11651 Santa Monica Boulevard (@ Barry Avenue)
West Los Angeles, CA 90025
Though I graduated from Berkeley in Northern California, my post-college career life kicked off in the midwest, an entire summer of what I call consulting summer camp in Chicago. It was 12 weeks of intensive training in a sleepy suburb, removed from all distractions so we could focus all our fresh-out-of-college, naïve, eager energy on what are now quite antiquated programming languages, “teaming” skills ( I swear they made that word up), and advanced functionalities of PowerPoint and Excel. It was supposed to simulate the real working world, but really, it was just summer camp for 22 year old post-college geeks.
Though I make it sound as though we did no work by referring to it as “camp” we really did spend some very long hours process-mapping on white boards, translating processes into applications, and then building working systems. *raises eyebrows* Sure sounds like I know what the fock I’m talking about, huh? They did a good job. :) And at the end of the day, we rewarded ourselves by responsibly designating a few drivers, piling into our fleet of rented white Chevy Cavaliers with no options and making our way along the I-55 into downtown Chicago in time for the beginning of Happy Hour. At 5:00, drinks were half price, food was half price, and along with what seemed like the entire working population on Chicago, we proceeded to squander our paltry training expense accounts on eating, drinking, and basically acting like we certainly hadn’t graduated just 2 weeks ago from college. It was great. It was happy. And I’ll tell you a secret, it was always much longer than just an hour. :)
Even after training was over, I rarely worked a day in LA for almost five years. While the rest of my friends were listening carefully for traffic every six minutes on KNX 1070 along the 405, the 10 or the 110 at 8 am each morning, I was half asleep at 5 am on Monday morning in a cab on the way to LAX. My commute was just as long as theirs, but I was working in Seattle. Or the Bay area. Or San Diego. No matter where I was, though, at the end of each day, my coworkers from different satellite offices around the nation would slap our laptops shut at 5 pm and head out for Happy Hour. What time is it? Why, it’s Suntory time.
But when I finally started working permanently in L.A., the lifestlye I had learned as the post-work-day changed. In fact, happy hour basically ceased to exist. I was working much hard, much later, and when it was time to snap our laptops shut, we all just...got into our respective cars by ourselves and went our own way, not even able to take advantage of the diamond lane. Some went home to family or significant others, some to the gym, and everyone else just went to be alone at home. No one in my LA working circles ever went to happy hour.
So I finally realize that *sigh* there is no such thing as Happy Hour in LA. Well, that’s not entirely true. There are plenty of places, like Pacifico's up the street from my current office, and a few places along the beach, that offer happy hour, but it’s not the same sort of scene as Chicago, San Francisco, or even San Diego. Happy Hour starts at 4:00 but the only people who aren’t working regular 9 to 5 jobs are the actors, who are already starting their 4:00 shift at the restaurant anyway. Happy hour is empty. Even if we're lucky and there's a place that starts happy at 5:00, I mean really, is there anyone that finishes their work at 5:00? (If so, we need to talk about my getting a job with you.)
It's not that people in LA don't want to get happy. It's just that this is the way circumstances force the culture here. Except for me, it seems that everyone lives by some unspoken residential rule that you must not live within reasonable driving distance of your job. If you live in Manhattan Beach, you have to work in the Valley. If you live in the Valley, you have to work downtown. If you live downtown, well, I'm sorry. ;) The freeway infrastructure, the traffic flow (er, non-flow) patterns, the minimum 40 minute drive regardless of your departure and arrival points...it all boils down to driving. If, by some chance you're lucky enough to get out of work at 5:00 for happy hour, that means after happy hour ends, you have a long, and potentially precarious drive back home to Silverlake or Chino or wherever the hell you live. And if you decide to go meet friends for happy hour somewhere near home, well, by the time you get there, it'll be 9 focking pm! Do I sound bitter? I am, but only just a little bit. :)
And that is why I love the late night Happy Hour on Thursdays at En Sushi, right on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Barry Avenue in West LA. En Sushi is not great for sushi. In fact, I wouldn't even say it's good for sushi. But I love going there for the other things on their menu - tofu salad, sauteed shishito, nasu (eggplant) cooked a few different ways, and especially the chicken karaage. En Sushi would probably do good to change their name to just EN or something along those lines. Oh, and of course, they are one of few Japanese-ish restaurants in the area that has a full bar. FULL BAR! *breathe* Sorry, two words that really get me going in the morning.
En Sushi has a regular happy hour (and a half) from 5:30 to 7:00, but again, who on earth finished work by 5:30? I don't even think about shutting down my laptop until at least a half hour past the end of Happy Hour. So the fact that late night happy hour starts at 9:30 pm is awesome. I even have a chance to pop back home for a minute to change clothes. That's not because I care what I look like. I just want to get out of the uncomfortable biz cazh I've already been wearing for 14 hours.
Food on the happy hour menu is only $3.50. There are shishitos, sauteed mushrooms, yakitori, eggroll and dumplings, chicken karaage, and a few maki sushi: California, spicy tuna, albacore jalapeno, and cucumber salmon. It's all simple stuff that only requires minimum dexterity when eating in a crowded bar. The cooked foods are all fairly good. I love the way En Sushi does their shishitos - sauteed only to the point where they're hot, but still retain their natural sweet vegetable crisp. The chicken karaage at En Sushi is also the first of its kind that I ever tried way way way back when. Up until En Sushi, the only non-sushi Japanese food I had eaten was udon, chicken teriyaki and donkatsu. The chicken and the thin fry coating of the karaage are salty seasoned and they're always fried to a dark crispy crunch. They are the best I've ever had. I don't know if it's that they were my first (you know how we girls get about our "first"), or that they really are that good and all subsequent ones, even at "authentic" places, just don't live up. It also helps that they come with spicy mayonnaise. I always ask for a little cup of it, since the little swirl on the plate is only enough to be a garnish. The spicy tuna and alabacore jalapeno are the only two happy hour rolls I allow myself to eat, since for god's sake it's only $3.50!
The funny thing is, I say that I only "allow" the sushi because it's so inexpensive, but it's not really about the money in the first place. If it were about money, I'd eat ramen at home. If it were about sushi, I'd go to Kiriko just a few blocks down on Sawtelle. And if it were about the food (but not sushi) at En Sushi, then I suppose I could come for dinner any other night and at a more reasonable hour like 8:00. No, the point is that it's officially happy hour. Happy hour food is supposed to be only so-so. It's the drinks that are special. I get so happy to be able to be a part of a real Suntory time here in LA that I even order stupid drinks like the Malibu Monkey. It's overly thick and sticky sweet with Malibu rum, banana liquer and pineapple juice, but it's called a monkey, so I love it. Sheesh, a few drinks, and I'm so easy.