone at the next table turns his nose up at the evening's sweetbread-and-kidney special, you can pretty much guess that I'm going to order it. Double the odds if the waiter tries to warn me away for any reason other than that it's not fresh or is ill-prepared, and triple them if he comes out and says "Americans tend not to like it--too spicy/fatty/whatever." Baby, sign me up, and bring me an order to go, so I can see what it's like with all that spicy fat congealed on the bottom.

And, okay, I do take a little satisfaction in watching a dining companion's face wrinkle up when I order something out of the ordinary, but that's still not why I do it. The proof of that is that I order the same way when I eat alone, too, and if it were really just about saying I'd eaten something weird, I could pretty easily just lie about that, couldn't I? I mean enough people lie about their dicks, and that's way easier to verify. Isn't it too bad we can't seem to verify votes? If we could, and it turned out more people voted the right way, well...maybe I'd start letting you order for me.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Say Yes to Drugs

I wandered around the flat, alien neighborhood for half an hour before I found one of my group. Picking him out was easy--he had the same wide eyes I knew I had. We nodded at each other, slightly more secure in the knowledge that at least we were in the right place, and continued to wait. We made some small talk. He told me about how his job was a front for money laundering. I said I knew a lot of people in his business, and that I was between jobs. He offered to introduce me around, but I declined. Eventually, we tired of waiting and decided to risk going inside alone.

And then we were five. Four plus one, really, since only one of us knew what to say and how to get what we came for. Our "hosts" would speak only to him and looked at the rest of us like they couldn't understand a word we said. This was humiliating, but you can't bring your pride to a place like this--you remember why you're there and take what you're given.

And we were given a lot. And it was amazing. When you leave the city and know who to deal with, prices drop and quality soars. Idiot agents in Beverly Hills were paying fully 10 times what we were right now, and for stuff not an inch as good. We talked a little as we indulged, and discussed which parts of what we were doing were legal, if any. We decided that we didn't know, and didn't care--the stuff was that good. After less than a minute, parts of my face were numb. When I drank the sweaty glass of water that had been grudgingly found for me, it tasted like iron shavings. I switched to coke after that on my connection's advice and hoped for the best. The guy next to me--the money-launderer--couldn't stop talking about the stuff, although he claimed this wasn't his first time. First time at this place, but not first time with this kind of thing. I believed him. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about, and this was the best I'd ever had by far. Soon neither of us could shut up. The third guy in our group--the only one to bring a girl along--stood up and disappeared for half an hour. When he came back, he couldn't stop talking either.

Imagine waking up into the middle of an addiction and you're imagining last night for me.

The place: Oriental Pearl Restaurant.

The address: 227 West Valley Blvd., San Gabriel.

The appetizers: Dried beef with chili, Pig 3 ways--ear, tongue and trotter, Fepian (beef tendon and brisket), Ong choy cooked with salted tofu, Chicken feet, Diced long beans, Chicken in chili. Cucumbers to quell the numbing fire of the szechuan peppercorns that imbue every dish, along with the chilis chopped and sprinkled throughout. If you have never experienced a szechuan peppercorn, you must before the sun sets today. I don't care how.

The entrees: Ditto on the peppercorn/chili duo--this time, the subjects were: Beef and tofu hotpot with glass noodles, Water-boiled beef, Chicken with chilis (bland name, completely revelatory dish), Kung Pao chicken (no, you have never had this), and Eggplant with chilis.

The bill: $69.50 plus tip.

Your mission: Obvious.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Open Letter to That Asshole at Twin Dragon

"How was everything, sir?"
"The food was good. The service was not good."
"Haha, you are so funny, my friend. So everything was okay?"
"No, everything was not okay. I said the service was not good. Where have you been?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I was waiting for your conversation to end before I bring the check."
"Well we've been waiting forever. Where were you? We've been getting ignored over here."
"I am sorry--I didn't want to interrupt."
"Is this food free? I'm paying for this food. I deserve respect. Is this food free? I'm paying for this food and this service and we're over here being ignored. I've been coming here since I was 18 years old. I'm friends with the owner, and I'm ignored like this?"
"Sir, I say I'm sorry. What do you want me to do to make you happy?"
"You stand there and keep asking me what I want you to do? What do I want you to do? I want you to pay for this food. This food should be free."
"I cannot do that, sir."
"I shouldn't have to pay for this food. I shouldn't have to pay for this service."
"You don't have to pay for the service, my friend."
"I've been coming here for 10 years..."

If you're getting sick of this exchange, imagine sitting in the booth next to it. I had wandered into Twin Dragon on Pico with a craving for Chinese spare-ribs, and for that, clearly, I was being punished. I had to sit and listen to this guy--slightly pudgy, mid-late-30's, baseball hat, there with his lady friend--abuse the waiter for no less than 20 minutes, then march into the foyer and repeat his bullshit to the woman behind the counter, another young woman, and whoever else was unfortunate enough to pass by.

"I've been coming here 10 years, I'm friends with Frank, Frank would never treat me this way, I spend a lot of money here, I deserve respect. Your customers deserve respect. They come here and pay money and deserve to get respect, not disrespect. Do you understand me? No, do you understand me? I spend money here and I deserve respect like every customer deserves respect. Is my money good? Is my money good? My money's not good to you?"

Man, fuck you. You don't deserve shit. Before you started your tirade, you may have deserved slightly better service than you got, but from where I sat, the waiter was doing exactly right by you, and was, like he told you, waiting for you to stop your conversation with your dining companion and the couple across the aisle, who were walking back and forth between their booth and yours. Seemed like a conversation that warranted the waiter giving you some space, especially when you started up like some bust-out asshole about how you would buy the other guy his soup, even though he clearly didn't want you to and you were making him uncomfortable. But it seems like you hadn't met your quota of making people uncomfortable even after you were done with him, so the waiter was an obvious target.

I cannot possibly give voice to how much I hate people like this guy. Toothpick in the side of his mouth, not shutting up even after he's gotten more apologies than there are staff in the place, definitely not letting go of the story about how he told off the whole restaurant and got the respect he deserved for days to come, making everybody who has to listen almost as uncomfortable as he made everyone in the restaurant while it was going on, talking about it on his cell phone at full volume so everyone around has to listen to him in line at wherever, and repeating the whole thing the next time he's at a restaurant just for good measure.

There should be a special section in restaurants for guys like this, where the food is cold, and the service is bad, and he gets even less respect than he deserves--but that would be impossible. Man, if you're reading this (right), stay home, shut the fuck up, and leave the nice people at Twin Dragon and every other restaurant in this city the hell alone. Better yet, take your shit to Cynthia's and try it with her.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Coming Soon: You Can't Pick Your Friend's Nose

Admit this: when you find out that someone you really like does not share your opinion on what you consider an important culinary matter, your opinion of that person changes. No, it doesn't? Here's an experiment to see if I'm wrong: (1) Think of one of your best, most memorable sushi experiences--one that made the top of your head lift off and your eyes roll back. (2) Picture a good friend of yours--someone you've spent really great time with. (3) Picture that person wrinkling his/her nose and sticking our his/her tongue at the same piece of sushi that got you to the edge of Nirvana. For added emphasis, s/he then says "I just don't like sushi--I mean, it's raw fish!"

So, what do you think? Was I wrong? If the sushi example doesn't work for you, choose whatever the food is that gets you closer to god. Then again, if sushi doesn't work for you, I don't know if we can be friends, so maybe you should just move along.

More on this in a few.