Michi – How We Define “Social Life”

michi restaurant, manhattan beach, los angeles, ca
What is the definition of “social life?” At the most basic, social life is the combination of various components: activities, people, and places. While all of those components are required to define a social life, the nature of each component is different for every person, and can change for each person, as affected by a variety of external influences.

There are different kinds of things that affect one’s social life. There are the obvious factors that affect our social lives over the course of our lifetime, like age – a teenager’s social life of hanging out at the closest mall accessible by bike is different from a 35-year old’s social life of going to a dinner party at a friend’s house, or even stage in life – two 30-year-olds will have very different social lives if one is married with three kids, living out in the suburbs and the other is a swingin’ single, post-grad student.

There are also more immediate things that can affect one’s social life on a day-to-day basis. Availability of friends and/or dates, current cash flow, personal schedule, recent positive restaurant reviews, and perhaps a post on Perez Hilton of where the celebs are hanging out can all determine with whom you interact, the nature of activities, how often you socialize, and where such social activities take place. These factors are normal. For normal people.

However, I have come to realize that my social life, or at least the very little going out that counts as “social,” is completely determined by things that should have nothing to do with determining one’s social life. My social life is affected by three things, and three things only.

Distance, drive-time (because in LA, distance and drive-time are two totally unrelated concepts), and parking.

My social life is not adversely affected if I am suddenly thrown into an ocean of work with lead laptops attached to my ankles. I will still go out. That’s why we have Tab Energy, duh. However, if the party is being held somewhere outside my driving range (which is *ahem* about a one-mile radius around my house), blogging will suddenly require my immediate attention, no matter that the Internets are taking the day off. I have always lived on very little cash flow, so that doesn’t really affect my social life either, but if the movie starts at some time in the three hour window known as rush hour hell on earth, and is showing all the way in Hollywood, you best believe that I cannot, simply cannot, afford that $11.25 or else I’ll starve to death this week. If Jonathan Gold gushes over dumplings from some back alley shack, I’d definitely make plans to go grab dinner there to check it out, but if the back alley shack doesn’t have back alley valet parking, well, you get the picture.

Distance. Drive-time. Parking.

So driving as far as Manhattan Beach for dinner, which means sitting on the 405 some time between 6 and 8 PM, to try a restaurant that wasn’t even on my To-Dine List, was a majorfuckingenormous anomaly in my regular social life. My very food-ish friend BC was doing some recon for his family and somehow convinced me that I needed to go with him to help him decide if Michi would be appropriate for his parents’ anniversary party. I am not sure how he got me to say yes. I think it had something to do with the combination of “I’m buying,” “I’ll drive,” and “You can blog about it.”

Aside from the fact that it is very far outside my travel radius, Michi’s parking situation, as dictated by its dowtown Manhattan beach location and proximity to the ocean, ensured from the get-go that Michi was a onetime deal. We drove up and down Manhattan Avenue several times before God blessed us with a parking spot. I think He realized that otherwise, I’d make my way to Heaven and give him hell.

From the outside, Michi looks small, non-descript, just like any other café or bistro along the road. However, inside, the restaurant opens up and extends deep, wide and high. There’s a bar along one wall, a dining room scattered with white cloth-topped tables, and in the back, a sushi bar. The sushi bar surprised me, and seemed out of place.

michi restaurant, manhattan beach, ca, dining room
as big as a banquet hall
michi restaurant, manhattan beach, ca, sushi bar
sushi bar. if that’s what you want

The hostess sat us somewhere in the middle of the dining room, and right away, I felt exposed. In other large restaurants, well designed lighting and smart placement of plants, artwork, and other physical barriers can create a sense of “cozy” smaller spaces. Michi’s space felt like a wedding reception in a large hotel banquet hall, with a noise level to match. Every time BC said a word to me, I had to lean in, cock my head so my ear was in the direct path of the soundwaves, and look ot of the corner of my eye to read his lips. It was frustrating, but then again, it was a subtle way for me to check out the table of girls next to us without straight up rubber-necking.

michi restaurant, manhattan beach, ca, bread
does bread go with sushi??

It is diffcult to categorize Michi’s cuisine, which can be a good thing if it means they are in a class by themselves, or a bad thing if it means that they are unfocused. Michi is the latter. I picked at some crusty bread while looking at a menu that seemed all over the map, with a sushi bar in my line of sight. Thankfully, it was BC’s recon project, so I put down the menu of Asian conf-ew-sion and let him order.

We started with three appetizers. Squares of daikon radish had been so thinkly sliced, they were transparent enough to hint at the tiny mounds of spicy tuna and avocado hidden under the fold. With the creaminess of the avocado and the crisp coolness of the daikon, the entire thing would have been better if the tuna had been spicier, but it was good nonetheless. Michi gets points for presentation, especially with the tiny wasabi stained tobiko as accessories.

michi restaurant, manhattan beach, ca, spicy
tuna wrapped in daikon
a thin veil of daikon
michi restaurant, manhattan beach, ca, spicy tuna and avocado
cool creamy needs more spice

I understand the appeal of the idea of a lobster enchilada. Lobster is an indulgence, and together with melting cheese and the hype of cilantro, the enchilada makes for a luxury dish. However, I am not fond of lobster. Nor am I fond of cilantro. The dish was well executed, and though the flavor was okay, I was put off by the rubbery texture of lobster.

michi restaurant, manhattan beach, ca, lobster enchilada
lobster and cheese, too rich
michi restaurant, manhattan beach, ca, dynamite
a flash in the pan. er, under.

Our last starter was something of a fancy version of what we call “dynamite” at a sushi bar. You know, that dish that is supposedly a melange of scallops and clams but is actually mushrooms in an obscene disguise of mayonnaise with one or two suspicious “shellfish”-like bites that comes out in either 1) a small, heat-proof dish with high sides or bowl with low sides, or 2) multiple layers of aluminum foil hastily shaped into a makeshift vessel that will hold semi-solids, something like Gladstone’s leftovers, but not a swan. The server made quite a scene of lighting a salt-controlled flame on a plate, then placing a pot atop it with mushrooms and other things. It tasted great, but the ring of fire was absolutely unnecessary.

michi restaurant, manhattan beach, ca, grill
the other white meat is brown
michi restaurant, manhattan beach, ca, seafood bouillabaisse
baby, you’re a parsnip

The entrees were about the same in quality to the starters (decent), but slightly more interesting to me because they tended toward the “American” side rather than the Asian side. However, in the grand landscape of LA restaurants, grilled pork served with wild rice and seafood bouillabaisse were nothing special. I will, however, mention that the tiny vegetables that accompanied the seafood were absolutely adorable.

We didn’t do dessert at Michi, which was a good decision. I wasn’t sure how I would have reacted to yet another green tea infused lychee sorbet with mango sticky red beans and rice. Besides, we had a long drive back to West LA.

Michi
903 Manhattan Ave
Manhattan Beach, CA 90226
310.376.0613

www.michi.foodnow.tv

** a year ago today, it was friday night, the lights were low, and the spicy fried rice i made was draped with omo **

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