Sunday, October 27, 2013

1MB Travels: Vegas: Raku - What Happens In Vegas...

Every so often, I fantasize about being someone who treats rules as something to be broken.  The imagined freedom of being carefree, of doing what you want to do without the chains of obligation, fear, worry.  But thoughts of risk, consequence, damage - always rein me back in.  And then I realize I am someone who is sadly more often broken by rules, versus the other way around.

I guess that's why I have developed such a passion for food: it's an area that allows you to be adventurous, a risk-taker, but to do it all safely.  Within bounds.  Without consequence.  For the most part.  Call me a walking Lifetime special.

So it is, that when in Vegas, the kind of debauchery I allow myself to indulge in is not of the sort that would be fodder for a female version of Hangover - but more of the literally culinary kind.

The first time I ventured to famed and foodie-beloved Aburiya Raku, every moment felt like an adventure.  Everyone else wanted to stay on the strip, many within the hotel we were staying in - but thanks to gourmands who love to eat and share - I knew that amazingly tasty and affordable foods were to be found off strip.  And the 'getting there' would be much more exciting than walking downstairs to the nearest glitzy new restaurant downstream from the lobby.

I convinced a friend to go with me - and after an only-in-the-movies sort of cab ride where we were given a dissertation on the types of people who come to Vegas and exactly why they each make our driver angry - we arrived at the back corner of the non-descript strip mall, one amongst many in Chinatown, that Raku called home.

We pulled up to the bar, great for line of sight at what's happening in the kitchen and at the counter - and proceeded to drool over the blackboard and regular menus, packed with delicious sounding creatures of land and sea.  I remember laughing at my friend, who is over 6 feet tall, trying to find a comfortable place to put his legs at the bar built for smaller people.  I remember charcoal grilled wagyu, skewers of foie, and a blur of great conversation touching even on evolutionary psychology, punctuated by unctuous plates. I fell in love with Raku in that first visit - so much so that I didn't even take notes about the food - I was so in the moment enjoying it.

It was difficult to leave it behind and I wished we could have this experience back home.  Luckily, I was able to return on the next Vegas visit.  Here's the report on highlights from the meal: 
Poached Egg with Sea Urchin and Salmon Roe ($9) - this was egg-on-egg-on-egg action at its most luscious.  A perfectly poached egg, with its liquid sun yolk, connected all the other elements in the sea glass style bowl - creamy uni (sea urchin gonads), a food group in itself for me, brought its trademark funky flavor, while ikura (salmon roe) offered lovely bursts of brine, skillfully counterbalanced by the mild-mannered crunch of finely chopped white mountain yam, sweet juicy earthiness of adorable mini honshimeji mushrooms, and the clean crisp slices of raw okra. Perfection.  How is it possible that no one else thought to put these ingredients together before?!

Then of course, a trip outside of California is a wasted trip, if I do not get my fill of the now-banned foie gras. And with a fantastic robata grill, I had to get the Grilled Foie skewer.  There was a little too much sauce on it which made it a bit too sweet, but I was happy to get my hands on any amount or preparation of foie at all.
Then there was the famed Agedashi Tofu (half $7.50) - everyone's recommmended 'must get' dish at Raku.  It was pretty transcendent.  Not sure how they managed to keep the fried skin of the silky housemade tofu clean and crisp while soaked within the richly flavored, yet light and clear dashi (broth).  The baby mushrooms again make an appearance here and serve to add textural interest.
Spotting quickly another foie dish, again at a very reasonable price - I had to get the Steamed Foie Gras Egg Custard ($10).  I loved the soft, smooth texture of the chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), with the umami, earthy decadent flavors of foie striking the perfect balance between the two of levity and depth.  All topped by a rich, flavorful piece of duck.
I finished out the meal clean, with the Kanpachi Special ($12) off the blackboard.  It was one of the most beautiful, artful presentations of both the fish and the plate.  There wasn't any mind-blowingly unique pairings of ingredients here, but sometimes when the ingredients are pristine the best thing to do is not to mess with it too much, and just let nature be the star.  The presentation of course adds to the enjoyment of the dish though and they pulled that off perfectly here.

Although every time I leave Raku, I wish they could have a branch in LA - I realized that it's better that it stays in Vegas.  It's human nature to want what we can't have - and maybe its inaccessibility on an everyday basis is what helps it sustain that pedestal status in my mind.  Maybe it wouldn't feel or taste the same at all, if I had access to it in LA.  It definitely gives me something to look forward to next time I'm in town again - and perhaps will even be a reason for another visit.

Raku: I will be back for more shameless indulgence. Calories be damned. Til then, this is me, encapsulating you, into a beautiful memory.


5030 Spring Mountain Rd, Ste. 2, Las Vegas, NV 89146
Ph: 702.367.3511


Raku on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mo-Chica: "OG" Tasting Menu Tuesdays: 5-Courses, $27!

If you've been reading this blog, you know I love a good dining deal.  Sometimes I depend on it, to get me through the week.  Often though, 'deal' also disappointingly equates to 'lowest common denominator' - where restaurants default to the standard, safe, chicken or beef meal.
So I was excited to hear that Mo-chica is breaking out of the clutter - where others may take that predictable approach - with its "OG" Tasting Menu of Peruvian offerings, that are still hearty and filling.

It's not possible to talk about Peruvian food in LA without talking about Chef Ricardo Zarate - he pretty much put it on the map here.  The Food & Wine Best New Chef 2011 is the creative mind behind three restaurants showcasing his country's cuisine - including the latest 'Peruvian Izakaya' concept at Paiche, where it was fun for me to try preparations of its namesake prehistoric Amazonian fish recently.

Mo-chica is Chef Zarate's second restaurant, and he has been celebrating its first birthday with a 'throwback' menu that pays tribute to its humble origins in Mercado La Paloma (South Central) food court (though these dishes had never been served there).

The "OG Tasting Menu" is a very generous offering of 5 courses of food at a price that instinct says must be a typo, but isn't (just $27 before taxes and gratuities) - and is homey/hearty - if those are words that can be used with such an exotic cuisine.  It is only available on Tuesdays - and if you swing by between 2:30pm-5pm, during their regular happy hour, you get 20% off drinks as well!

I kicked off the meal with a signature The Doggfather/Pisco Sour (NOT included in the OG Tasting Menu) $11 regularly - a light, refreshing drink made with pisco porton, egg white, fresh lime juice, fresh lemon juice, evaporated cane syrup, angostura bitter, cinnamon tincture

Course #1: Heirloom Tomato Salad - this is a delicious take on the classic caprese salad: heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella are expected: crispy red quinoa and huacatay (Peruvian black mint) pesto are not.  I liked how the quinoa added a surprise, clean crunch (along with the asparagus), and mint to replace the usual basil.  

Course #2: Ceviche Trio: Tuna Sashimi, Diver Scallop and Hamachi. As I learned with Paiche, there is apparently a huge Japanese population and influence over food in Peru, so the inclusion of sashimi in the tasting menu here is not out of place.  But it's done with a twist.  The tuna sashimi was served with yuzu miso, green shiso, and mountain yam.  The diver scallop was served with aji amarillo (a Peruvian yellow chile pepper) aioli, wasabi and tobiko. The hamachi was served with jalapeno ponzu, nori lettuce, and garlic crisp. 

Course #3: Roasted Striped Bass with aji amarillo choclo pepian, English peas, thyme tomato escabeche, mint chimichurri.  We didn't get Amazonian fish with this one, but the bass was lovely, tender and flaky, and interesting with the corn stew punctuated by the light acidity of the tomato escabeche.

Course #4: Braised Short Rib rocoto yam mash, Kennebec fries, huacatay demi-glace. This one did feel the most 'common' of the dishes in the menu.
Course #5: Chocolate Tres Leches Cake chancaca sauce, blueberries, mint syrup.  Yep, I had to look up chancaca too - it's apparently a sauce made out of raw unrefined sugar and crystallized with honey.  A 'rustic' dessert that is a nice way to finish out the meal after the richness of the preceding dishes.
Although I had to look up a lot of the ingredients used in these dishes, overall the meal again felt very...comforting.  Which maybe goes against our general notion of comfort foods as being dishes that are familiar, and simple.  But it feels like these dishes would be soul soothingly familiar, to someone from Peru.  Definitely tame compared to the bolder, more flavorful and playful cooking at Picca or Paiche.  You get the sense that Chef Zarate is sharing a taste of home here. 

I personally prefer the more vibrant and thoroughly unfamiliar dishes at Paiche or Picca, which feels more like event dining / a meal and entertainment in one. But if you haven't tried Peruvian cuisine yet, and not sure you're ready to go 'full adventurous' both with your tastebuds and wallet - Mo-chica's OG Tasting Menu might be the one to get you started as your beginner's intro to Peruvian food, without a huge investment. It's also a good option for those who work downtown, and just want to grab a nice weeknight meal at a reasonable price before heading home (the portions are definitely so generous that you'll want to roll out of the place and straight into a nap after).

*Disclaimer: This meal was hosted.


514 W 7th St., Los Angeles, CA 90014
Ph: 213.622.3744
OpenTable: Look for reservations and points


Mo-Chica on Urbanspoon

For more prix fixe dining deals like this one, for every day of the week - see my post here.

1MB Travels: Chicago: Epic Eats & River Architecture Tour

Where there's a river, take the cruise.

That seems to have served me well in the cities I've been lucky enough to visit, that feature a watery jugular: Paris, Singapore, Chicago.  A great way to get a quick survey of the city's landmarks and history, within a limited time - from there you can choose which sights you want to explore further up close / more in depth.

My first time to Chicago was for another work trip, and I only had a few hours before the start of a conference, to take in what I could of the city.  So I headed to Navy Pier, where I was excited to find that the river architecture tour was available just in the time that I needed - the cruise was just an hour long, and would leave in 15 minutes.  Perfect!

A lot of the experience of these cruises depends on the quality of your tour guide.  And ours really made the whole experience amazing - he clearly loved the city, and its history, and sharing it with us tourists. The River Architecture Tour ($35/ adult) gave us great views of the city's iconic skyscrapers from the Willis (formerly, and forever to Chicagoans: Sears) Tower, Tribune Tower, Wrigley Building, to Trump Tower.  Our tour guide explained the different styles of architecture, and the care architects paid to every detail to ensure the city's buildings had a cohesiveness, and/or worked with the river (e.g. angling a building and 'squiggling' its balconies, to allow a good view of the river from any unit).  I'm not normally a history buff, but loved hearing about the origins of some of the city's landmarks - like the expansive old Chicago main post office, that was built largely to service Montgomery Ward back in the boom of America's oldest mail order business - it was also used in the filming of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises! 

One of my favorite buildings from the tour were the Marina City "corn cob" towers - you can see where their nicknames came from, from the photo!

It was also interesting to learn more about the river itself: apparently a century ago, it became so polluted that the natural flow of the river endangered the city's drinking water supply (and the pristine Lake Michigan), so a multi-million dollar civil engineering project was put in place to reverse the flow of the river. Apparently the river flow can now be re-reversed as needed in response to severe weather (floods / drought); it's also dyed green for fun on St. Patrick's Day.

Our tour guide was also big on Chicago pride, which is an awesome thing to behold: in telling about the great fire, and rebuilding efforts thereafter, he said that it's part of the DNA now of Chicago, that phoenix-like strength of character and fortitude: that Chicagoans will take a challenge head-on, and not let anything dissuade / discourage them - not even utter destruction.  Some may take that as dramatic, but I liked to see that Chicago pride.

After the tour, my next priority of course, was to go on an expedition for foie gras. Chicago being hopefully a role model for California, where foodies are still reeling from the law banning sale or production of foie gras going into effect.  Chicago was able to overturn the ridiculous (and what I view as culinary censorship!) law - hopefully California will as well.

My only meal that day where I could 'get away' and do my own thing - was at lunch.  And lunch menus often service the office crowd, so are not that adventurous or decadent as to feature foie.  But luckily, one of the places sinosoul recommended was able to make an exception to serve up a dinner menu item for me at lunch: GT Fish & Oyster in the River North neighborhood, a spot that feels in decor a lot like Caulfield's in Beverly Hills back home, but with a bar that's easy to sidle up to.  Hearing that I am from California elicited an immediate look of sympathy from my server, and she was very kind in coaxing the kitchen into bringing out early their Foie Gras & Shrimp Terrine with apricot chutney, pickled onions and szechuan peppercorns for me. Loved the vibrant colors on the plate, and they were generous with the ratio of foie to shrimp.  Textures and flavors were also skillfully balanced as well, with the smooth, dense earthy richness of foie balanced by the lighter, yet robust crunch of firm slightly sweet shrimp, the bright acidic crunch of pink pickled onions, tender juicy bursts of sweet apricot punctuated by ground up szechuan peppercorns.  So happy to have foie at all, any time I'm out of state - but I so appreciated the creative fun delicious prep / presentation of foie here. 

On recommendation, I also went for the Clam Chowder ($11) with nueske's bacon, house made oyster crackers. Presented in a mason jar.  This may have been one of the best clam chowders in recent memory, for texture as well as taste - actual whole clams in here, and I loved the drizzle of Serrano pepper hot sauce on top which gave it a nice kick.

Finished lunch off with a Lobster Roll with pickled vegetables and fried onions.  The chunks of lobster were generous, and the pairing with fried onion strings and pickled veggies for contrasting crunch was brilliant.

Girl and the Goat

On another trip, I was able to get in the night before, in time for dinner at the much raved about Girl and the Goat.  (Though Alinea and Next are both on my bucket list, unfortunately the ticketing system requires that I find at least 1 other person to dine with - unless I wanted to pay double, when I can barely afford my own way in...and there were no other foodies on my trip :(.  But I was glad to be able to check out some of the other amazing restaurants in the city.)  I actually made a reservation in advance, but opted last minute to sit at the communal table at the bar, the better to meet hopefully interesting people (which I did, a doctor visiting from NYC for a job interview) and scope out other dishes even if only visually.

Though the menu was relatively limited, there were many decidedly not-run-of-the-mill items that made it difficult to choose (drat human limitations on stomach capacity!).  I finally went with the Goat Carpaccio with smoked trout roe and olive-maple vinaigrette, which was one of the best sliced raw meat dishes I've ever had!

The texture of the goat was smooth and felt fatty, so that you could almost mistake it for toro sashimi (fatty tuna) - except that it tastes, of course, meaty.  This made the addition of smoked trout roe, totally make sense - the little orange orbs looked like salmon roe, another staple of Japanese cuisine.  Who would have thought to pair goat with roe?  But it works incredibly well -loved the fatty sashimi-like texture of the goat, punctuated by delicate burst of brine from the caviar.  The other toppings also sent this experience through to foodgasm - the counterbalancing crunch of greens and fresh fried chips was perfect with the other elements of the dish.  Olive made me think Italian and Maple pointed to Canadian - the two together added a nuanced sweet-savory that worked surprisingly well with everything else on the plate.  If I had had time to get away for another dinner, I would have gone back for this.

I knew as soon as I read the next item that I could not leave without trying it: Duck Tongues with tuna and black bean poke, crispy wontons.  The prep of this was a really interesting, almost rebellious mash-up of different cuisines: the duck tongues were lightly fried, but super juicy and tender inside, so that the texture reminded me of mongolian beef; the tuna poke had American Japanese influence, while the black beans with crunchy 'chips' made of fried wonton skins for some reason made me think Tex Mex.  But this too, all worked together.  I couldn't stop eating.

Their menu apparently is constantly changing - so not sure if these dishes will be available again - but given my limited taste of the menu, I will definitely head back to Girl and the Goat the next chance I get!


One of the best meals I had in Chicago was squeezed in last minute - literally before I left for the airport. I had to get another foie fix before returning to draconian California.

But where to find foie at lunch, besides GT Fish & Oyster?  The bartender at Henri saved me (I heart you food-loving Chicagoans!) by being yet another friendly force that convinced the kitchen to serve me a dinner menu item at lunch. The Roasted Foie Gras ($28) with burnt peach panna cotta, foie gras mousse, pecan butter, gooseberry, and currants was not only beautiful, with creative pairings of textures and flavors, but pretty much so foodgasm-inducing that had I not been sitting among reserved corporate power lunchers, I would have picked up the plate and licked it clean (blame my near lack of decorum on PETA and spineless California lawmakers).

Out to maximize on every bite of foie I could get my hands on, I also 'found' an item from their lunch menu that allowed diners to add "cured foie" to it as a topping. The Stone Oven Pissaladiere ($14) with Salt Roasted Pear, gruyere, lardon, pistou (add $16 for cured foie gras) was one of the best pizzas I'd ever tasted, mainly because the toppings wre so amazing together.

I was so engrossed in the foie filled meal that I ran out of time to check out Millennium Park, which was right across the street. 

As someone who normally doesn't like to bring leftovers to the airport, especially while trying to get through security - I had to make an exception with this one as I couldn't bear to part with any morsel of this.  I savored the rest on the plane, on my way back to foie-less California, while brushing back salty wistful angry tears.

Rick Bayless' Frontera Fresco

Sometimes, good food is found at the top floor of a department store, in a gourmet food court.  In this case, the top of a historic building housing a giant, 7-story flagship Macy's.  For some reason Rick Bayless' endeavors in LA did not really hold that much appeal for me - but while in Chicago, I was glad that a colleague led us on a quick excursion out of the conference venue to check out Frontera Fresco, which had an awesome casual vibe befitting the venue.
I immediately liked that they didn't take themselves too seriously here, but they took the quality of food seriously. We started at the fresh guac bar - where you could choose toppings (as if this was a sundae!) - for your bit of 'butterfruit' heaven.

We opted for no toppings though as we expected the rest of our meal to be super flavorful.  The avocados in the guac were absolutely flawless.  None of us enjoyed the chips though - which were too thick and too salty for our tastes.  We wanted a light, crispy, crunchy chip to just be a vehicle to showcase the fabulous guac.

The Handmade Chipotle Chicken Tamale with stone ground corn and chipotle chicken served with chipotle salsa ($4.50) was delicious - it was good that they put the salsa outside the wrap so that it wouldn't soak into the tamale before you were ready to eat.
Cubana Torta ($8.95) Roast pork, Chihuahua cheese, applewood smoked bacon, black beans, cilantro crema, chipotle mustard and avocado.  We might have just been starved for non-conference food, but this was one of the best sandwiches we thought we'd ever had! Bread perfectly panini-grilled, yieldy warm cheese, super tender roast pork, flavorful crema and chipotle mustard.

I had wanted to try the Roasted Corn and Poblano Chowder too, but they had already sold out of it by the time we arrived.

If you miss out on the chance to eat at this location, FYI they have a counter at the American Airlines departure terminal at the O'Hare airport!!!

Definitely need another fix next time I'm in town or on layover.

Willis Tower 103rd Floor Deck
We also got a chance to make it up to the top of the Willis (formerly Sears) tower one night - the view was definitely spectacular.

But the coolest part is the glass bottom observation deck, where you can stare down the side of the tower to the buildings and street below, and grab your photo opp for your souvenir from the Chicago architectural icon.

More to come: recaps of my meals at Blackbird, The Publican, and other Chicago greats from subsequent trips!



Shoreline Sightseeing
River Architecture Tour
Get tickets from booth at Navy Pier (Ph: 312-222-9328)

GT Fish & Oyster
531 N Wells St, Chicago, IL
Ph: 312.929.3501
OpenTable: Look for reservations and points here
GT Fish & Oyster on Urbanspoon 

619 West Randolph. Chicago, IL 60661
Ph: 312.715.0708

Girl and the Goat
809 W Randolph St, Chicago IL, 60607
Ph: 312.492.6262
Girl & the Goat on Urbanspoon

Frontera Fresco
111 North State St., Chicago, IL 60602
Ph: 312.701.4483
Frontera Fresco on Urbanspoon

18 South Michigan Avenue Chicago, IL 60603
Ph: 312.578.0763
Henri on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 11, 2013

Olympic Spa: Honestly, I Want to See You Be Brave

"Say what you want to say, just let the words fall out - honestly, I want to see you be brave!" - Sara Bareilles, Brave

I've been very lucky these past 2 years. A job I enjoy, plenty of travel, a supportive boss who gives me room to show what I can do; time still to pursue my personal passion project (this blog - thanks for reading and making it possible! :)). I grew up a lot, and am grateful for the support from some amazing people that allow me to say that I'm good at what I do, and not feel guilty about it.

But 'perfect' does not exist - and there are still those days/weeks that make you feel like you just got rolled under the eighteen wheeler of life and tossed mercilessly from tire to tire...just another roadkill.

This has been one of those weeks. And I was just going to keep my head down and hope for this too, to pass. There are just certain areas of life that it's ok to buck the system, and others that you just, would not be smart to - I had decided.

And then Sara Bareilles' Brave came on. And I thought about a dear friend who had just been diagnosed with meningioma and is waiting for brain surgery: how every day is for her now a struggle and precious, and how unfair that it is that the rest of us get to go through life, 'frivolizing' our healthy days away. Stressing about things that don't really matter.

So I listened to Sara. Again and again.

Until I mustered enough courage to speak/stand up for myself. There was no grand victory to be had, but I had the small victory within myself that I did not stay silent.  So with that and my Sanity Preservation day secured - I decided to spend it at the spa, detoxing body and soul.

My choices: Terranea and its utterly out of my budget, singular splurge in an excess of predictable luxury ($375 a body treatment??) - or a spare, no frills spot in Koreatown that dangles promise of adventure - good or bad, it would promise to be an unforgettable experience ($15 facility fee / $130 max head to toe pampering). Tough choice.

As I headed down a less traveled stretch of Olympic Blvd, passing mom & pop auto shops, then into the parking lot with its laundromat style machines right outside by the entrance - I did have a moment of hesitation: what am I getting myself into? "Swimsuits not permitted"?  In this part of town? How the heck did my normally OCD germphobic and OG asian Conservative self allow this to get this far?

The feeling of unease continued through the staid decor of the lobby, and into the old school style locker sections, where the full meaning of Korean.Day.Spa really hit me not just conceptually, but full frontally - in all directions.  Swimsuits not permitted.  And this was not a Pacific Palisades crowd.  This was a $15 all-day, run-of-house crowd.

Treatments happened in open areas, next to three small pools - OG style, no private rooms, no marble rims or faux rock sculptures - with spa 'aestheticians' clad in black bikinis. (What did I just get myself into?!)

But as I settled into the warm mineral pool - I found myself beginning to love this...bathhouse.  This place was - perfectly imperfect - for the frame of mind I was in.  No bullsh*t, canned 'calming' music playing in the background, no Stepford wives to frown down at your unpleasantly big-pored pleibian presence, no fancy displays of skincare products to be pressure-upsold to you post treatment, no illusion that this facility does anything other than act as 'service station' for your ever deteriorating, corporal and inevitably mortal self.

I got up and waded into the steaming tea-colored herbal soak pool - with its informative, laminated overview sheet.  "Angelica" or "Mugwort" is used for this brew - which is said to boost immunity, promote circulation, balance female hormones and detoxify.  A fellow soaker tipped me off to control temperature and stimulate circulation by alternating between the hot mugwort and mineral pools, and the cold pool.  I was glad the receptionist had told to come at least 45 minutes before my appointment time, to enjoy the facilities beforehand!

Multiple sauna rooms are spread throughout the spa, and you can access them all along with the pools with the $15 facility fee (or free with most treatments).  My favorite was the Himalayan Salt & Binchotan sauna, a glowing, spare yet beautifully designed room with walls and floors made of pink Himalayan salt, and ceiling panels of binchotan (Japanese black charcoal), with their mesmerizing starburst log ends. 

Himalayan Salt is said to charge the air with negative ions to alleviate respiratory and skin issues, and stress.  Binchotan is said to purify the air to help with respiratory problems.  I loved laying down on in this room and just drifting in the gorgeousness of that chiaroscuro - no phones, no emails, no stress. Just.Breathe.

Then I was called for my treatment appointment.  Loved that this spa promotes natural therapies: no microderm, chemical peels or botox offered here (and no organic gluten free etc fussiness either). I 'splurged' on the Goddess package - 1 hour 45 minutes of head to toe rejuvenation at $130. The description online sounded awesome:

The ultimate moisturizing experience...full body Korean Scrub to exfoliate the skin, followed by an aromatic seaweed body shampoo...Darphin Aromatherapy Massage to melt all those knots away. A rejuvenating essential oil scalp massage...purifying facial mask is applied to refresh and tighten the pores....aromatherapy hair shampoo and rinse, a luxurious body emulsion...applied to hydrate and moisturize. 

But what this was, was definitely not a spa treatment in any familiar sense, and definitely not an experience for everyone.

It happens in a very industrial style four-quartered pen with bare minimum partitions.  In each quarter is a padded vinyl spa bed - three of which contained naked ladies in various stages of rub down by spa 'aestheticians', and trying to avoid eye contact with each other.  The spa beds are vinyl because the aestheticians wash you by throwing buckets of warm water over you while you are laying on the bed.  They pull on special mitts that they scrub with ruthless efficiency over every part of your body to exfoliate you within an inch of your life.  This isn't your standard issue, ocean-view room, body is beauty approach with a friendly aesthetician there to care about your day and help you relax.  The ladies are matter-of-fact, taciturn, and laser-focused on their job to purge you of all undesirables.

Several analogies came into my head during the experience:
  • This is like a scene from any medical / nuclear disaster movie - where the person returning from an infected area must be rigorously decontaminated, with people in faceless hazmat suits scraping the entire upper epidermis off of the Potentially Infected to ensure there's absolutely no trace of any possible contaminant left behind.  Or, the admission portion of any prison movie scene where someone has to scrub down before officially getting sent into lockup
  • Also like a whole hog being prepped for roasting - except the hog is still alive during the cleaning and oiling
  •  Like a whale washed up on the beach. riddled with barnacles that the crew must use 'tough love' to remove 
All these do NOT make this treatment sound pampering, I know.  Make no mistake, it was not relaxing and kind of surreal for a first-timer during the initial scrub phase - but you feel incredibly good after all the exfoliating - they really do get every last dead cell - and the ladies literally take care of every need thereafter from head to toe: scalp massage to facial to full body moisturizer and aromatherapy massage!  I found myself falling half asleep towards the end, in spite of the awkwardness of laying on a vinyl padded bed in a pen next to three other naked strangers.  At the end of the treatment did I feel rejuvenated? Renewed? Definitely, whole body.  Add: Catharsis achieved. This was exactly what I needed, that day - I felt purged, detoxified via external experience of what I had been put through emotionally in the past week.

Many spas have a dining area where you can stay on the wellness theme with egg white omelettes with spinach, whole grain whatever and such other BS that few people actually enjoy eating.  Olympic Spa has a cafe where you can balance out your bodily rejuvenation process by indulging your foodie soul in delicious grilled meats, bibimbap (flavorful stone pot rice with meat and veggies) and other Korean creations. 

All food is for purchase and not part of the spa facility fee or treatment fees.  Conveniently though, you don't have to bring your credit card or walk around with cash - your locker key ring has a barcode that the cafe hostess will scan to record your purchase, and you can simply take care of any charges for the day all at once at the front desk when you leave.  (You also get free WiFi at the cafe, so if you wanted to spend the whole day there whether to write or as necessary, to work - you can bring your laptop or tablet to use at the cafe).

My order: Fluffy Hot Steamed Egg (Gaeran Jjim) $4 Hot Stone Mixed Rice (Dolsot Bibimbap) $12. Loved the hot steamed egg - it's not as silky smooth as the chawanmushi you would get in a place like Farmshop, but it's still got good texture and flavor. Portion size was also big enough to be a filling snack or appetizer.  The bibimbap was delicious as well - and I love that despite the 'monopoly' that the cafe essentially has, they actually put effort into flavor, texture and presentation. They used black rice - nicely crisped at bottom from the real stone pot.  The bibimbap also came with seaweed soup, and a bit of kimchi and trio of banchan (side dishes).

I also loved the selection of drinks as well: the corn silk tea was a first time sighting for me, as well as Korean raisin tea.  Aloe is great for cleansing while being a refreshing drink.  There are also cans of Korean fruit juices and Izze.

Before heading out, I took a quick nap in the open sauna with heated jade floors. They provide quilted pads that you can use to lay out, and many ladies catch quick naps here between dips in the pools, saunas or pre/post treatment.

I brought my hair products and makeup, which I was able to fix at open vanity stations (hairdryer provided) before heading out to dinner.

All in all, an amazing time at Olympic Spa. I didn't save any lives, change the world for the better, or move the needle on anything today.  But "Do one thing that scares you, every day" (Eleanor Roosevelt)? Check. Doing what it takes to shake off the tire marks on my back so I can feel more like an effective person that cares about things that are real, and really matter, again? Check. 

I reached out to my friend and reconfirmed our plans to meet up, to do whatever she wants to do. To say that I can't even imagine what she is going through, but I will be there, every step of the way, for her time to be brave.

I will definitely be back to Olympic Spa soon, and regularly - for that hard to beat all day spa facility access for $15.  And maybe another full scrub down, the next time I feel the need to reaffirm / stave off mortality at the same time.


Olympic Spa
3915 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019
Ph: 323.857.0666

Open Daily 9am-10pm

Parking: free valet in back of spa

LADIES ONLY.  BYO reading materials.


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