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Al Martinez

Looking for Hip From Outside the In Crowd

July 01, 2002|Al Martinez

I've decided that an element of my cultural education that is severely lacking is being able to determine what's in and what's out. Listening to friends who are masters of hip, I began to feel a woeful lack of insight into those places in L.A. preferred by the young and the restless, as it were.

Since so many conversations revolve around restaurants, I chose this as a starting point. To hear my friends talk, food and sex are the primary concerns of the Today Generation, and I felt I ought to have a little more expertise in one or the other.

When I mentioned this to my wife, she said, "It had better be food," and so it is.

I'm not including nightclubs that may or may not be in because I know nothing about the places where you pop happy pills and dance your panties off to unbearable noises they call music.

When I came to town 30 years ago, restaurants were as scarce as IQs over 100. There were Chasen's, Scandia, Perino's, Big Boy and the Tick Tock Cafe. Now there are restaurants around every corner, some out and some in and some in and out, and books by the hundreds that list and rate them.

I don't actually know what kind of food is in, but was told it's steak and sushi. I realize that's a strange combination of health and death, but there's no explaining it. Well, maybe there is, up to a point. An in place must be reasonably new, have decent food, a young chef, beautiful customers and remain in business for at least three weeks.

And, oh yes, it must be noisier than a hog farm.

On a recent night, for instance, I was pleased to dine at one of the newer in restaurants, called Katana. It's an upstairs sushi place on Sunset Boulevard that embraces all of the qualities required of being in.

If you are older than 26 and weigh more than Calista Flockhart, however, forget about Katana. You don't belong there if you're too fat to expose your navel. I am over 26, weigh about two Flockharts and won't show my navel under any circumstance, but it's not good business to toss a newspaper columnist into the street. So I got in.

I realized instantly that this was an in place because (1) it was jammed with the aforementioned young, skinny, beautiful hip people and (2) the noise approached the sound level of a departing 747. Adding to it as we entered the dining area was the sudden burst of shouting by a number of attendants at the sushi bar.

It is meant as a form of greeting, but could well be mistaken for the sudden appearance of Britney Spears at a stag party. Each time someone entered, they shouted and I jumped. It was, as you can imagine, a nervous evening for me.

Loud noises are a condition of our culture. They simultaneously define fun and blast away the haunting unpleasantries that might otherwise fill our minds. Women don't laugh, they scream. Men don't talk, they bellow. Conversation is barely possible under these conditions. I have only a vague notion of what was said. The food was fine, but at 110 decibels, I couldn't hear myself eat.

Mastro's is the steak house we visited. The same beautiful, skinny people who ate sushi at Katana eat red meat at Mastro's, but they're older and not nearly as noisy, decibel-wise; not a departing jet or artillery fire at close range, but the first balcony at the L.A. Philharmonic. I can take that.

Mastro's has a small, downstairs "convenience" bar for those who stumble in off the hard, lonely streets of Beverly Hills and need an instant martini. Seated at the bar in plain sight of the front doorway as we entered were two women who were doubles for all of the other beautiful women who inhabit the in places. There's got to be a factory somewhere that clones the type and sells or rents them to the in places for the few weeks that they remain in.

There's a downstairs dining area for people with noise aversions and an upstairs bar/dining room for those conditioned to conversing in smiles and gestures. The women here are grown-up versions of the Katana babes who now either run major corporations or are with rich, old men who run corporations. No flashing navels here, just a kind of sexy dignity that goes along with being able to afford a $39 steak.

Over a period of weeks I found myself at restaurants called Jar, Nic's, Lucques, Alex, JiRaffe and some others I no longer recall. They were in at one time or another, but may no longer be regarded as such. As far as I know, the restaurants I like have never been in, but that's just as well. Les Sanglier, Mirabelle and the Grill on the Alley tend to attract people with taste who are not necessarily skinny or beautiful, just tired of the ins and outs of the in restaurants.

But you've heard all this from a guy who loves hot dogs and meatloaf, so don't take my word for it. I've been known to frequent places that advertise "Eats," and even Spam appeals to me under certain conditions. Sauteed, of course.


Al Martinez's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. E-mail him at

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