Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mia Sushi in Eagle Rock

I think it's fair to say that Eagle Rock is on the Eastside of L.A., insofar as it's on the east side of the L.A. River. I agree that it's probably inaccurate to refer to Los Feliz or Echo Park as Eastside.

But that's neither here nor there. Whatever Eagle Rock is, it's definitely not Westside. What is Westside? It's an Audi convertible, a $125 haircut, a perfect tan, a small dog, an $80 t-shirt, a fixed nose, a botulized forehead, a waxed back, and non-ironic sunglasses.

Someone at Mia Sushi (Eagle Rock Blvd. & Las Colinas) must have misheard the numbers on the zip code when they were shopping for their location over the phone, because Mia Sushi is a 90049 or 90401 place plopped down in our very un-Westside 90041.

It’s telling that Mia Sushi is one of the few places in Eagle Rock that offers valet service. The presence of the valet booth in front of the restaurant is a bit ludicrous, given the restaurant’s location on a ramshackle, utterly inglorious stretch of Eagle Rock Boulevard, stuffed between apartment buildings, near the bowling alley and Señor Fish. It’s as if the owners ripped off the standard template for a swanky Westside place (dim lighting, water feature, anonymous Eurotrash music, pebbles in the bathroom sink, valet parking, etc.) and just slavishly followed that template on a grungy block on Eagle Rock Boulevard. (I will note that the décor is dumb (and borderline offensive), with the Buddha heads throughout the restaurant inscribed with the Katakana (the Japanese syllabary used for loanwords) characters for “Mia” on their foreheads – but I’m probably overreacting to that.)

Perhaps Mia Sushi is a self-conscious and farsighted anachronism, a visitor from what its owners see as Eagle Rock’s possible future: where smartly dressed valet attendants are instructed to keep the BMWs, Porsches, and Lexus convertibles prominently parked right in front of Casa Bianca, where the Ultimate Fighting Club has been replaced by an Equinox, a plastic surgery center, or a colonics clinic, and where all of the car repair shops have been taken over by Persian rug shops, antiques dealers, and a Design Within Reach. (Indeed, Mia Sushi’s site announces that it “is the new restaurant reinventing the Eagle Rock community with stunning art décor, an intimate patio setting, and serving [sic] the freshest ocean fare.” Or perhaps it’s just one of those things that’s not like the other, the way The Bucket would stick out in Beverly Hills. (Perhaps, if The Bucket did move to Beverly Hills, some Bizarro Grigori Octopus would be writing a review bemoaning how bizarre it was that a place like The Bucket would open shop in the 90210 – although, these kinds of things don’t work on a perfect parallel. The Bucket might in fact work in Beverly Hills: it would just be six times more expensive (“authenticity” and “back to basics” don’t come cheap) and a lot cleaner looking.)

The food at Mia Sushi is fine, not great. I’m not a huge fan of sushi to begin with, but even an amateur like myself can tell that it’s basically sushi-by-the-numbers here, with a set of “creative” special rolls, which mostly involve filling things with cream cheese, flavored mayonnaise (“special sauce”), or fried bits and naming the rolls after things around the neighborhood (e.g., “Colorado Roll,” “Occidental Roll,” “Highland Park Roll,” etc.). They also have a set of “Special Salads,” which are basically your standard Asian-fusiony salads with pieces of chicken, fried noodles, and red cabbage mixed together under an “Asian” dressing. The service is usually fine, if a little more self-consciously fancy (and coolly distant) than at other Eagle Rock establishments. The prices are a bit more Westside than at other Eagle Rock places as well. It is sushi, after all, I guess – though Nobu, it isn’t.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I think it’s probably a good thing to have a place like Mia Sushi in the neighborhood. It’s surprising to come across, not what you’d expect to find – like Seafood City in the mall. I highly doubt that Eagle Rock Boulevard will ever become the Westside-style stretch of high-end furniture and clothing boutiques and pricey restaurants that Mia Sushi apparently foresees in its on-going project to “reinvent” Eagle Rock (and I sincerely hope this never happens), but, still, Mia Sushi’s somewhat absurd ambitions and pretensions are kind of cute, if silly.

Not open for lunch.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Read Books (Bookstore) in Eagle Rock

In future trademark litigation, the owners of Read Books (Eagle Rock Blvd. & Chickasaw Ave.) will argue that the name of their store is not simply descriptive of their products and therefore unworthy of trademark protection. Instead, they will surely argue that the name of their store is in fact an exhortation, a command, a mandate.

For a long time, I would moan that Eagle Rock lacked two things: (1) a movie theater (any movie theater would do, even a tiny one like the Los Feliz 3), and (2) a bookstore. We had Imix Bookstore (which isn't so much a dedicated bookstore as much as a bookstore/t-shirt, handbag, and stationery shop/performance space) and the Occidental College bookstore, which is kind of collegey, but features an excellent sales shelf), but no dedicated, general bookstore, new or used. Read Books arrived on Eagle Rock Boulevard a few years ago. I remember telling the owners of the store, with real emotion in my voice, how happy I was that they had opened their store in Eagle Rock: I meant it.

Read Books is a tiny little used bookstore. It would take up just one small room in one of the larger used bookstores in nearby neighborhoods (e.g., Brand Bookstore in Glendale, or Book Alley or Cliff's Books in Pasadena). The store has a wonderful, cozy family feel to it. It's run by a husband and wife team, and occasionally, their kids, who seem to often be hanging around the store after school or on the weekends, doing their homework, talking to their parents, helping out, or just reading quietly on the couch at the front of the store. The store's owners seem to have a goofy, maybe black sense of humor: the store's blog features, in addition to a Literary Fight League, a literary Death Watch, and there are a few shelves reserved for the work of the Recently Deceased. I've noted in the past that the owners are very nice and fun to interact with about books, book buying, and putting potentially embarrassing books into inconspicuous brown bags.

Read Books has a wealth of options for such a small place: a decent collection of first editions (in the glass shelf), good selections of mystery and sci-fi on top of a wide range of standard fiction and classics (why is MATING always prominently featured in used bookstores? and why does no one ever seem to be reading it?), a respectable drama section, a rotating rack of old and recent literary journals, the NYT and the LA Times, and a surprisingly extensive array of current magazines.

On my frequent visits, I tend to browse through Read Book's two shelves of foreign-language materials. A foreign dictionary or textbook, to me, is never a bad deal. I bought a German self-study book at Read Books a few months ago for three dollars or so and have been studying it for a few weeks now: I've definitely gleaned more than three dollars' worth out of the book so far -- Das Buch war preiswert. This is why used bookstores are so fantastic: you spend two, three, or five dollars, and it's almost always well worth it. But it's also this kind of thinking that gets me into trouble. For a long time, I was going to Read Books every week, buying several books -- partly because it always seemed like a good idea, and partly because I wanted so badly for Read Books to survive and stay in our neighborhood.

Sometimes I worry that Read Books does not get the attention it deserves, given its relatively anonymous location on Eagle Rock Boulevard, a little bit away from all the action on the Swork-Imix block up near Colorado. I would exhort you to go to Read Books, and to heed the store's admonition (preferably after you've made some purchases). Please tell them that the Octopus sent you and that he enjoyed his brown-bagged book.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Seafood City in Eagle Rock

It's always fantastic when you come across things sitting right in front of you that you know nothing about. The sense that one knows hardly anything about anything -- even the places in our own neighborhood -- creates a dizzying sense of possibility. I don't know, and can't pretend to know, much about Filipino food, but it's to Seafood City's credit that my handful of trips there have made me want to learn about it.

Seafood City in Eagle Rock Plaza is probably what you would expect a Filipino market to be -- it's just not where you'd expect to find it. The grocery store occupies one of the anchor store sections of Eagle Rock Plaza. The other anchor stores are Target and Macy's. So right there, in between GameStop and Footjoy and the anime store is a big grocery store with a huge seafood selection.

Most of the people I know who visit Eagle Rock Plaza begin and end their trips to the mall at Target, almost never venturing out of Target into the center of the mall itself. When I visited Seafood City on Friday afternoon, I went in through the mall's central entrance on the ground floor. The first thing you see as you enter is Manny Pacquiao on t-shirts hanging at Fil-Mart on your right, with the PNB Remittance Center on the left. As you walk into the center of the mall, you pass Jollibee, a kind of Filipino fast food place (apparently the most popular fast food in the Phillipines), which serves American-style burgers, fried chicken, and Filipino dishes. As you cross the center of the mall toward the entrance to Seafood City, you are hit with a bouquet of smells not usually associated with a trip to the mall: vinegar, fish, ripe mango, curry mixes, banana catsup, etc.

I went to the store for mangoes and some fruit. They had plenty of that: I knew I was in the right place when I saw a wall of ripe Mexican mangoes in boxes for $5.99 each. I got what I came for.

But Seafood City also has: a table of glutinous rice sweets, often covered in coconut shavings, in various colors, approximately 30 different types of rice, including a house brand of jasmine rice available in 40-pound bags (stacked six feet high), a wall of baked goods (e.g., pan de coco, bean cakes, yam cake, pan de pina, pan de sal, ube cakes), an entire freezer case full of one flavor: Nestle Classic Luscious Mango, a full aisle of different types of vinegar (e.g., coconut vinegar, palm vinegar, various fish sauces), four-kilogram jugs of UFC Banana Ketchup, Red Horse Malt Liquor from Manila, an encyclopedic array of ramen (including Pancit Canto [chow mein chili and citrus flavor]), Japanese and Chinese candies and snacks, an aisle full of different types of Zojirushi rice makers, a corner full of standard U.S. (military?) style hot dogs and cold cuts (and Filipino variations), dozens of Filipino chips and fried things (e.g., roast beef chips, Crispy Porky pork-flavored chips, ham-and-cheese-flavored chips, prawn chips) and, of course, a very fine selection of fish and seafood (e.g., milkfish, rabbit fish, baby octopus, gigantic carp, tilapia, etc.), laying out on ice right there to be inspected with tongs by the customers.

I picked up some bibingka (glutinous rice cakes), some little square cakes filled with ube (a type of purple yam apparently popular with Filipinos -- there was a big selection of ube-flavored ice cream in the frozen section), and some kababayan (Filipino cupcakes). I also picked up a bag of the Porky chips for Mrs. Octopus.

Filipino singer, actress, and TV host Sharon Cuneta's image appears on the walls everywhere in the store, and on a video-commercial playing at checkout. The store is, by most accounts, the heart of Eagle Rock's substantial Filipino population. Many of the customers seemed to be pretty familiar with the cashiers at check-out; the place felt like a neighborhood corner store that people came to all the time.

I had a snack afterward at Chow King, a Filipino fast food place attached to Seafood City that features a menu of Chinese-influenced and Filipino-style dishes (and a very impressive-looking Halo-Halo, which I will have to try next time; when I do try it, I will probably attempt to draw connections between the "mix-mix" dessert and the fascinating crazy-quilt nature of Tagalog). I had noodles with a shrimp sauce at Chow King: the sauce had a (to my taste) weird but intriguing vinegary taste and smell that grew on me as I ate.

Eagle Rock Plaza has been referred to as the Mall of Manila, given the significant number of Filipino shops and restaurants that have opened there over the past several years, and the prominence of the place in Eagle Rock's Filipino community (as of 2005, 6,000 of Eagle Rock's 30,000 residents were Filipino).

After you're done picking up toilet paper, shampoo, and garbage bags, it's worth wandering out of Target to get a glimpse of the vibrant heart of our neighborhood's Filipino community.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Taco Spot in Eagle Rock

You know the tired old joke about how an “ethnic” place (read Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Indian, etc.) can’t really be all that good if it gets anything higher than a B rating from the L.A. County Health Department? I admit to having made this joke myself. (It’s notable that the joke doesn’t apply to Italian, French, or Japanese [the honorary European cuisine].) It’s as if some level of squalor or grime is the required badge of authenticity for truly “ethnic” foods.

The Taco Spot, where just last night I enjoyed a wonderful vegetable soup (tomato base with large, perfectly softened chunks of carrots, celery, and potato) and the Ahi Pueblo special (Ahi tuna chunks in an excellent spicy brown sauce full of onions, served with tortillas, rice, and beans) flips the old joke on its head. At The Taco Spot, which is probably my favorite restaurant in Eagle Rock, the immaculate surroundings – everything is spotless, attractively simple and minimalist – reinforce the simple, clean, non-ostentatious presentation of the food. Neither soulless corporate chain with margarita specials in gigantic colored plastic glasses and sombreros on the wall nor grimy hole in the wall, The Taco Spot carries the authority and legitimacy of the taco truck or the roadside taco shack to a fully and unapologetically bourgeois level. This is the kind of taco spot where they play Massive Attack and The Doors. It’s an interesting maneuver at a time when many new companies are so eagerly attempting to appropriate the perceived authenticity of the food truck, or, more specifically, in L.A., the fabled taco truck.

I am sure that some will complain that The Taco Spot is just Mexican food for yuppies, by yuppies, that it lacks “authenticity,” etc. I don’t agree. The food is excellent, and thoughtfully prepared and presented, without being watered down into typical chain-like suburban ersatz-Mexican goop. The reasonably priced (but not cheap) menu features a wide range of vegetarian options, a full array of breakfast choices (served all day – the soyrizo burrito is a favorite of mine) and a number of healthy options (tofu tacos, grilled vegetable burrito, etc.) that are less cheese- and cream-heavy than usual Mexican restaurant fare.

The Taco Spot, unlike, say, the fabled "secret" taco truck, or the "hidden" restaurant in Boyle Heights, or on Broadway downtown, is not the kind of place you will brag to your friends about “discovering.” Instead, The Taco Spot comes directly to you, a proud participant in the yuppification of Eagle Rock. You could say, in fact, that the Taco Spot has “discovered” you.

Service is sometimes spotty. For a while, the registers were manned single-handedly by a young Latino guy, who I think is the owner. These days, it’s goofballs with silly blonde goatees wearing trucker hats singing along to Bon Jovi. (I believe these trucker-hat guys sometimes commandeer the stereo. And how can you have two goofy guys in trucker hats manning the registers?) The Taco Spot is undeniably a hit now: it was packed on a Wednesday night with families, people coming in after work. It seems like the trucker-hat guys and the kitchen are still adjusting to the place's relatively newfound popularity: it can take a while to get your order during the dinner rush.

I would be wildly excited if a group of young South Asians opened up a place like The Taco Spot: fresh, young, fun, relatively "authentic," and, yes, spotless. It would be the product of the children of immigrants, a first- (or second-, or third-) generation place, run by kids who were neither here nor there, with something to prove.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Oinkster in Eagle Rock

What is the point of life? Is it to live forever with Vulcan restraint, limiting caloric intake, surviving on water, celery sticks, and tempeh? Or is it to revel in carnal indulgence? To have animal juices and fats dripping down your chin?

These are the questions posed by The Oinkster. The Oinkster has, in the popular consciousness of L.A., become a type of synecdoche for Eagle Rock. It sort of sums up the Zeitgeist of the place neatly: an old building revamped, selling sort of old-time food that's now a little pricier and souped-up, with a "hip" ironic name, and t-shirts that say OINKSTER in the format of the old Run-DMC logo. The Oinkster proclaims on its site that it is an "[i]nnovative and affordable, stylish and fun" place, that "aims to be Los Angeles’ antidote to both, expensive gourmet meals and their cheap fast food counterparts," from its location "on Eagle Rock’s newly hip Colorado Boulevard . . . ."

The Oinkster is probably the only restaurant in the neighborhood that one could call sexy. But it's not sexy because of the decor, the location, or any of that. Rather, it's the attitude of the place.

In an age of eco-conscious veganism, food allergies, gluten intolerance, "heart-healthy" diets, Lipitor, etc., The Oinkster is an orgiastic celebration of our irresponsible, bestial side, with its menu of pastrami, pulled pork, burgers, rotisserie chicken, Belgian fries (called the best fries in the city by Jonathan Gold), aioli mayo, and cupcakes.

It's notable that The Oinkster, despite its name, is invariably populated by many young, svelte people who don't appear to be headed for coronary thrombosis anytime soon. In fact, those eating at The Oinkster seem to often be involved in the type of counterintuitive Zahavian handicap signalling of genetic fitness involved in smoking cigarettes, where one displays one's superior fitness by purposefully engaging in dangerous or unhealthy activities: "From lion-hunting Masai warriors to cigarette-smoking, drag-racing American teenagers, people (often young) perform risky acts to prove that they are so fit or skilled that they can afford to be daring." (MIT Media Lab.) That's probably what creates the sexiness.

As my friend Colonel Mortimer noted elsewhere, my general abstinence from eating mammals hamstrings me a bit in offering a full review of The Oinkster. However, I can attest to the magnificence of the Belgian fries, which have a crisp outer shell inside of which the puffy lightness of the fry is preserved, the moist and juicy rotisserie chicken, the wonderful microbrews on tap and available by the bottle (with great specials and happy hours), the fabulous red cabbage slaw and beet salad, and the delicious cupcakes. And I have had a guilty bite or two of Oinkster pastrami and burgers from Mrs. Octopus' plate: they are pretty awesome, and probably worth the artery-narrowing. The Oinkster features an array of delicious "homemade" condiments: they've got Homemade Ketchup, Chipotle Ketchup, Roasted Garlic Aioli, Ancho-Lime Mayonnaise, Dijon Mustard, and Dijon-Horseradish Mayonnaise.

There are two flat screen TVs at either end of the inside seating area, usually showing sports. There's a nice outdoor patio. The building, which has a red, high-peaked, HoJo-style roof, used to be inhabited by something called Jim's Burgers. The Oinkster's "summer hours" are Mon.-Thurs. 11 to 11, Fri.-Sat. 11 to midnight, and Sunday 11 to 10.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Dave's Chillin' & Grillin' in Eagle Rock

There's only one scene I can remember from Atom Egoyan's film FELICIA'S JOURNEY: in the scene, Bob Hoskins' creepy character, who works for some kind of food company, is explaining to a salesperson from an automated catering company why fully automated food dispensers will never replace human food service: "Food must be served by caring hands, not machines," he says. It's one of his character's only touching moments.

This is what Dave's Chillin' & Grillin' is all about. If Dave's had a tap, it would be the local bar. People would hang around all day, watching basketball on TV, sharing their troubles with Dave, whiling away the hours.

Unfortunately, you can't really nurse a sandwich for hours, and most people don't finish a turkey sub and say "Another round." Still, Dave's succeeds in some ways in becoming Eagle Rock's one true hang-out joint. Less college and mommy-circuit than Swork next door, a little more informal and welcoming than The Coffee Table a block or so away, it's a place you would want to spend the day at, if you could.

Dave's is decorated like a common room in a shared off-campus apartment, with random bookshelves, out-of-place office swivel chairs, old overstuffed easy chairs, a random high chair, a bongo drum, a battered upright piano, ancient video games, assorted knickknacks, random potted cacti, etc. The work of local artists adorn the walls. Some wooden baby toys are a recent addition. You get the sense Dave wants everyone to settle in and hang out.

There's something stridently Luddite about Dave's. There are two old TV's (projection, color) that are usually fuzzily tuned to whatever channels they can pick up with their jerry-rigged antennae. There are cassette tapes, a boom box, and VHS tapes lying around: presumably, Dave puts on REPO MAN or BULL DURHAM when there's nothing better on to watch.

I haven't talked about the food yet. The sandwiches at Dave's are locally famous, for the great care with which Dave makes them. And Dave Evans -- the Dave -- will more often than not be the one making your sandwich. He's usually there at all hours of the day. My favorite is the veggie-hummus. I don't (usually) eat beef, but am advised that the meatball sub is out of control. The ingredients are unfailingly fresh. The bread is chewy, fresh, perfect. I can't think of a better place in L.A. to get a sandwich.

Amazingly enough, the food is almost secondary here: the most important factor is Dave himself, and the other people he's got working with him. Dave seems to genuinely care about the food, and to really want his customers to be happy. After you order, he'll often say, in his thick Boston accent "We'll take care of ya. I'll make you a great sandwich." And he will. I often suspect that he gives me the 10" sub when I order a 6" because, why not? I've often been there alone; as he brings my sandwich out to my table, where I'm sitting and reading alone, Dave will often say something nice like "Bon Appetit" or something, to make the experience of eating alone a little more pleasant. And when you're done, Dave will almost always ask "How'd that treat ya?" And you will invariably tell him that it was fantastic.

Perhaps this is the point of Dave's defiantly Luddite motif: no matter how amazing the future gets, technology will never replace the joy of eating at a place like Dave's, where you're made to feel a little less alone, and where a sandwich can be a reminder that the world can be a very good place.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Tritch Hardware in Eagle Rock, or, a Yuppie Reflects

Sometimes, Eagle Rock has a real Riverdale, Archie & Jughead feel about it: you're driving down Colorado, past all these businesses that have been here since the 40's or so (Cindy's Diner, Casa Bianca, Colombo's, etc.), you see the "Historic Route 66" signs, and you feel a bit like you're in BACK TO THE FUTURE or something. Nowhere is this blast-from-the-past feeling more pronounced than in the venerable Tritch Hardware in Eagle Rock (SW corner of Colorado and Townsend).

Tritch Hardware is the kind of place where an American flag is hung up with no irony, where most of the grizzled staff probably spent some time in either Vietnam or Korea at some point, and where people really care how the Eagle Rock high school football team is doing. It's a throwback.

I've purchased the following items at Tritch Hardware in the three years we've lived in Eagle Rock: a shovel, six tomato cages, several bags of potting soil, a hammer, nails, hooks, duct tape, a hand juicer, and a wheelbarrow. The people in Tritch Hardware are famously helpful. They'll answer all sorts of questions in detail, and will always help you find the stuff you need. A French friend of mine was in there yesterday, asking them about how to restore the finish on aluminum. The guy helping him, an older guy, carefully went over my friend's project, and what he wanted to accomplish, and pointed him in exactly the right direction.

The staff at Tritch are not all bubbly and fake-friendly, but more sort of the gruff and to-the-point helpful types: you'll come out of there with the stuff you need and will probably feel like you learned something useful about hardware/home repair/the American way. You might also feel like going and having a Miller and watching the Dodgers. And changing your own oil and filter.

They've got basically all the hardware you might need, in addition to other random household stuff (appliances, kitchen stuff, etc.). They also have a cooler full of ice cream bars. Behind the counter they've usually got a baseball, football, or basketball game on on the tiny TV they have next to the register.

I might have to agree with those who argue that Tritch Hardware, and not the car-accident-prone Swork (which I love), is the true heart of Eagle Rock. Of course, Tritch Hardware is often posited as some kind of touchstone of "realness" and "real people" against which the invading yuppie hordes are juxtaposed: see the NYT article comparing the now-defunct Regeneration shop vs. Tritch (the faint odor you detect as you read the article is the sickly sweet musk of Schadenfreude).

Tritch Hardware and the other businesses that have been in Eagle Rock for the past sixty years are what make this neighborhood what it is. They are the core of the place. Newer places (Swork, Colorado Wine Company, The Oinkster, Señor Fish, etc.) are inexorably becoming part of the fabric of neighborhood as well, but Eagle Rock likely never will be a copy of Silverlake or Los Feliz: the set up and the nature of the place are too different.

Young and old are working out a happy medium in this neighborhood. The new places that will go up over the coming years as we come out of the current downturn will all go to the same place for the tools they need to start building: Tritch Hardware.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

All Star Lanes in Eagle Rock

After a nice dinner at Mia Sushi on Eagle Rock Boulevard tonight, Mrs. Octopus and I continued our evening at All Star Lanes in Eagle Rock. Mrs. Octopus won two out of three games, with a high score of 134 in the second game. In my three games I bowled 109, 59, and 78. Not my best night of bowling.

All Star Lanes is a lot of fun on the weekends. It's full of families, teens on dates, groups of friends. It's got a bar, a full Chinese restaurant (The Red Dragon) attached to the bowling alley -- so you can get a beer and some dumplings to snack on while you wait your turn to bowl. After nine or so, they dim the lights and turn on the black lights and everything gets all freaky and day-glo. The music is good, too. I did a little Hammer dance to "Can't Touch This" and waved my hands in the air to "Insane in the Membrane".

The technology of bowling has come a long way since I used to go duck pin bowling as a kid. Everything at All Star Lanes is totally computerized. You get speed and direction information on your bowls, and goofy computer-animated sequences after gutter balls, spares, and strikes. The scoring (the rules of which are still sort of a mystery to me) is completely automated.

The one thing that hasn't changed is that you still have to figure out what weight ball, with what type of finger holes, works for you. You have to figure out how many steps you want to take before you release. You have to figure out if you stand straight on, to the right, if you're going to have a long windup, or a tight, compact motion. And you have to figure out why no matter how hard you try to make the ball go straight down the middle, it ends up going everywhere else.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Blue Dot in Eagle Rock

I'm excited about Blue Dot, the new yogurt and acai place that recently opened here in Eagle Rock. It's on Townsend, just off Colorado (north), next to the Loft hair salon and Pollen, in the same building as Cardio Barre. The landlord of that entire building is the guy that owns the framing place next to Cardio Barre (the one that never seems to be open). He's done a really nice job with the building: all of the businesses that have opened there are great.

Blue Dot is run by a brother and sister team I believe Mike is the brother's name (I don't know the sister's name yet), Mike and Grace. They're both very nice and are always happy to chat with customers about the store, their plans for future developments at the store (exotic flavors, an oatmeal bar in winter, etc.)

The store has a very interesting interior. It's very 2001: stark white and minimalist, with a bare-bones menu on the wall behind the yogurt and acai equipment. (All they're missing is a glowing red eye somewhere in the wall.) Right now, Blue Dot has tables set up with pictures of people who sit on the various boards that had to give them approvals to open up the store. On the walls, they've taped up, with blue electrical tape, the original forms (dozens of them) of various permits and approvals they obtained, along with the receipts showing how much they had to pay for the various permits and licenses. The effect is one of an art gallery, with the shop itself as a type of kooky (edible) performance art. This must be sort of the idea the owners of Blue Dot have: on their Twitter account they're inviting local artists to hold their openings at the store. [UPDATED 8/12/09]: Mike confirmed for me that he was in fact a recent Art Center grad and that the design of the store was his senior project. This explains the SoHo-art-gallery look of the place. [UPDATED 8/25/09]: Blue Dot currently has a new photography exhibition up. The tables in the middle of the store are gone. There are now two large, round seating things.

Red Dot. Would you like some toppings with your yogurt, Dave?

The yogurt is tangy and tastier than Pinkberry's, in my opinion. The acai is a bit more expensive that the yogurt, but very good (and apparently good for you). You have the same general set of toppings for the yogurt that you would expect, based on the ubiquitous Pinkberry model (i.e., kiwi chunks, Capt. Crunch, Fruity Pebbles, blueberries, etc.). The acai comes in different pre-set varieties involving granola, strawberries, and other stuff. I tried "The Original" acai, and it was very tasty. The large size serving of the acai can probably serve as a breakfast or lunch meal.

Blue Dot is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. starting Friday, July 24 [updated 7/21/09]. Cash only for now, though Grace told me they will be accepting credit cards soon.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Money I$ Magic

I was buying some food today, holding a ratty $5 bill that I was about to hand over for some fries and a sandwich. Let me make clear that I was not high. But as I was handing over the bill, I was struck with a thought that overwhelms me from time to time: money is really fucking weird.

I was standing there, able to convert my ratty, purposeless piece of paper into food because of a magical belief system. I believed in the efficacy of money, as did the guy at the cash register; we believed in money because everyone else believed in money. Our collective faith in the floating signified signifier of the dollar (I WENT TO COLLEGE IN THE 90'S) infused it with power over all of us. It becomes the ultimate measure of all things. As Marx said, money "transforms fidelity into infidelity, love into hate, hate into love, virtue into vice, vice into virtue, servant into master, master into servant, idiocy into intelligence, and intelligence into idiocy." (Marx, 1844) And thus it enslaves us, and holds us in its thrall.

The practical effect of this: my willingness to sit in an office all day typing things for other people so they would give me magical paper that I could convert into things I needed to live (and things I didn't necessarily need to live).

That, of course, is just one view of money. Another view is that money is simply a shorthand, a way to translate values, a way to allow complicated transactions to be measured by one all-purpose measure of value -- the only way to conduct business in a complicated economy.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Ron-Ron Comes To Town

Watching the Lakers pick up Artest, I feel somewhat like a kid in Yemen or Pakistan watching the U.S. elect Barack Obama: it makes them a whole lot harder to hate.

Artest completes Kobe. Kobe is a silent void from which no light escapes. Artest is bursting with earnest, crazy-ass humanity.

Or, Artest is pure id to Kobe's pure superego. Let's see if Jackson can manage in his role as the ego, riding the wild horse of the id, tormented by a swarm of bees above (the superego). (Metaphor via Peter Gay, building on Freud's image of the ego riding the id.)

It's like the Marx Brothers. That would make Jackson Chico.