Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rock and Rolls - Squids in LA

Squids here reporting to you from Los Angeles. I used to live in LA so I know the place very well. I love that whenever I'm here I have friends and resources available to hang or work on music and sampling. Plus I'm a foodie and there are some really good creative restaurants here. So I'll talk about that a bit. Two interesting restaurant experiences since landing in LA yesterday plus some preparation for a monster week of sessions with Keith Emerson, Alan Parsons and Durga McBroom (former backing vocalist for Pink Floyd).

I decided to pack light on this trip for a change. I'll show you my new compact studio travel rig in a bit. I'm really psyched about how much it can do and the quality that can be achieved while remaining portable. So, one of the first things on my list to do was to head over to a place called "Ametron" which was the only store in town that had what I was looking for which is a USB/Firewire audio interface called the RME Fireface UCX. Zzzzzzzzzzzz... woah, did I lose you on tech talk? Sorry! I'll be quick about it. Basically, I have all sorts of gear for traveling including an Apogee Duet 2 which I like. But I needed more inputs to record multiple things at once... yet I didn't want to carry anything big around. This little UCX unit is a half-rack and the perfect size while jam packed with quality and features. Just not cheap but you get what you pay for.

Anyway... (btw you will never catch me saying 'anyhoo' and if you say it I will be cringing like mad, just so you know). AnyWAY... on my way to Hollywood to get this interface I was starving so I went to Katsu-ya, a popular sushi restaurant here in LA. I really don't mind eating alone and sushi restaurants are great because they have a bar. It's all about you and the chef! So let me tell you one of my favorite stories about me and a chef in particular, Katsu himself.

Back in the mid-90s I lived in Studio City, CA. I shared a house with roommates like Gavin Lurssen, an award-winning mastering engineer I had dinner with last night. He wasn't a mastering engineer back then but later on he would become one of the top guys in town. The house was near Mulholland on Wrightwood Drive (just on the other side of the famous "Hollywood" sign) and it had this incredible panoramic view of the San Fernando Valley.  It was one of those houses on stilts on the side of the mountain (and yes it 'swayed' during earthquakes!!!) Many stories in that house but I'll just tell you about this one for now. My venturing on Ventura Blvd into new sushi territory. 

I had my favorite sushi place that had been recommended to me. There was really no reason to try a new place since there were so many you could get a good recommendation for. However, there was a place called "Domo Sushi" that was right next to my mailbox on Ventura Blvd. One time I saw director Albert Brooks coming out of there and I was tempted to say hello (and "The Desert Inn has heart") but I didn't bother him since he looked like he was on some sort of date ("I got a not, I got a not, I got a lot of nice friends. Right Petey?" - these are AB movie references). Anyway, I thought to myself "Maybe I'll try that place". If you ever saw the movie "Defending Your Life" there's a very funny scene that takes place in a sushi restaurant. He probably got the inspiration from that place. "Thank you very much!!!!"

So, one day after picking up my mail I decided to go next door and check it out. Only Domo was gone and a new place had just opened THAT day! The new place there was called "Katsu-ya". I walked in during lunch time and there was the chef, Katsu and only one other person at the other end of the bar who seemed drunk. He would slur things like "Hey Katsuuuuuuu. Make him a four and a half roll! Yerrrr gonna love this mannnn. I followed Katsu from the restaurant he was working at. He just opened his place and he's greeaaaaatttt. I followed him here". Then Katsu would sort of motion to the guy to kind of 'zip it' but in a nice way. He was really friendly and suggested different things for me to try. He said "Do you like sake?" and I said "Yeah it's alright." and then he explained to me the quality of premium cold sake and poured me a cup for free... and it was one of those wooden box cups on a plate where it overflows onto the plate (apparently a tradition in Japan). The food that day was amazing! Best sushi I had ever had so I went back again and again... maybe at some point I will tell more about the sushi adventures of Squids & Katsu. But, for now I'll just skip ahead to this. Over a decade has passed since then and Katsu has over 6 restaurants now and is considered by many to be one of the top chefs in the world. He's been #1 in Zagats and all sorts of big shot LA stuff has happened since... unfortunately you never see him much at the restaurants but whenever I do he's happy to see me.

When I was there I couldn't resist showing the people there my picture of me and a young Katsu (because he was in his late 30's then and he's in his early 50s now). They loved it and wanted me to email it to them. So I did from my iPhone! Then I sat down and had some of the best creative cuisine based on sushi (because it isn't traditional Japanese sushi but more of a mix of gourmet ideas, sometimes along the lines of Iron Chef). Here's an example. This was scallops with kiwi. Totally different than anything.

Here's salmon sashimi with Paddlefish caviar

You eat like royalty there and it's not any more expensive than any other high end restaurant... in fact it was the same price as the restaurant I had dinner at which I won't mention because I am about to tell you some things that aren't necessarily too flattering. 

Restaurant 2

After I picked up all of the gear I needed and checked into my hotel in Hollywood I met up with my old roomie Gavin for dinner. I wasn't sure what I would be doing or where I'd be so luckily I have a handful of friends here that I can call last minute for a bite to eat or something. Now, Gavin, who was originally from South Africa has assimilated into the "LA Scene" in what I'd consider a healthy intelligent way. He's very smart and has a good sense of things. He's very grounded despite being around the most Hollyweird of Hollywood working and hanging in and around the music, tv and film industry. I had a fun time last time I was here visiting the set of "Happily Divorced" which stars Fran Drescher ('the hostest with the mostest' - Bobby Fleckman for any Spinal Tap fans). He's the musical director for that show. 

Me with Fran and Gavin during a wrap party of "Happily Divorced"

So, Gavin who is also a foodie knows how to get in to some prestigious places around LA. You know, the kind of places where you need to know someone to get you 'on the list'? I never seem to know those people!!!! Haha. At best I know people who know those people. But I really don't care about that stuff. If the food is great that is what matters... it can be some hole in the wall somewhere with newspaper placemats. I'm not a snob. I just like quality! But I also like quality experiences and this definitely was. 

We go to this place that I won't mention to protect the innocent. It's 'some hugely popular actress's favorite place' apparently so that means you can't get in... unless you're 'lucky' (feeling lucky? huh? punk? I went to Clint's restaurant years ago and met him but that's a whole other story and I'll have to record some impressions for that one which would be fun... I like to do impressions.) So, we were among the lucky to get in on a Saturday night with no reservation and dressed like musicians instead of how they wanted which was I don't know... tycoons or yuppies? Not sure but I could tell we were a little under-dressed for the place. Still, they let us in so we ordered and had some incredible conversations about music, life, people... as it turned out the company was far better than the food! 

Sunset Blvd.

The restaurant was okay but totally over-rated. Same price as Katsu-ya but nowhere NEAR the same quality. In fact, it was really a bit of a joke in retrospect. The big disappointing moment was when they got to the desert. I almost declined desert which I should have but the waitress went on and on about how 'ridiculously good' the homemade chocolate chip cookies were. Now, anyone who knows me knows I'm a sucker for a 'ridiculously good' cookie! Well... when it arrived it was like eating Keebler's Soft Batch. I couldn't believe how average it was! These people are nuts. It's all for show and no substance. I could bake cookie circles around this place. 

Even the owner of the place who was hovering around looking for celebrities to rub elbows with was a trip. Total snob. But I'm not really judging and I'm not saying any of this was bad. In fact, it was awesome! What a character! He played the role perfectly even when he was condescending and even somewhat insulting in an oddly friendly way when we stayed about an hour after they probably wanted to close to still chat (we weren't the only ones but we closed that place). So, the bad cookies, the average yet expensive food, the big bouncer out front, the snobby celeb chef... all just part of the LA experience. Great for perspective and interesting! Mind you I will never go back there and today I will treat myself to another place I know that will absolutely not disappoint. But, this place was fun for that one experience and it was like being in a movie. Gotta be happy about that. 

One last thing. Gavin told me his car had been 'egged' for no apparent reason. I had just reminded him of it because I told him a week ago that my car was 'keyed' for no reason (I don't have any enemies that I'm aware of). But I said I completely let it go and accepted it. I didn't let it ruin my day... and interestingly things went GREAT after that. So we talked about the philosophy of letting go and accepting what is... I said to him "Your car got egged? You're lucky! That means some great things are right around the corner if you don't let it get you bent out of shape."

Alright so that wrapped up day 1 on this LA trip. Today I'm preparing for the sessions and doing a little clothes shopping which I rarely do. Tomorrow somehow the worlds of talented musicians and engineer/producers will collide in a way that has never happened before and it will be interesting! I'm not sure how it will all happen but I'm taking it one step at a time going with the flow. Today I will clarify to myself what I want to accomplish and how I think we can do it. Then we'll see! Anything can happen. - Dave

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