In Los Angeles, the word “bubble” comes up fairly often in conversation. Not a month goes by and I don’t hear someone talking about real estate. There is debate about whether southern California’s housing market is truly experiencing a bubble or not, and if so, speculation about when it will burst, or at least deflate a little. While it used to be of interest to me, I don’t pay too much attention anymore. I’ve consigned myself to the understanding that I will likely live in a little rented apartment for the rest of my life, unable to ever afford a house here in LA unless, well, a currently unbeknownst to me uber-wealthy relative bequeaths his kazillion dollars in assets to me. Then I might be able to buy, oh, perhaps, a one bedroom condo on the ground floor with no windows. In the ghetto. *raises fist into air* Oh damn these outrageous prices! Damn, this housing bubble!
But there is another bubble in La La Land that doesn’t get much airtime. In fact, unlike The Housing Bubble, it doesn’t have a real name, and it is sort of difficult to explain. It’s an invisible forcefield that LA has put up around itself to protect its glitzy glamourous, beachfront rollerblading, ignorant-eternal-sunshine-is-blissful self from the real world.
Not everyone in LA lives inside this bubble, but sadly, I admit that I most certainly have built up my very own little sphere of Sarah around me, in which the worst thing to happen is that my cell phone drops a call while I’m sitting in 405 freeway traffic. Or, God forbid, the temperature may actually reach a dewpoint. Oh, okay, I doubt that LA ever had a dewpoint, and I have no idea wha it is, but I recall hearing about when I flipped past the weather channel. LOL!
So even as Hurricane Katrina touched down a month ago on the Gulf Coast, I stayed inside my bubble, acknowledging the events that were crashing down, but unable to understand the true reality of what was happening. Then finally I allowed myself to watch tv - rapid-fire imagery of trees and telephone poles turned sideways, clothing tattered and torn by water and wind, mothers, fathers and children crying unable to find each other – it was painful. And it felt even worse that I felt so far away and unaffected. I did what I could, but I felt so lame listening to interviews with people who had stayed up three nights on a bus from L.A. to La. to do. Here I was fretting about silly bubblicious little things like how I would make rent, when people had just watched their entire homes float away with the flood waters. Fretting, of course, inside this perpetually sunny 75 degree bubble protected by a thick layer of smog and studio makeup.
But we can’t all do everything all the time. We are called to contribute in different ways at different times with the best of our different talents. And though I can’t say that eating out one night is using the best of my talent to help with the disaster relief, Dine for America on October 5, 2005 was a good way to remind myself that a month later, the media may have moved on to the next big scoop, but the Gulf Coast will be in recovery mode for a very long time.
The list of California restaurants participating in Dine for America seemed impressive with a number in the hundreds for southern California alone, but then I realized that a huge percentage of that was listing every participating location of some chains, like every Hot Dog on a Stick and Yoshinoya in every city. I felt sort of guilty trying to find a restaurant I would enjoy, given the circumstances it is under, especially since I was trying to find something “convenient” to me on the Westside. Nonetheless, we ended up at Border Grill in Santa Monica.
I remember past visits on Thursday around Happy Hour (yes, there actually is a small contingent of folks in LA who does Happy Hour – I must find these people) or Friday and Saturday nights for dinner, and it was tough to fight through the tiny throng of Santa Monica trendsters who had spilled out onto the sidewalk to get through the front door. Wednesday night doesn’t seem to be very busy for this westside outpost from Les Madames Too Hot Tamales. We had made a reservation, but really didn’t need it. We could have walked in with a party of 30 and been seated right away.
We were there for the Hurricane Disaster Relief, we already knew we were going to order the guacamole. Each restaurant participating in the Dine for America event could choose how it wanted to contribute, whether it be donating a percentage of sales or profits from the day, a dollar amount for every meal served, or even a flat amount, like the $25,000 from the Patina Group. Border Grill was donating $15 for every order of their $7.50 guacamole. Normally, I would balk at such a ridiculous price for guacamole, but tonight, it didn’t matter if simple avocado mashed together with lime juice and salt cost $100. It would have been worth it.
To wash down tortilla chips and three kinds of salsa while reviewing the menu, I ordered a margarita, rocks, no salt. I mean, 7:30 is still Happy Hour, right? One sip, and I made “the face.” Usually, the tight-necked, teeth-gritting, crinkled nose, scrunched eyes “face” is on someone else, the result of a deep swig of a cocktail too strong with alcohol. I make “the face” when a cocktail is too sweet. Border Grill’s margarita punched my face in with sugary fist. The server said they make their own
“signature” sweet and sour margarita mix, but would ask the bartender to make mine with lime juice only. I’m not sure that tequila and lime juice on the rocks is technically a margarita, but who’s taking notes? It was much stronger. I mean, better. LOL!
When the guacamole came to the table, I understood why it costs $7.50. It’s a huge plate, very attractively presented. The guacamole on one side was fresh, creamy, and all-green (untainted by tomatoes and peppers, LOL!), and the other side had a dark something that I couldn’t recognize, even by the candlelight on the table. It was good, and either the tequila was too strong, or the tequila was just too strong, because I kept thinking to myself hm, this must be roasted avocado guacamole. Roasted avocado! That’s...brilliant?! I looked at the menu later and found it was black bean dip. Roasted avocado. LOL! Sometimes my tastebuds are so numb.
We decided to share the Border Classics, a plate of bocaditos, or small bites, since grazing is my favorite way of eating. The green corn tamales were tiny little corn-husk wrapped gifts of sweet corn steamed sticky soft. I wasn’t sure what to expect from plantain empanadas, but instead of pastry filled with a plantain filling, roasted plantains replaced the empanada pastry and were cut open and stuffed with beans, cheese, and peppers. Definitely a different, innovative take, but not something I’d order again. They were a little sweet for my taste, and I prefer the traditional empanada pastry-with-filling style. Chicken panuchos are tiny tortillas overflowing with beans, chicken, and guacamole. Basically, they are miniature, open-faced chicken tacos. They were good, and I wished we had ordered a whole plate of panuchos instead of the tamales and empanadas. Much better savory bites to go with my not-so-sweet margarita than the tamales and empanadas.
I know I have just proclaimed that after eating an El Salvadorean pupusa, I could never eat a quesadilla again, but still we ordered the wild mushroom quesadilla – a giant flour tortilla filled with cheese and sautéed mushrooms. The description on the menu also mentioned epazote, but I’m still not exactly sure what that is, though I suppose I should learn if I ever plan to be a world-famous Korean-Latin cuis-innovator. ;) The quesadilla was fine, I think. I don’t remember much because after my first taste of it, in a move that would not have surprised any of my friends, I very foolishly decided to take a giant bite of the fresh green chile that was on the plate. I swear it must have been that “margarita.” Stupid, stupid, stupid, painful, but damn, it hurt so good – something about spices and endorphins or something. I’m Korean. I love sweating it out with spicy foods. This pepper was so hot it was making me cry. I took a giant scoop of plain sour cream by the spoonful, and still I was on fire. I asked the server for a glass of milk. Milk? Yes, don’t ask. I pointed to the pepper and he laughed. I gulped half the milk, the fire died down. *phew* And then, I went for it again. Sometimes, I am so stupid.
It doesn’t feel like $15 from Border Grill will make a huge difference in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, but then again, if everyone thought that way, there’d be nothing at all. It is not one, single person making one huge donation, but a lot of people making their small contributions that will add up to a big impact. I may not make it to Border Grill again for a while, but that guacamole (and the chile pepper) was a good, simple way for me to remember that indeed, there is still a need, and I must try to shrink my bubble.
1445 4th Street (@Broadway)
Santa Monica, CA 90401