Sincere in Echo Park
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Like most people in L.A., the urban man and his beautiful mate often go looking for sincerity. Sometimes we find it in our relationship, sometimes among friends, and sometimes out on the town. Tonight we're celebrating our anniversary, so of course, we kick off the evening with an hour trying to agree on a sincere restaurant. It would be easy if our goal were elegance or romance — but sincerity, well, that's a little harder to find.
Okay, yes, romance would be nice too....but everyone knows that lifelong mating occurs only when you achieve what I call the "sincerity lock," that electric, eye-to-eye understanding that "Hey baby, we may be B.S.-ing everyone on the planet, but we're not B.S.-ing each other." At that moment, you renew the contract that underlies all the rest. I think of this contract like the "provenance" document galleries attach to a work of fine art, attesting to its authenticity. No matter how beautiful the art, you still want that authenticity.
As with art, so with relationships, and of course...food. Each year on our anniversary we have to consider the implications of our dining options. We have to discuss the meaning of comfort food, the politics of vegan, and the family values of Italian. If we said "I love you" in a macrobiotic joint, would it be believed? And surely no one could achieve the "sincerity lock" in, say, Spago.
Always, I push for sushi. With sushi, I figure, what you see is what you get: fresh, raw, unsauced. But each year, my mate declares sushi to be more an "experience" than a meal, and not the solid rock from which to launch another twelve months of marriage.
At last, thank G-d, she recalls "A Place She's Been Wanting to Try"—this time a tiny vegetarian joint in Echo Park: Organic. Happening. Just 10 tables. Apparently there's not even a sign above the door--only an address: 2135. What could be more sincere?
"Perfect," I say, taking her warm hand in mine. "Echo Park is a funky, unpretentious, mixed-ethnicity neighborhood." And soon we're jetting up an onramp to escape our overwrought, over-primped west-side ghetto. Looking out over the city lights, I say, "When we were young, didn't we go looking for sincerity every night?"
Like all great quests, this one soon becomes dangerous. We survive three near-death experiences transitioning from the 10 to the 110, and pass with fear the searchlights of the L.A. Live megaplex, a monument to everything hyped, franchised, and overdone in America. My courage wavers, Before we left, I made the mistake of checking web posts about our destination, and now I'm fretting about some comments I read: One called it "pretentious and trendy."
"Don't worry," says my wife with steely determination. "They offer an organic kale salad with a no-oil citrus dressing. No one could fake that." And as we descend from the 101, I look upon the promise of Echo Park lake, which, though artificial, has acquired undeniable authenticity over the years. I note the crowd of taco joints, botanicas, tattoo parlors, and liquor stores. "Check," I think. "Check again."
As promised, the café has no sign, and inside it's crowded with twenty-somethings in hemp-cloth tops and drawstring pants. I note the sincere brick walls and sincere open kitchen, where men laugh sincerely over baked sheep feta with thyme and oil cured olives; where they whip homemade hummus and pan-roast vegetables for a walnut romesco dip...whatever that may be.
The waitress smiles despite our slick, overdressed, and Westside appearance. I look carefully, but her smile seems sincere.
"My G-d," says the Urban Man to his beautiful mate, "I think we've found it." And lo, our eyes meet in that brief understanding which is the basis of all human joy.
Copyright © 2010 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved
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