I recently read this Vice article, my hands-down favorite thing I’ve read on the internet this year, in which the brilliantly witty author, Jamie Lee Curtis Taete, laments the loss of the truly “weird” to the realm of hipness. The article hits such a sweet, perfect note, pinpointing something that’s happening right now in popular culture, while maintaining a fresh and authentic voice. And it’s so true—as Taete puts it, “weirdness, once a pursuit for outsiders, is now cooked up by teams of market researchers, to be regurgitated by the Old Spice Guy or the Geico Gecko…it’s impossible to visit a ‘hidden gem’ without being surrounded by other curiosity seekers Instagramming pics of themselves in official merchandise purchased from the suddenly savvy owners.”
I was immediately reminded of a perfect example of this phenomenon that my husband and I had recently experienced. We were in Tokyo last November, and made a point of visiting an attraction that seemed like the epitome of that perverse and strange Tokyo nightlife one always hears about: a place called Robot Restaurant. Perhaps you’ve heard of it, as it was featured on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s newest (and most wonderful) show, Parts Unknown. Robot Restaurant is not really a restaurant—though one does receive a “bento box,” its contents are certainly not what Michael Pollan would call “food”—but rather, a small underground black box theater, accessible only by a seemingly endless staircase whose walls are eye-boggling neon-backlit murals of flowers and lizards. In the theater is a boxing ring of sorts, flanked by two seating areas. The audience of around 100 people sits behind some ornamental chains and watches a show that I could only describe as…weird. There are strippers, tanks, guys in Iron Man-esque suits on rollerblades, motorcycles, so many flashing lights, dance routines, fight sequences, and finally, giant robots, honestly really impressive in stature and mobility. They’re the height of 2.5 humans stacked atop one another. They reach their robot arms across the chains and dangle their robotic fingers inches from your face. It’s almost terrifying. Then afterwards, you get to take pictures with them!
Where am I going with this, you may ask? I’m getting there, I promise. You see, when Tony Bourdain went to Robot Restaurant with his crew, I’ll bet it was truly weird and awesome. And it’s still awesome, it’s just that…it’s now nothing but a Disneyland attraction, with a Japanese twist. The audience is more than half tourists; and worst of all, in the 8 months since we posted our cleverly edited Instagram video of RR highlights for all of our friends to view with envy, not one, not two, but three friends from college have posted nearly identical Robot Restaurant videos on their Instagrams. We are not original. In fact, we are the thrill-seeking young urbanites that are making it un-cool for everyone. But how am I supposed to experience something truly weird, without being exposed to it through a medium that, like Parts Unknown, tons of other people seeking similarly weird experiences are also exposed to? Sigh.
Ok, here’s the part where I get to some affordable food in the LA area. There’s a place in Venice that I think is pretty, well, quirky. Ok, it’s not Robot Restaurant pre-Bourdain weird. But it is Venice weird. It’s a cereal bar called Another Kind of Sunrise. It is a shack, or a stand, or something, that closes at 2pm, and by then they’ve usually run out of everything. It’s the kind of place that makes their own nut milk, and a really f-ing good nut milk at that. It’s sort of around the corner from/hiding a chocolate store that is inside of a rabbit hole/giant hollowed out tree trunk. It has a neighborhood feel, it’s the domain of the post-yoga-glow chick, the pregnant mommy in a maxi dress, and the bearded swami.
Ok, (you’re going to hear that a lot in this post, I have a lot of caveats. Deal with it). So okay, you’re in a little alley on the hippest street in Venice. You’re just a block or so away from Gjelina, still one of the hottest reservations in town. And you’re paying the cost of an actual meal ($10) for a smallish paper bowl of raw vegan yogurt and granola. But it’s worth it. For starters the paleo granola is straight up delicious. I have a borderline obsession with it. When I have to have it, I have to have it. It’s clusters of different nuts and seeds and it’s sweet and kind of chewy and crunchy at the same time. I have been known to jump out of a (slowly) moving car and sprint to the stand in order to purchase a cup full of this paleo granola before they close.
What goes under the granola is up to you—there is the standard option, the Acai cashew yogurt. Who in LA has not yet had an Acai bowl? Anyone? But this bowl isn’t your standard issue. It’s not frozen. It’s raw, the consistency of yogurt, and lightly refrigerated. Okay, raw cashew yogurt can make you feel kind of ill if you eat too much of it, especially if you’re not used to a raw vegan diet. Just warning you. But it has a really interesting flavor, and I like it a lot, and it’s quite filling. If the thought of raw cashew yogurt that may or may not make you feel just a tad bit sick to your stomach is not appealing, you may opt for actual cow’s milk (gasp!), or the homemade almond milk instead. This almond milk is not anything like the stuff you get at the grocery store, that grayish water with a few pulverized almonds in it—it’s creamy and rich and delicious. It goes really well with the amazing paleo granola, banana, berries, and coconut flakes.
Their muesli is also downright crave-able. It is soft and crunchy at the same time, with little puffed rice pieces and oats. It is not too sweet, just a hint of honey, maybe from the almond milk. There are plenty of superfruits in there—dried gojis and goldenberries and good-old fashioned raisins for a nice chew.
A couple more caveats for you: I’m not super familiar with the concept of a paleo diet, so I don’t really know what makes the granola “paleo,” or whether that’s actually good for me. Also, the stand sells something called Buttery Brew, or as Shailene Woodley and other in-the-know, painfully hip people with first-world problems call it, Bulletproof Coffee. It’s coffee blended with coconut oil, spices, and ghee. It’s supposed to be a good way to get all of your healthy fats in the morning so that you don’t crave fat throughout the day. It’s also one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever put in my mouth. But hey, that’s just my opinion, man. Some people swear by it. The Yelpers certainly like it. But you know how I feel about Yelp.
So that’s it—that’s my suggestion for you. Get your raw Acai bowl, sit on a distressed wood bench and scoop up a mouthful with your compostable corn spoon. Maybe treat yourself to a delicious $4 inch-square biodynamic dark chocolate afterwards from Zenbunni. It’s imperfect, but it’s wonderfully weird.