Thursday, August 17, 2006

Naked Torso

Yesterday, I was in Little Tokyo having some food and then, later, some drinks with my girlfriend at the Far Bar in the back of the Far East Cafe. During our third round of chilled Patron shots, I got a call on my cell. It was an actor friend who is producing her colleague’s short film, and she thought I might fit one of the parts, mostly because of one reason: my torso.

Apparently, my not-too-young or -skinny torso fit what she was looking for. I even tried to “push” her onto a mutual friend/actor who is in better shape than I, but she was convinced she needed me and my torso for the part, and refused to take “no” for an answer.

That’s when the Patron shots turned sour. Or, maybe it was just the lime wedge. But regardless, my girlfriend didn’t like the idea of someone—anyone—looking at or filming my naked torso.

Now, this wasn’t really a problem. I’m fairly sensitive to the matter at hand. And before even telling her about the phone call, I prefaced it by saying, “Your opinion means most to me, so I’ll do what you decide.”

She immediately said no, which I expected. Sure, I could’ve saved a step by just refusing the part, but the woman on the phone wasn’t taking a no very easily, like I mentioned, so I had to at least go through the process.

Before calling my friend back, we got into a discussion about it, then an argument, then a full-on fight over it. Sure, tequila can raise the heat in any argument, but this was no longer just an argument. It was getting ugly, involving a couple of friends at the bar who had the misfortune of walking into the middle of it.

So why am I writing about this? To shame my girlfriend? No. Not at all. She had every right to defend the naked torso of her boyfriend from anyone else’s eyes.

But here’s the thing: If you’re an Asian in Hollywood, good luck on having a relationship. It will never be easy, even when you’re no longer young or skinny.

Because no matter how big the favor, or how close the friend you’re doing it for, asking your significant other for their advice or permission to do a scene involving anything intimate is like, well, let me put it this way: It’d be easier trying to get your girlfriend to do anal.

Friday, August 11, 2006

New York Stories, Part 4: And More Shopping

I once went to a branding meeting for one of my former clients. The branding specialist asked our group what brand of toothpaste we used. Turns out, it's a sure indication of the kind of "consumer character" you are.

For instance, if you buy Crest or Colgate, you're probably a brand loyalist, and you've probably used the same brand since you were a child. But if you use Tom's, Aquafresh, or something like that, you're more likely to try new things. And if you use Mentadent, like I do, you're in this category of "no brand loyalty whatsoever." Which is good, if you're a new brand, but bad if you're an old brand. For the record, I also use Rembrandt.

I guess this means I like to try new things. And, I don't base my decision to use something on just brand loyalty alone. It has to have any number of things, including quality, effectiveness, sometimes price is a factor, and generally I like something that is both really new and really good, making it also really unique.

I also don't get caught up in advertising, critical acclaim, promos, or endorsements. I just prefer to figure out whether I like something on my own. Which brings me to Parasuco, a brand I know absolutely nothing about. But the store in Soho was cool, and the product...well, I'll just post my response to someone at the company who was looking for my feedback on the store.

Hi Mary J.,

I'm amazed you found my blog! Yes, I just visited your new store while shopping in SoHo. We were not familiar with New York at all, so everything was new to us. We took a side road to check out some of the street vendors selling handmade jewelry when I spotted the Grand Opening sign of your store and wanted to take a peek.

I'll try to describe the experience the way it took place. A security guard welcomed us in, and then a nice Filipino guy asked if he could hold our shopping bags and took them behind the counter. The store was fairly empty, except for all the salespeople in the store. We did notice, however, that most of the salespeople were young, good-looking Asians and African Americans.

My girlfriend wasn't too interested in looking around, since she's somewhat brand loyal and trusts what she knows. I've always been into what's new, so I began looking around at the sale racks. We were scared it was going to be way too expensive, since the store was in such a beautiful location, with its high ceilings and wide open spaces. But then I started to notice the workmanship in the jeans and T-shirts. They all seemed to have such fine detail and I knew these things could not be done cheaply in some sweatshop. And so I decided to try on a pair of jeans, when I noticed the back pockets were different from any others I had seen.

I've worked in high-end men's retail for 3 years, so I'm familiar with the environment. An Asian girl came to help me find my size. She was very nice and after trying one on, she helped me with other sizes. My girlfriend liked how the jeans looked on me, so after I went back into the dressing room, she went to the racks to look around. She soon found two pairs to try on. She asked my opinion and I loved them. So then she wanted to try on other jeans and shirts. Pretty soon, she had tried on about 10 pairs of jeans and about 8 shirts. In fact, her thumb still hurts from pulling the jeans on and off. Anyway, more people came in to the store and after a while, nearly all the dressing rooms were taken by customers. It was amazing how fast the store filled up. They turned up the music (sort of a Tiesto mix, which I like) and I could see what a nice space that store was with great ambience and acoustics.

Anyway, three pairs of jeans and an hour later, we left the store. We both love the jeans we bought and people in our office (mostly Korean and Chinese, first generation) comment about our jeans and how they love them and where did we get them and when can they check out a store. But I told them what the cashier told me, that one will be open in San Francisco next.

I also asked about the store and the designer and got a little information about that from the cashier.

Anyway, that's my experience there, and I really like the new store.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

New York Stories, Part 3: Shopping

You cannot go to New York and NOT visit a discount shopping store. They're ubiquitous, which means they're all over the frickin' place! Daffy's was highly recommended to us by my friend Valerie. The first one we went to, however, was full of Daffy's leftovers. The second and third Daffy's were much better, and I bought about 3 shirts for under $20 each.

Valerie also mentioned Century 21, which is not the insurance company but a building housing one of the biggest discount stores you will ever see. Actually, I only went in and took a peek. It was just too daunting, and we only had 90 minutes before we were set to see Spamalot on Broadway.

I think it was also Valerie who mentioned Macy's, the largest department store on earth apparently. Four blocks and several floors worth of merchandise. I'd hate to do inventory in THAT store!

We also went to H&M, which is coming to Pasadena in a couple months. That place is wild...and cheap! Oh, I should mention it here that every purchase we made under a hundred bucks was tax free. Go figure. I wish they'd do that here in California.

I have this vacation rule I follow just about everywhere I go: I like to buy underwear from the country I visit. This way, I have a nice souvenir that I am reminded of at least once every two weeks. But this vacation, even though it wasn't to a foreign country, had H&M, which is based in Europe, and they had these cool sport boxers that reminded me of the WE store's in Amsterdam. So, I think I bought about 9 pairs.

We also visited Zara, which as you know is one of my favorite stores in Santa Monica. I bought a sweater there.

On Saturday, we finally got to visiting SoHo, but for the life of me, I don't know why we didn't go there on the first day. Man, they have some cool shit there. And tons of sales going on. I went to Kenneth Cole and bought a leather-covered notebook journal with replacement notes for $11.

At some point, we were getting exhausted. But then we saw some street vendors selling handmade jewelry, and ended up spending about a hundred bucks there. It was worth it, though. Some folks sold junk, others sold real cool shit that was at a major discount to what a retail store would charge for the same thing.

It was here that I spotted a store called Parasuco just down the street. There was a big "Grand Opening" sign, and so I suggested we check it out. Someone from that store just emailed me for my input, after she probably did a search and found my blog. So I'll post my response on my next entry. But the shortened version? We ended up spending over an hour there and bought three pairs of kick-ass jeans. Cool location, too.

Monday, August 07, 2006

New York Stories, Part 2: Nobu vs. Pink's

On La Brea & Santa Monica, right in the heart of Hollywood, is a famous, famous place called Pink's. It's a hot dog stand, and you can get one made just about any way you like. Long for a Long Island dog? You got it. Want it kosher? For sure! Willing to wait 90 minutes in line? You go hurry and wait then.

As mentioned, last week I spent about 5 days in New York with the new girlfriend. We stayed at this hotel called Dream. You can look it up at No, I didn't dream much, but it wasn't bad either, and the location was great. The photos, however, look better than in reality.

Which is sort of how my experience with the expensive, exclusive restaurant Nobu went. Okay, I must clarify here. There's Nobu, and then there's Nobu Next Door. Nobu Next Door is for schmucks like me who can't get a reservation at Nobu, or don't want to plan in advance, and then take probably the worst table in the room. Nobu Next Door is slightly cheaper, and it's doubtful you will ever see a famous face in the room, other than your own. Plus, if you ARE a schmuck like me, you'll even wait 90 minutes to get a table there!

I have two L.A. friends who highly recommended Nobu/Next Door. The first is my AD friend. Apparently, he was working on K-19 with Harrison Ford a few years ago in Nova Scotia. He had a weekend off and decided to see New York. So, he asked Mr. Ford's people to make some phone calls, and they did, securing a table for two at the lovely Nobu Restaurant. That's how you do it, folks. You get the royal treatment, or you go next door, like me.

My other friend may or may not have actually visited NND, but he talked like he had, as he usually talks. But he pointed out that Nobu and NND both share the same kitchen. Both are rated highly and they are always in the Top-10 lists. Everyone talks about them like they're frickin' in the Garden of Earthly Delights. And so I insisted to the GF we go there, despite her heavy pleas to go to Gotham Bar & Grill.

But for the record, I've been to at least 5 restaurants here in Los Angeles that are way more interesting, and frankly, way better in quality than NND. Not to mention way cheaper.

I'll name two: Fat Fish and Arado. Both have Korean owners, by the way. Arado is in Koreatown and serves the best chirashi I've ever eaten. Fat Fish is in West Hollywood, and EVERYTHING on Nobu Next Door's menu is available there, but at slightly HIGHER prices.

At Fat Fish, I recommend the shrimp tempura appetizer, seaweed salad, albacore carpaccio, and everything on their sushi menu. Even the dessert is fantastic. I can't remember what we ordered, but there were two of them, and they were incredible. We couldn't resist sharing a bottle of Sapporo with the tempura. And throughout dessert, we each had three rounds of chilled Patron shots. (Yup, they have a full liquor license!)

R23, which is also in my top 5 here in L.A., does a kick-ass chirashi for lunch, but that's not what you go there for. You go there to impress a date, not only for your taste in food and decor, but for the fact that you know how to get to a place that is nearly impossible for a visiting tourist to find.

I also like Zen Grill, the one on 3rd near the Beverly Center and across from that overpriced yuppie place, Sushi Roku. And then there's the ever-dependable Mishima, which has gone downhill, but is always great for what they do best: noodles. I can also name the Japanese restaurant at the New Otani Hotel, Thousand Cranes, and Daikokuya ramen, both in Little Tokyo. Thousand Cranes has unbeatable ambience with a beautiful Japanese garden outside, as well as a Kobe beef sukiyaki or shabu shabu. Daikokuya is simply the best for ramen in L.A., hands down.

Now where were we? Oh yeah. Dissing Nobu Next Door. I can't say how Nobu is, nor can I say I've ever eaten at Matsuhisa. But someone who names those places as their favorites either has money to burn, or knows too little to really name a good place without risking the shame of naming something that hasn't been critically (and celebrity) acclaimed.

Me and my lovely partner ordered the Chilean sea bass, sashimi salad with Matsuhisa sauce, four shrimp tempuras, two string bean and two asparagus tempuras, several nigirizushis (uni, Japanese mackerel, albacore with asparagus, eel) as well as dessert. They also lay claim to some exclusive sakes, which doesn't make sense, because the one we ordered (Onigoroshi) is the same that we order at Mishima, Fat Fish and the place I go to on Tuesday nights, Miro Sake House.

But the real topper here is when the waiter asked if we wanted to order flat water. Now, I love my waters, and, I love most bottled FLAT waters, but particularly Evian's and Pellegrino's. But my absolute favorite is Vittel, which is hard to get here in the States. Also, I'm from Seattle, which has excellent tap water, and I think the water from those public fountains all around Italy are delicious. So, when the waiter brought back an ordinary bottle of Fiji, me and the GF just about lost it!

The waiter placed the Fiji water in a nice square metal holder, but that still didn't make it any fancier. (Someone please tell me they serve better water at Nobu!!! And, by the way, do they even make a Fiji with bubbles?)

As for the food, I'd say the Chilean sea bass was very good, but it's hard to screw up Chilean sea bass. The sashimi salad had way too much Matsuhisa sauce, which I swear tastes similar to Trader Joe's teriyaki sauce. The shrimp tempura was frickin' bad, bad, bad, especially compared to the ones at Fat Fish. The uni was alright, but most of the sushi was just subpar. I'm surprised they even serve it. It seems like merely an afterthought there. The dessert was so bad we left most of it on the plate.

Now despite the food, here's my greatest critique. You know those little chopstick placeholders? NND uses some type of black rock, which you can find at any landscaper's shop. However, my chopsticks, no matter how carefully and delicately I placed them, kept sliding off the rock. It was so stupid I finally just put the rock aside and rested my chopsticks on my plate, which my GF thought was just rude and insulting.

And she was right. After all, the devil is in the details, and NND needs to be a bigger devil than this Hollywood Asian. That's for sure.

Now going back to Pink's. Same long wait. Same notoriety. Different menus. Big difference in price. But at least I can understand Pink's. Plus, they treat you just like any other schmuck with $10 to spare.

Nobu Next Door? No thanks. Next time, we're going to Gotham Bar & Grill. Same price as Nobu, but without the hassle. And I probably won't get bitchslapped by my girlfriend afterward.

Update on Those Commercials

A few posts ago, I talked about the two TV spots my office did. Well, it turns out the client didn't like the one I didn't like, and neither did the CEO here at the office. Okay, that doesn't make sense. Basically, the CEO at my office and I see eye-to-eye on how crappy the commercial was acted and executed. And the client for which it was made also nixed it, so, the spot won't air. $250,000 down the crapper.

Actually, I don't know how much they spent on the production. I know for a fact that with my producing, writing and acting experience, combined with my friend's directing and assistant directing experience, we could come up with a better spot for less than $50k. Anyway, I sure hope they didn't spend $250k.