Tastes Like the Sea

MALIBU, Calif. — I like watching my son Smartacus eat. He’s 18, and eats like a shark scarfing a lost baby seal.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she eats. Are they strong, are they meek, are they adventurous?

My daughters also eat with gusto, yet more strategically, planning a meal for weeks ahead, or driving weird places for weird experiences.

Like Malibu, for instance.

Which is how we ended up eating live sea urchin, in the place they call “The Bu.”

The stuff you or I scrape off the hulls of our tugboats…well, that’s what my daughters like to eat. Entrees with wiggly antennae, and several sets of eyes. A slippery membrane helps too. Flippers. Suction cups. Multiple tongues.

Look, this live sea urchin is good, don’t get me wrong. What they do here at Broad Street Oyster Company, at the end of a long alley in Malibu Village, is snap-crackle the live urchin in half. You eat the innards with a spoon, as you would a fine English custard.

This inner urchin is the color of carrots and tastes like the sea. In summer, everything I eat and drink tastes like the ocean, from briny oysters to salt-rimmed margaritas.

In summer, I eat like Neptune; I sleep like Falstaff.

They also serve a fine snapper ceviche here at Broad Street, which you scoop up with fried plantains, essentially a semi-sweet Caribbean potato chip.

Check out Broad Street if you can. It’s a little pricey, yet not insanely so (lunches about $25). You order at the counter, and then they summon you through an actual megaphone when it’s ready. Kind of like a Harvard-Yale game.

Takes about 15 minute to get your food. Then at picnic benches you eat. FYI, the best dining experiences in LA often take place at pine picnic tables. If you ever spot a tablecloth here in LA, run for the exits. You’re about to get robbed.

Nice up here. Whenever I think America might be a lost empire, I head to Malibu, which appears immune to the up-and-down swings of contemporary life, a Camelot of oily flipflops and cover girl moms.

And such culture!

Most everyone surfs here, and they retain the seawater in their hair for days after, which explains the ropey manes you see in the inhabitants.

I don’t know that Malibuians are more alive, but their hair certainly is – loaded with tiny shells, crab lungs and other offal of the sea.

Listen, if Malibu produced its own line of surf-scented shampoo, I would buy it. If I could live here, I would. In a hot second.

Anyway, the lovely and patient older daughter led us up this way, with the promise of a new oyster house, her little sidekick under her arm.

What a babe. Catty Cakes is on the picnic table too, watching with Orphan Annie eyes as we eat live sea urchin. She’s probably wondering: “How exactly did I end up with these people? Are they perhaps vikings?”

Catty Cakes, let’s set the record straight: You were born to vikings. We devour everything in our path. The family reunions are, at best, brawls (best to bring a sword).

The other day, my other daughter, Rapunzel, ordered lunch from that company that Gwyneth Paltrow runs, the one that produces sex toys and sun screen and Cobb salads.

As Rapunzel’s pal Abby noted, you have to admire anyone who can produce all those random things, even if you think Paltrow is a bit of a kook. A Goop kook.

Don’t even get me started on Paltrow’s crotch-scented candles. Can you imagine what Christmas is like at her house? Dear God.

Yet, if we were to pick a storybook princess to represent us at a storybook princess convention, we would have no choice but to send this odd golden girl. If you fed bits of the sun into a wood chipper, out would pop Paltrow. She is toCalifornia what Cleopatra was to Egypt.

Hail, Princess Moonbeam.

And she makes a damn fine Cobb salad, I can attest to that. Presumably, the sex toys are pretty good too, though I don’t generally mess around with that stuff. You could lose a finger.

Other than that, my California transformation is now complete. I’m eating live sea urchin in Malibu, among the braless and the tan.

And I’m liking it, mostly. I find service in Malibu to be almost always cheery and first rate, even in the beer joints and seafood shanties. While I pride myself in taking a generally snide view of things, Malibu almost always charms me naked.

Good food is such a yardstick, isn’t it? We plan vacations around it…weddings, even executions.

At a garden party the other night, I asked someone from Glendora to name the best restaurant in her town. I have never seen such a storm front of sadness sweep across a woman’s face. She couldn’t recommend a single place in Glendora, though I’m certain there are a few hidden gems. Or a food truck. A nice vending machine?

Meanwhile…

“Where does one find pie?” someone asked the other day.

I was taken with the lyrical cadence of the question. Were I the one asking, I’d probably have belched: “Yo, got a good pie joint?” or something knobby like that.

Instead, we have this stranger asking, on Facebook: “Where does one find pie?” which sounds like the beginnings of a British trilogy.

Well, where does one find pie?

Or broken martinis that look like little ice rinks? Or memorable meals in Monrovia? Or ceviche with flecks of snapper, served on Sierra-scented picnic tables along our crumbly, Crackerjack coastline?

Stick around, I’m always here for you, with weird food in weird places, accompanied by the cutest little restaurant critic in America.

Come on, Catty Cakes: We’ve got places to go.

Bravo to all the gin & tonic lovers who attended our Mid-Summer Night’s Scream last Saturday. We’d planned on 25 guests, would up with 50, and our hostess Michelle Oyler could not have been more of a trouper. The guests’ potluck food was amazing, the gin donations generous and inspired. Nice to clink glasses again, isn’t it? More of these events on the way. FYI, the recipe for the perfect martini (with an assist from Noel Coward): “Fill a glass with gin, then point it in the general direction of Italy.” Cheers!

9 thoughts on “Tastes Like the Sea

  1. How did those broken watermelon martinis work out? I still need to try one. I will take pie over urchins any day. Polly’s Pies is great. Enjoy your summer food fest. I love those big eyes on Catty Cakes, quietly drinking it all in, making mental notes no doubt, of which things she will try when she is old enough.

  2. Fun column again,sir. Ceviche? The best I’ve had comes from Coni Seafood (and made Jonathan Gold’s list), a mix of shrimp, mango, and a bit of zing. 2 locations: Inglewood and Centinela near Culver. Their entire menu is superb and not pricey.

  3. My favorite dry martini joke: well dressed gentleman (in 3-piece suit) walks into a bar and asked the bartender, “do you know how to make a very, very extra dry martini?” Bartender, playing along says, “no, tell me.” Guy says “gently pour the gin into the shaker, add ice but do not shake it!” Bartender follows instructions. “Now pour the iced gin into a chilled martini glass.” Bartender does as he is told. “Now,” the guy says “raise the glass to your lips and repeat the word ‘vermouth’.” Bartender raises the glass and says “vermouth.” “Not so loud! says the customer.

  4. Glendora is the home of The Donut Man, on historic Route 66, since 1972. Great fresh strawberry donuts! Family owned. Well worth a stop. Go hungry.

  5. Who doesn’t love to inhale Summer? And Summer is sand and salt, Cokes and malts, and all the other grand debris, with cold Chablis, beer that sweats, burgers, dogs, the sea’s sure bets. Exotic? Sure! You read it here? Open wide, inhale, my dear! I’m not a foodie, but I know, Erskine’s eats the way to go.. Bottoms up, on with the show…

  6. Need my fish cooked ! As beer cold !
    Have not heard anything about fang !
    Is it still trapped in back room ???
    Free fang
    Eat tacos

  7. Chris,
    You want pie?! I got your pie right here: Bake ‘n’ Broil on Atlantic in Long Beach. For the treat of a lifetime you must try the Lemon Lush pie. Please do not share this with too many others who have not already fallen for it or into it.

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