There’s something in the K-Town water

13 Jan

This past weekend, my best friend went on two dates with two different guys – both of whom had picked her up at a cafe in K-Town. Now if you’re anything like me, you’re probably thinking: 1. Who are these guys? and 2. What cafes is she going to?

At first I thought these were isolated events unique to my girlfriend because she’s easy on the eyes and perhaps frequents cafes more often than the average caffeine consumer. But on Sunday I realized that we were actually in the midst of a new phenomenon, because it happened to me.

My said bestie and I went to BCD for a Sunday lunch. BCD, short for Boo Chang Dong, is a chain of restaurants famous for their spicy tofu soup, called soon doobu. The original restaurant on Wilshire Blvd. has been remodeled with a whole new, upscale decor and English menus. You can order the type of stew you’d like in three different levels of spiciness. Then you pop an egg into the boiling soup upon arrival and eat away. The best part of BCD, however, is the complimentary fried fish appetizer. I don’t know why it’s so good when there really isn’t much to it, but I look forward to it the most. As for souvenirs to remember your meal by, I’d recommend taking home a tub of their kimchi. Not only is it marinated in-house, they toss in a generous serving of raw oysters that you’ll find as a pleasant surprise hidden in between the cabbage leaves.

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But back to the issue at hand.

I was haggard from a late night and my hair was in a harried bun that I did in the car. Halfway through shoving a spoonful of spicy tofu in my mouth, a man came up to our corner table and brazenly sat down next to me without a word.

Without the mask of a dimly lit bar or the liquid courage offered by shots at a club, the men in K-Town have grown a pair overnight and are asking women out everywhere.

In cafes, on the street, and yes, in a busy, unromantic restaurant during lunch, mid-chew.

He said his name was John and asked for mine. I responded.

He then asked for my number. I said no.

He then said I was a very cute girl and that I should know it. Then he asked if we were having lunch.

He was complimenting and asking conversation starters (albeit poor, tired  ones) after he got rejected. It was odd, as if he fell asleep on the wrong side of the bed and woke up lopsided with all his words tumbling out in the opposite order.

While men in Korea have always been extremely aggressive – possibly due to the fact that they’re pretty much hammered all the time – the Korean men here in the U.S. are quite different. Or at least used to be. My bestie and I postulated that perhaps the forwardness of Korean male culture immigrated from the motherland along with the food and femme fashion. Or maybe the prevalence of online dating has perpetuated the idea that it’s possible, and even not so strange, to meet a perfect stranger for a romantic endeavor. Or something is in the water.

Whichever the reason, this is now a thing. If you’re a lady, you’re a walking (or sitting, or chewing) target once you go into the K-Town borders. You may meet the love of your life the next time you have a hankering for spicy tofu stew.

Or you may just lose your appetite.

My K-Town cafe haunts

2 Jan

I recently went on a set-up who asked me to dinner at a K-Town BBQ house (yes we went to a smelly, smoky, all-you-can-eat buffet for a first date — we’ll get to him later). After dinner he wanted to get dessert, so we went to a nearby cafe called Koffea. While it was the closest, we could’ve chosen any number of cafes within a 5-block radius; K-Town isn’t anything if not inundated with overpriced lattes. Like holding a green and white Starbucks cup gives you a sense that you belong to an elite group of coffee drinkers who can afford to spend $5 a day on a heavily syrup-ed cup of pumpkin spice, drinking coffee is considered a status symbol in Korea. It’s why there are as many cafes as there are bars in K-Town, and trust me, that’s a lot.

While Korean cafes are much like American coffee shops with the overpriced drink and food options and aesthetic decor, each cafe has its own specialty and purpose. For example, if you want to study and get some work done without any chit-chatting nonsense, you go to Tom n Toms. The tables are small and round — incapable of fitting more than one laptop at a time. If you want to go on a casual date, you want to go somewhere that’s pretty but offers some semblance of privacy, like Yellow House. Now since K-Town cafes are a plenty, I thought it would be helpful to break down which cafe you should go to when you want to study, play, or yes, even find a new lover. Because god forbid you walk into a chic, upscale cafe with a book bag while the penguin-suited waiters try to offer you macarons …

If you want to study…
Go to Tom n Toms. There are no fancy cups and the decor is simple, which is why the coffee is relatively cheap compared to the $8 price point you’ll find elsewhere. You can go there and stay for hours without feeling obligated to leave. If you’re in finals mode and want to do an all-nighter, there’s a 24-hour Tom n Toms on Wilshire Blvd., but you won’t be in want of this cafe — there’s practically one popping up on every block.

If you want to study and pick up a date for Friday night …
Go to Cafe Mak. The chairs are comfy and varied, which pleases a hybrid of customers: Those who want to quietly type away on their laptops and those who want to place a book in front of them while sipping really good lattes and chat. Just last week I went with a friend to get some work done and there was a pair of girls sitting at the far end of the cafe, lackadaisically studying. A few minutes later, a couple guys walked in and strategically sat at the table right next to theirs. When I next looked up, all four had abandoned their work materials and were happily asking each other what they did for a living (clearly not much as I was there at 2 p.m. on a Thursday) and exchanging numbers.

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Picking up girls at a cafe is actually a brilliant idea. You take out the creepy variable, and since you’re in a well-lit area, you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. When you’re at Mak, make sure to order the Green Tea or English Breakfast Latte — the milky frothy goodness won’t disappoint. And try a slice of sweet potato cake, it’s a Korean dessert that’s light, not too sweet, and cute enough for an Instagram pic.

If you want to go on a date with the girl you just picked up at Mak …
Go to Yellow House Cafe. Like the name suggests, this cafe looks like a house and when you go inside, it feels like you walked into a quaint backyard. The prime real estate at this cafe, however, is the back room where you get complete privacy along with the feeling that you’re holed up in a cozy cabin somewhere — all for just $10. And that $10 will literally be the price of your coffee, smoothie or anything else on the menu. But if you’re on a date, why not splurge and get their s’mores? It’s ridiculously overpriced considering all the ingredients tally up to mere dollars at the grocery store, but when else can you eat s’mores without crouching next to a fire with mosquitoes gnawing on your legs? Another great option is Coffee House Heyri. It has a similar vibe as Yellow House with a pool of water, potted fauna and just slightly less cozy.

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If you want to girl-talk in style …
Go to Caffe Concerto. This is one of the newer cafes in K-Town and has everything you could want to eat and drink: cocktails, espresso, pasta, macarons. The decor is modern funk with heavy curtains and amazing dishware. To order: Turquoise macarons along with your favorite hot tea, which comes in a pot that sits over a lit candle to keep your tea warm. And if you’re really lucky, you might spot a K-Town celebrity (I use the word “celebrity” loosely) from the “K-Town” YouTube reality show — similar to the “Jersey Shore” variety but not as cogent nor nearly as entertaining. The last time I was there with a girlfriend, Jasmine Chang of “K-Town”  was sitting across from us. Her high-pitched, raspy voice on the show is really how she talks in real life. Go figure.

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If you want to feel like you’re at a Korean club …
Go to IOTA Coffee & Bakery. If “Gangnam Style” was your gateway to the wonderful world of K-Pop, indulge at IOTA. You’ll be greeted by a robot-like hostess with porcelain skin and a 90-degree bow who will then direct you to your seats. The waitress’ tinkling voice and perfect little steps will make you wonder if she and the staff are manufactured like a Korean edition of “Stepford Wives.” You may be scared. But soon, the white cafe’s surround-sound K-Pop will soothe you and the air-grinding, doll-like pop stars in the music videos flashing across the many TV screens will put you right at ease.

Another fist-pumping option is Caffe Bene, which is thus far the newest cafe in K-Town and is right across the street from IOTA. A famous Korean actress named Han Ye-Seul opened the cafe and if you’re lucky you might see the K-Drama star. Just a warning, these cafes are heavily populated by 1st generation Koreans, so if you’re not one, you will stand out like Kobe Bryant in rural Korea.

If you want to be waited on by a good-looking staff …
Go to Haus Dessert Boutique. It’s common knowledge that K-Town cafes frequently hire their waiters based on a certain thematic look. Some cafes are known to only hire guys with pre-Selena Justin Bieber hair, while others require rail-thin girls. This cafe, however has eye candy for both genders. Oh, and the food and drinks are fine, too.

 

As for the guy that tried to sweep me off my feet with all-you-can-eat, suffice it to say that there wasn’t a second date. (Over 30 years old and still living with the ‘rents? No thank you.) While I don’t recommend Korean BBQ for a first date, it’s fantastic for any other occasion or if you just want unlimited amounts of really good food. For a post on how to do Korean BBQ right, stay tuned. 🙂 

 

 

The best $30 I’ve ever spent

18 Dec

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I personally can’t think of a better way to spend a gloomy, rainy day than being in a 130-degree room sweating through your borrowed t-shirt. Unfortunately many others can’t either which is why Korean spas tend to be the most crowded on rainy days. I was told this by a woman I met in the 128-degree Salt Room. I find that lying next to a stranger on steaming hot pieces of salt, dripping in your sweat is the best way to break the ice.

She was 42 but looked a decade younger and was probably the best self-professed connoisseur of Korean spas in LA. While Wi Spa is the newest spa in k-town and therefore the largest with shiny facilities, she said Crystal Spa is a great option, too. Especially if what you’re searching for is peace, quiet and complete relaxation. She spent 10 hours at Crystal Spa the last time she was there. The reason why it’s so serene: No children allowed. On the other hand, the worst time to go to Wi Spa is on Friday nights when children come in for $5 a piece. Each spa has its own happy hour times and prices, so if you find yourself unemployed and languishing in your self-pitying hole of depression on an uneventful Tuesday then a half-off spa day might be in order. Not that I know anything about unemployment or depression …

Unaffected by either of those predicaments, this past Sunday, my bestie and I scheduled a much-needed girl time rendezvous at Wi Spa. We walked in at 2:30 p.m. and walked out at 7:30, feeling the happiest we have both felt in a long time. To best use your time at Wi Spa, you want to follow a certain order of events. If you’re new to Korean spas, I’m afraid there is something far worse than feeling lost and confused, and that’s feeling lost and confused, naked. But don’t fret, I’m here to break it down for you.

First, you’re going to be given a watch key that’s for your personal locker. Grab a spa t-shirt, shorts and a robe, then stop by the skin care store to pick up a face mask if you don’t have one already. Korean face masks are extremely convenient and varied. There are a hundred different types of face masks for different purposes. From collagen-stimulating to brightening, you’ll be able to find a mask that suits your skin’s particular needs. Then take all your items and new purchase to your locker where you’ll change into your spa shirt and shorts.

1. Sweat it out
Before you head on upstairs to the common co-ed floor, you want to remove all your makeup on your face so that you don’t clog up your pores when you’re sweating. Then grab a clean small towel. There are a variety of sauna rooms, all varying in temperature, from 128 to 231 degrees. We began in the Salt Room where we met the spa connoisseur who shared her life with us and gave us advice on how to spend our remaining 20s: Try everything and don’t ever give up your career. Understood. Remember that towel you picked up? You want to use it to cover the provided headrests. Who knows who last sweated there.

By the time we listened to her entire life story, I had thoroughly sweated through my shirt and couldn’t handle another second in the heat, so we bolted straight for the Ice Room, my favorite. After visiting the Clay Room, we decided to take a break and head on over for some snacks.

2. We’re actually Korean, we can’t order the chicken nuggets! 
Thanks to Groupon and an amazing PR team, Wi Spa now has an extremely multi-ethnic clientele. We were the only Koreans inside the cafe. Just know that while the Korean food is just fine at the spa cafe, it’s priced nearly double what it’s worth, considering that most options are common street food. We ordered an overpriced plate of spicy rice cake and talked for nearly an hour about our respective failed relationships. It was $10 therapy. Then we had just enough time to soak in the tubs before our scrub downs.

3. It’s time to disrobe
Just like the cold and hot rooms, there are cold and hot tubs. It’s now time to go back to your locker and remove all your clothes. If you’re shy, you can use the provided robe. We rinsed our bodies before plopping into one of the hot tubs. You want to soak your skin in the hot water to prep it for a thorough scrub down.

4. The best $30 I’ve ever spent
This isn’t for everyone, but this is also the best that Korean spas have to offer and your Korean spa experience would be amiss without it — the body scrub. You lie on a table where the masseuse/scrubber takes exfoliating hand mitts and scrubs every centimeter of your body, physically removing every molecule of dirt on your epidermis. The result? You feel reborn again as if you found Jesus. She then rubs you down with some oil, gives you a body massage, washes your hair and your face, then you’re off to go — all for a measly $30. I’ve never felt so refreshed.

5. Unwind and laugh 
There’s a whole slew of amenities that Korean spas offer for a flat entrance fee of $30 that I haven’t mentioned here. There are showers, saunas, and a computer section, along with a playpen for kids. But there is something to say for the least flashiest of these facilities, and that’s the waiting room. It’s a room partitioned to the side of the women’s floor that has a few couches and, better, a heated floor, where you can lie down and just unwind. Now that you’re completely clean and relaxed, this is the best time to grab a cup of coffee and wear your face mask, while watching a hilarious episode of Korean game shows.