Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Geishas Are All the Rage


**Note: I'm home in Southern California.

Many complained that the film adaptation of "Memoirs of a Geisha" was boring and slow. Some resented the English speech with Japanese accents. Others said it was trying too hard for authenticity. Luckily there is a geisha of another kind wandering the Hollywood scene, and she tastes so good. She's sporting bigger names than the Memoirs' stars and earning rave reviews across the board from the entertainment industry.

The Geisha House restaurant stars Ashton and the people from That 70's show. No wonder this restaurant knows how to attract the Hollywood hotties, it was founded by a cast of them. Travel 3,000 miles west of Washington to a land where flip-flops in mid-January are no biggie. Enter the Geisha House, part of the hip restaurant series by the gang that brought the feathered Farrah-hair back into style. They also started two other Los Angeles posh spots: Dolce (Italian) and The Lodge (Steakhouse) in their free time after Fox shoots.

The stark white face and crimson red lips on the facade outside of the Geisha House was typically Hollywood chic, yes, but inside was something of a dimly-lit Japanese funhouse on crack. In a good way.

Photographers snapping shots of diners handing their keys to the valet boys reminded me of the Disneyland photographers that charm you into a photo after the ride. Too bad they weren't Disney employees, but actual paparazzi. Hollywood chic, remember? High people in high places get a bite to eat here.

But bite is really an understatement. So is raw fish. Each hunk of yellow tail, spicy tuna and oyster was flashy, perhaps, but loaded with flavor. Sometimes flashy can be a good thing, maybe? Besides, when in Hollywood, live lusciously. After handing over our Volvo keys and entering the restaurant, my friends and I were welcomed by the noises of an upstairs club. Jams were bumping and the bouncers were a-waiting at the bottom of a staircase. Apparently this club was not the Geisha House itself, but a nice chaser to the restaurant experience.

As we turned the corner, the lights got progressively darker, and soon we walked through a metallic red hallway. Funhouse, right? Finally, we were in the swanky lounge with a row of brown ottomans to our right. The walls were covered with photographs of authentic geishas, brown oversized walking sticks and behind the bar sat frosted Grey Goose bottles at staggered levels.

Ashton was nowhere in sight, but Kevin Bacon sure was. Immediately after being seated, I got a nudge from my boyfriend and full view of Mr. Bacon sharing a booth with his very producer-esque friend (Think square glasses, baseball cap and clad in an all-black). A few sashimi appetizers later, in walks Tommy Shaw from Styx. Officially, this was the first time I'd thrown back an oyster shooter (their Oyster Shooter Kamikaze..a double shot) while staring at Kevin Bacon's chiseled face. Or maybe just the first time doing an oyster shooter in general...

It took me two swallows before I got the rubbery guy down the hatchet, but luckily there was a pleasant swig of Dewazakura Sake waiting for me. At only $38 for a nice-sized helping, the cherry wood rice wine was "the best in taste and value, bar none," according to a Geisha House-regular and thankfully, our dinner guest. It was enough for our Party of Five (ooh, how Hollywood of me) to down a couple shots and then some.

We missed out on the flashy Euro man with an accent a la Pepe le Peu who supposedly visits tables flaunting a $300 bottle of sake for sale. Our Geisha House insider warned that the bottle is not worth it, "even on his boss's expense account." But just about everything else, surprisingly, was.

Contemporary sushi in a hip, and oftentimes red, environment has been the "in" thing for a while, but Geisha House seems to do it best. The service was spectacular, not snobby, and our waitress even brought the manager out to nab us one of their Asian-inspired aprons, which she said, premiered at Fashion Week this year. (One of our dinner guests was spellbound by the ornate silk design and had to go home with one. Can't blame her, though they did price the "last apron downstairs" at $40.)

Our all-star waitress also refilled my green tea so often that I got a good look at the basement bathroom at the bottom of a spiral staircase. Covered with jagged mirrors pieced together, the bathroom was good until I caught sight of the somewhat disillusioning generic-brand Dial soap. For some reason, it seemed odd that such an ultra-coooool Asian lounge would show its generic labels, but then again, this one was above the rest.

The Heaven Roll was like eating spicy tuna wrapped in clouds. The white rice was fluffy and light, enveloped with delicate seaweed. The Robata World was also a winner-- skewered chicken, filet mignon, salmon, asparagus and tofu-tomato with three fun dipping sauces. They call these their "special sauces," but I promse they're nothing like the ones at In-N-Out right down the block. The trio had a soy-based sesame one and spicier sauce which came with a disclaimer from our waitress. Also, the mixed tempura actually had an eggplant thrown in there! (Kitchenette proposal: from here on out, "mixed veggies" should always include eggplant. Mmm..)

For all I know, everyone around me could have been famous. They all had that look. A little burned out, a little aloof and ultra chic from head to toe. It was the happening place for the Hollywood scene, and any place with Kevin Bacon inside certainly gets my vote. Kinda makes me want to go wear some red lipstick and watch Footloose.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Cakes, Life, Plastic Baby Jesuses


Cake seems to be on my mind as of late. After writing posts on the Red Devil Cake for DCist.com and Fruitcake for DCFud.com, I took a hefty slice of the Rosca de Reyes (or the King's Cake) last night with my family, in honor of the Three Magi King's Day (better known as King's Day). The holiday is actually today, and celebrates the three wisemen's search for the baby Jesus. (We also got a Jewish apple cake to appease my other half) Apparently the Mexican/Jewish bakery where we bought both cakes makes a killing out here in Southern California.

"Rosca" means ring, so the cake is shaped like a crown. The object is to get the slice that has the plastic baby doll inside, symbolizing a newborn Jesus hiding from King Herod's troops. Then you're responsible for throwing a party on the second of February, or Dia de la Candelaria (Candlemas Day), where one usually serves tamales and Mexican hot chocolate. Hopefully you got a heads-up from DCist, and knew where to buy your cakes in Washington.

To my dismay, my little brother found the plastic baby in his piece, and I was left with just the calories and somewhat dry taste. According to Mexican tradition, now he is supposed to throw the bash, but something tells me the high school junior has other things on his mind. Hint: girls, USC football (maybe not so much anymore), his Volvo and corn dogs.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Florida Avenue Grill..

is the Mac Daddy.

I'll fill you in on a little secret. Chefs like mac and cheese. I'm talking heavy on the cheddar, bring on the noodles and about as far away from the foie gras as you can get. Or at least that's what the gang at 1789 taught me.

Before a Sunday shift, I was smashed into a booth at F.Scott's -- the space next to 1789, now exclusively used for private events-- enjoying a family dinner with the rest of the chefs before the evening rush. There were no hidden cameras or news reporters (or so they thought). Forget the frills on the other side of the kitchen doors.

It was time to pull up our sleeves and talk dirty. Mac and cheese dirty.

The majority of us (about six) revealed we had "a thing" for the less than gourmet boxed meal. Some made nauseous frowns. One even admitted she likes to lather hers with ketchup. A few more made nauseous frowns.

And then Scott, who was in charge of the hot entrees that night, shook his head with confidence. "If you really want good mac and cheese," he warned, "I'll have to fill you in...on a little secret."

The secret was Florida Avenue Grill. Scott claims it's the best in the District, let alone the best he's ever tasted. But if you're kicking off Oh-Six with a regimented resolution diet, stop reading right now. Seriously, this post is shamelessly bad for your health.

Epitomizing a Dirt Cheap Eat, Florida Ave. Grill is known for their red-topped bar stools, view into the kitchen and most importantly, no pretenses. Oil is sizzling and grease is a-flying. There's no hiding anything here. Like everything else on the menu, the mac and cheese is bad for your waistline but so good for the soul.

The Grill gives you a generous hunk of mac and cheese, and has been doing so for the last 61 years. Before gentrification was ever in U Street's vocabulary. It sits pretty next to fellow Dirt Cheap neighbors Ben's Chili Bowl.

And this is not the first time the modest Florida Ave. Grill has won over the likes of top DC chefs. Zola man Frank Morales also has "a thing" for the Grill. But along with the rest of Washington, he goes early for the breakfast. Lines have been known to trail out the door for the U Street neighborhood's friendliest breakfast fare. Morales is into the beef breakfast sausage with grits ($6.95), according to Washingtonian last year.

And it appears we're all into mac and cheese, at least a little. As reported in this week's Post, a "Macaroni & Cheese" cookbook was recently published by author Marlena Speiler. She shares fifty different recipes, along with some history on the dish's origins, which date back to 1769. Even Thomas Jefferson had a taste for it.

But if the cheese part does not coordinate with your vegan lifestyle, the Soul Vegetarian Restaurant serves their dairyless version. It seems for the first time in history, vegan and soul food have found themselves on the same plate. Order yours with a side of sweet potato pie. The small chain also whips together a Liberia Burger (made with black-eyed peas) and a BBQ Tofu Sub.

I'll take mine with real cheddar and extra carbs, thank you very much. Mmm, cows.

Please come forward and admit your dirtiest kitchen secrets. Scott of 1789 and Frank of Zola already have. Now add Kitchenette to the list. Viva le macaroni.