Los Angeles’ Koreatown is currently experiencing a crime wave, something I really didn’t think about when I set out to explore it yesterday. I guess I’m of the belief system that bad things happen to good people no matter what, so what’s the difference now? Nothin’. That, and most of the crimes are of the home-invasion type, not the weak-ankled-white-girl-gets-attacked type.
I didn’t mean to go exploring. Mike the Norge had a surprise¹ massage for a screwed-up shoulder and since I didn’t want one² I thought I’d tag along and head over to some obscure Korean bakery instead. We parted ways in deep Koreatown and I walked a few blocks before entering a place and picking something out and chatting with the lady at the counter, all before realizing that I’d left my wallet back at home. Miserably disappointed, I wondered out onto the street, suddenly faced with something that hadn’t happened to me since I lived in Washington State: penniless, lonely and cold, I had an hour to kill. So I walked. And walked. And when I’d walked for 30 minutes, I headed back.
Koreatown is a strange place, and hitting it on foot doesn’t make it any less so. It’s dense, for starters. There’s far more to take in than can be mentally consumed. What makes it worse for me is that over half of the shops are restaurants. Koreans love to eat out, and I lost track of the restaurants with absolutely no English anywhere on their exteriors, which made me want to go into them even more.
But as I mentioned: penniless and cold, and now tired as well. While I waited for Mike to come out of the massage salon, a 30-something Korean man approached me. I’d been trying to avoid eye contact with him since he’d been playing pool in a rather rough-looking parlor in the same strip mall as the massage parlor, but when he approached me I had absolutely no idea what he was going to say. When he neared me, he looked me up and down and then says “I’ll give you twenty dollars if you give me a back massage?”
I probably don’t have to tell you that his tone implied that “back” meant penis and “massage” meant massage.
I burst out laughing and said, “No thank you!”
To my surprise he looked chagrined and said “Well, I thought I’d ask.”
“Sure,” I said, watching as he went back to playing pool.
I need a fucking hamburger.
Luckily we were walking distance from Kalbi Burger, which we’d heard good things about. I ordered the “Saigon Burger” (above), a regular beef patty with a banh mi treatment of pickled radish and carrot, cilantro, cucumber, jalapeno and mayonnaise. It was pretty excellent, though the patty was underwhelming for me. It was mostly just overly processed (there was virtually no texture) though juicy and otherwise benign. I find this is a weird phenomenon of high-end burgers — it almost seems like they’re laden with fillers, when in fact they are 100% organic, humane or otherwise coddled beef. It seems almost like they are beef paste instead of ground beef formed into patties. Still, it was a decent enough burger, and inspiring enough to want to try and do something similar at home.
Mike got the eponymous “Kalbi Burger” which fared much better. The beef is a blend of short rib and chuck and seasoned heavily with teriyaki-like kalbi marinade. The toppings were standard American burger fare made interesting with a light vinaigrette on the romaine lettuce. Vinaigrette! That’s clever, yo.
Mike ordered his burger with salt and vinegar fries, which were a delight. They’d tossed the fries with what tasted like plain white vinegar straight out of the fryer, which for some bizarre reason didn’t make them soggy, just nicely perfumed. My sweet potato fries were more pedestrian, though good enough.
No longer cold but still stinky and tired and now full, I returned to my pit of boxes I call home and passed out while watching Space Cowboys, which made Mike later say with grave disappointment “Just when you think you know someone…” So I told him: I was watching it for the second time. Just when you think you think you know someone.
¹This is how Mike’s friend works: he calls and says, “I’m on my way to the cheap Thai massage parlor and they can fit you in, wanna come? You have to be there in 20 minutes.”
²I do want a massage, but there were two discouraging factors: The first is that I hadn’t showered in two days and had been packing dirty old belongings into dirty old boxes in the hours previous to the appointment. The second is that I’m a fragile little butterfly – alright, moth – and the Thai ladies’ Ultimate Fighting style of massage terrifies me.October 16th, 2010 | Eatin' Fancy