Dinner with an ATF Agent

The Alibi Room

12236 W Washington Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90066
(310) 390-9300

About a year ago, around 5 am, on a sleepy residential street in Venice, flash grenades were tossed and bullets were fired. Awoken by this warfare, we dropped to the ground, scared of wild bullets soaring through open windows into our skulls. Crawling to the front window, we saw our street lined with men dressed in bulletproof vests, holding very deadly weapons. Written on the back of their uniforms in bold, yellow lettering was: ATF.

Little did we know that in less than a year we would be having dinner with one of the 75 ATF agents that had raided the home directly across the street from ours that very night. The place where 80% of The Venice Shoreline Crypt’s drug trafficking took place.

Meet Mr. X. He is a bona fide badass.

We met him at the very appropriate Alibi Room in Culver City. This place used to be the locals dive bar until it was turned into hip-ville in true Culver City form. Then it became popular overnight when the infamous Kogi BBQ Truck decided to take a permanent parking spot in the kitchen.

For those of you who live under a rock, this social-networking juggernaut led people to chase a truck via Twitter all over Los Angeles in hopes of standing in a two-hour line to taste the culinary brilliance of Korean BBQ served upon a Mexican taco. It lives up to the hype and keeps the culinary gurus on the road to success. Literally. Chase the dream here.

Anyways, we arrived on a Friday night and snagged a seat, which is damn near impossible anytime, day or night. The place looks like the Brig on Abbott, with minimal décor and a sleek, industrial feel. They’ve got a decent selection of beers, a poor selection of wines and a list of sweet, chick-approved cocktails. I recommend the Telegraph Ale, but not the Sweet Minced Tea. But hey, it’s a full bar, so get whatever the hell you want.

As we sipped on our libations we asked the first stupid question of many.

Q: What the hell does ATF stand for?

A: Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

OH, riiiiight. We continued our interrogation, asking him what it was that made him want to get into this field in the first place. He told us that it was curiosity more than anything. As a kid, he’d always wanted to know what was really going on what was happening on the inside. So he followed the rabbit hole to a government job.

But it wasn’t as simple as filling out an application: he had to become an agent. He had to pass a test with an 80% fail rate. Then he had to wait for 9 long months in North Carolina where he worked as a mortgage broker, ripping people off. Then 9 months later Mr. X was sent to LA where his hair was ripped from his head, blood was drawn from his veins, and urine drained from his manhood, all while strapped to a polygraph to catch what the secretions couldn’t. They dug deep looking for an old crack habit or the experimental days of burning man, but were unsuccessful. Turns out, Mr. X has never touched a drug in his life. Never smoked the dope, never hit the hard stuff unlike his company. But that was all about to change with some of the best junk we’ve ever touched: Kogi.

The infamous tacos that made the Kogi coach an instant fame with the public was an instant hit with us. You can get short rib, spicy BBQ chicken, or spicy pork tacos, and we did. Yes, all of the above. The juicy, marinated meats where topped with diced onions, chopped cabbage, shredded cheese, and a spicy, creamy sauce. One bite of these and all the twittering nonsense makes sense.

We also ordered the Kimchi Quesadillas and quickly realized why we hadn’t heard much about them. The Kogi-second-fiddle tasted like something you forgot about in the microwave after a long night of drinking. Flavorless cheese was hardened between dry, stiff tortillas. And we’re not even sure that there was even kimchi in it. The green sauce doused on top didn’t lend much help either.

We chocked it up to being the vegetarian option on Chef Roy’s “who the fuck cares about vegetarians” menu.

But for all you Quesadilla queens, don’t worry. The Kimchi Quesadilla has a brother called the Black Jack Quesadilla, and it got the good genes. It’s stuffed with chunks of flesh and mercy, and we’ve had enjoyed it many drunken nights since.

Well into our first night of Kogi BBQ, we asked Mr. X about his first night on the job. Apparently there’s not much of an orientation process, because Mr. X was quickly thrown into the deep end. The deep end of a pool filled with naked meth-heads and heavy artillery.

His first day on the job took him to a drug bust in South Central. They were serving a warrant at a residence that was selling guns and meth out of the back of the house. His boss thought it’d be a good learning experience if he joined.

So he got briefed, got dressed in goggles and a bulletproof vest, and got in the van. His boss handed him his back-up gun, a 5 round revolver, just in case. This if course was just the case.

They tore threw the back gate and immediately gassed four pit bulls while people scrambled out of a small plywood house, built in the back yard. It was a second whorehouse. The main house, and main whorehouse, was covered in cheap porno tapped to the walls. Mr. X said the whole place was “sticky.”

Naked criminals scattered in every direction, and training mode took over as a man tried to flee. Mr. X threw him to the ground, arrested his naked ass, and read him his rights (all in Spanish no less). This process was repeated until there were enough perps to fill a wagon, and they headed home. Mr. X had officially seen what it was like on the inside.

This was the first day of his super-hero career. And time for our second course.

We ordered Kogi Sliders and French Fries. The Sliders were out of this world and soon out of sight. Like the tacos, you could order short rib, spicy BBQ chicken, or spicy pork and again, we ordered all three. Topped with cheese, shredded lettuce and a sesame mayo served between soft, butter-kissed egg buns, these were delicious.

And though it’s probably not in our best interest to contradict the Twitterati, we thought these were better than the famous tacos. In fact, they were so good, that for the first time in Dinner with a Stranger history, we went back for another round of the same thing...which we promptly crushed.

Mr. X may have to take our word for it, but the meat high from these tiny burgers was as good as any drug we’ve partaken. And fries kept it coming. They were light, crispy and served with a mayo and Siracha-spiked ketchup that had us twitching and licking our gums.

As we came down, we attempted to talk shop with Mr. X by using the knowledge that we’d accrued from CSI Las Vegas, CSI New York, CSI Miami, CSI Los Angeles and CSI Des Moines. But it didn’t take long for us to realize that we’d sounded like CBS, yet again.

So we’d like to take a minute to set the record straight, for you own good:

MYTH: You can get fingerprints off a gun.

Turns out gun manufacturers aren’t just good at helping you shoot people. They’re also good at helping you get away with it. Nearly every gun on the market is manufactured with a certain type of metal that repels oils. So it’s damn near impossible to lift a print. Sorry, but the truth is, it takes more than a snarky goth chick with glasses and braids to dust a gun and catch the bad guy.

MYTH: You can just wiretap any phone.

Nope. Not even a hard-core criminals. Well, you can but not like Sully does. To get a wiretap you have to get a crazy warrant and the approval of a DA and a district court judge. It’s near impossible. Plus, preparing the nearly 200 page case alone usually take two years plus.

MYTH: No one wants to be a nark.

There are professional informants. It’s a fucking career, actually. And a lot of people make a lot of money doing it. They move to the hoods, they join the gang, they hustle, but all for a fee. Some narks settle for as much as 10% of any monetary bust they’re involved in.

MYTH: Agents pocket some of the money or drugs in a bust.

Cops maybe. LA cops, probably. But agents never. At the federal level, evidence is meticulously booked, checked and rechecked. It’s impossible to get away with.

MYTH: The ATF hates the cops.

Nope. They need em’. The LAPD knows all the folks in the hood. And the LAPD likes the ATF cause they can sentence crooks for longer under the federal law.

MYTH: The Bloodz and Cripz run gangland.

That was once the case. But today, they’ve largely taken a back seat to the booming number of Latin gangs that have taken hold in most parts of the Southern US.

It all started about 20 years ago when Mexican inmates bonded together to protect their small community from the whites, blacks, and guards. They called themselves the Mexican Mafia, or El Eme (Spanish for the letter “m”). They have since taken over the prison system and the streets to become one of the most highly-organized and dangerous gangs in the world.

By the time we finished picking Mr. X’s brain and fulfilling years worth of comic book fantasies, it was nearly closing time. The lights were on, the pints were drained and around us laid a total of 13 Kogi baskets with little more than cabbage bits and kimchi-stained napkin balls inside.

Some would call it a binge, but if you’ve tasted Kogi BBQ before, you know it’s more of a bender. It's a sweet sensation that leaves you hungry for more as soon as you put down the last bite. And suffice it to say, we’ll never forget our first time.

If you haven’t tried Kogi at the Alibi Room before, we’d recommend it... particularly if you can score some with an ATF agent.

Bar Marmont at the Chateau Marmont
8221 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 650-1040

We met Giles at Bar Marmont, a favorite watering hole and public execution spot for Lindsey Lohan, Vince Vaughn, Matt Dillon, Owen Wilson, Elijah Wood (or is it Toby Maguire?), and countless other Hollywood types. Here, underneath a flock of actual butterflies meticulously pinned to the ceiling, we hoped to find the Dinner with a Papparazzi Holy Trinity: good food, good drink, and a good old-fashioned celebrity paparazzi standoff.

I guess 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

He wasn’t at all what you’d expect. No cargo shorts. No backwards hat. No bouquet of cameras around his neck. No, there was nothing TMZ about him at all. You see, Giles isn’t your typical paparazzi; a fact that he solidified right off the bat when we asked him where his trusty camera was.
Giles: “I’m off the clock.”
You may wonder what kind of self-respecting paparazzi is ever off the clock? Well, as we would learn over the course of our dinner, the self-respecting kind.

And, on that note, since we were all off the clock, we ordered some drinks.

Now, normally we stick to reviewing food and people. But Bar Marmont has a reputation for pouring a damn good cocktail. And this night was no exception.

Giles ordered a gin & tonic. And though that sounds simple, like soup to a chef, gin & tonic is one of those true tests of a barman’s hand. This one did not disappoint. We ordered a scotch neat, which was a scotch neat, and their famous Calvados Sidecar, a sweet libation that was like liquid Lemon Head. i.e. delicious candy.

We raised our respective glasses and got down to business.

Giles was actually born in England to American parents, and, if you listen closely, you can still hear the ghost of a British accent. His dad was in the Air Force, so by the time he was starting to grow hair in funny places, he had seen the world. England, New York, the Midwest, Alaska, and eventually Los Angeles, where he’s been for the better part of two decades.

He, like most, chased his dreams of writing and production to the Promised Land. And, like many, he ended up attending, and eventually, planning parties instead.

He didn’t know it at the time but it was this elbow rubbing and flesh pressing that would eventually establish a network of contacts and leads for a career in celebrity photography. His career started innocently enough with a buddy who needed another person to man a camcorder. His career started with queen of slow-motion running, Pamela Anderson.

And, speaking of juicy, overstuffed treats, our appetizers arrived just in time. We started with their Chatcuterie, which is just fancy word for the process of preserving meats, usually pork,that is served on a cheese board. Marmont’s featured thin slices of speck, topped with cuts of sharp Parmesan cheese, soft, ripe figs and a pile of spicy arugula, drizzled in a sweet balsamic reduction. It was one of the best we’ve had, and the figs made a pleasantly surprising addition that complimented the Chatcuterie and the Pamela Anderson story perfectly.

Apparently, Giles had been recruited by his friend to operate a video camera while he snapped pictures of the Baywatch vixen. As we stuffed our faces with animal products, we asked him when he knew he had become a paparazzi. In return, we got the best sound byte of the evening:

“While I was shooting Pam, she looked right at me and said, ‘Don’t you have anything better you do, you lowlife fuck?’ And, well, I didn’t. That’s when I knew I had found my calling.
Just as we wrapped up Chapter 1, our Oxtail Bruschetta arrived. The juicy ox meat was piled high on a toasted baguette that also doubled as a sponge. It was topped with a heaping portion of sautéed parsley and caramelized, red onions drenched in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The flavor was great, but it wasn’t long before the crispy toast became a soggy mess.

Last, and definitely least, came the crispy ricotta meatballs. These fried balls looked like Long John Silver’s hush puppies tasted, well, worse. And after biting into one of the fried balls, it was confirmed: Ricotta isn’t meant to be fried. We tried to create flavor in the flavorless bites by dunking it in the sweet Chile sauce that accompanied, but it was hopeless…much like the entire dish. Not worth your stomach’s real estate.

After the worst appetizer of the night, we had to ask the burning question: who’s the worst? The biggest asshole in Hollywood? We assumed it would be our nemesis, Harrison Ford, but again, we got the last answer we were expecting.

That’s right: Helen Cunt (do you mean Hunt?). One of the most beloved female leads of our time is an uppity bitch.

The list of usual suspects went on from there. Pierce Brosnan, Sean Penn, Screech, etc. But, on the bright side, Hugh Jackman is apparently a kitten. Don’t believe everything you see in X-Men (you know who you are). And many other Tinseltowners, believe it or not, relish the opportunity to have a photo snapped. The smart ones, as Giles explains, realize that their celebrity status hinges on their maintaining a spot in the public eye.

Many of these stars and starlets constantly update their locations on Twitter or facebook while some even call Giles directly. And for those less enterprising celebrities, there’s more than enough people willing to tip off the cameramen. Giles says he gets dozens leads everyday from valet guys, bus boys, limo drivers, flight attendants, taxi drivers and anyone who wants to make a cool 100 bucks just for picking up the phone.

But, as Giles explains, all the leads in the world are no replacement for having the eye. He spends most of his days driving around and spotting the celebrities that most of us disregard as normal people- the ones that we Angelinos walk right past everyday without so much as batting an eye. And, believe it or not, a picture of a celebrity coming out of a store or jogging along the PCH is worth almost as much as an Emma Watson upskirt.

But don’t be fooled. It’s not all casually chasing leads. No, just as the main course arrived, Giles geared up to regale us with a story of near-death paparazzing. But, first things first….

We started with the special of the night: a gourmet pizza topped with thick slices of tomatoes, dollops of goat cheese, caramelized onions, fried artichokes, sweet figs and chorizo. The pizza wasn’t thick but it wasn’t thin. It wasn’t sweet, but it wasn’t savory. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. It just was.

If you want a flatbread, just do yourself a favor and go to Ford’s Filling Station. You won’t be disappointed.

Anyway, next came the Halibut, which, if you recall, is a white fish. However, when the almond crusted halibut arrived, it was pink. We thought it was salmon but after forking it open, we saw it’s flakey, white flesh. It was simple and light, free of the usual butter bath most fish take at other restaurants. It was topped with very novel grilled peaches. They were delicious and complimented the fish perfectly.

Lastly came Giles’s roasted chicken, which wasn’t roasted. That bitch was fried, but this is one bait and switch I could get used to. It was delicious. The mashed potatoes housed a pool of butter and the fried Kale acted as a great vegetable placebo. It was hands down the best entrée of the bunch and, really, something worth going back for.

As we slowly ate his chicken, Giles proceeded to tell us the most exciting tale of espionage, Mexican Federales, gunships and Brad Pitt we’ve heard outside the Oceans franchise.

Giles was in Mexico trying to sneak into a sea-side resort where Brad Pitt and then gf Jennifer Aniston were vacationing when he inadvertently trespassed on Mexican Military property. He was quickly apprehended by the Federale and suspected of espionage. After much questioning of what I assume was aggressive water boarding, he was released.

But wait, there’s more.

Instead of cutting his losses and returning to the US, he instead rented a boat and returned to the scene. But this didn’t fool the crafty Federale. He was chased for over an hour across the Gulf of Mexico by Mexican gunships. They were eventually caught. And while their lives were spared, their film didn’t have the same fate. Giles stood and watched as everything he put his life on the line for was tossed into the ocean.

CLICK HERE to help yourself visualize this struggle.

As we swapped war stories and cleaned our plates, our waitress dropped off the dessert menu and a recommendation. She told us that the Salty Pistachio Crumble came to their exec chef, Carolyn Spence, in a dream. When she woke up, she proceeded to spend the entire day troubleshooting and perfecting the recipe. Who were we to turn down a serendipitous desert?

Needless to say, it was dreamy. The moist, pistachio-flavored bunt cake was rich and dense in a good way, while the pistachio flavored gelato topping it was rich and heavy, also in a good way. The pile was drizzle with delightfully thick pistachio syrup that left you with an incredible sweet, salty, orgasmic taste after every bite.
It was dessert perfect.

Eat this, people.

The perfect dessert was the perfect ending to one of the most perfect “Dinner With A Stranger” dinners we’ve had yet. Giles was everything we didn’t expect. And it was delightful. We were hoping to get the stereotype and, again, our plans were foiled. Instead we left dinner with a friend.

While we didn’t have a celebrity run-in, we did find the Holy Trinity: good food, good drink and good company.

Dinner (And A Show) With A Magician
Border Grill
1445 4th St

Santa Monica, CA 90401

This is the guy who can hold the attention of a sugar-fed 9 year old without a morning or afternoon dose of Ritalin. Or both. This guy can make an Astronaut question gravity and baffle a billionaire. This guy knows all the tricks. This is Steve. He’s a magician.

We found Steve at Magicopolis, right in the heart of Santa Monica, the least magical place on Earth. It turns out that Steve isn’t just a magician here, he’s the owner. And, to avoid having to do any magic during our dinner, he instead invited us to his magic show before hand. And what kind of monster would turn down free magic?

We arrived around 8pm on a Saturday night and headed to the bar for a little pre-show, pre-game. Yes, that’s not a typo. They have an actual bar at Magicopolis that may be one of the best hidden gems in Santa Monica. Here, even if you don’t go to the show, you can enjoy a comedian slash bartender performing magic trick, cracking wise jokes and serving up whatever particular poison you desire.

I know it isn’t our territory, but if this were Yelp we’d give it 5 stars or some shit. Go do this. Every Saturday night at 10 o’clock at The Bar Show.

Anyway, enough shout outs. After watching the lovely Eric Tait hassle a man about some missing tip money, which he quickly pulled out of the guy’s ear (typical), we topped off our red keg cups filled with cheap merlot and headed in to take our seats. For two blissful hours we ooed and awed over what was less of a magic show and more of a well-written, comedic piece centered around the art of magic. I highly recommend this dish.

After Steve’s finale escape from some metal chains milli-seconds before a band of sharp, metal spikes brought him to a bloody, punctured death, we headed across the street to Susan Feniger’s Border Grill.

The modern (perhaps), upscale (hardly), hip (subjective) cantina had walls covered in red and blue-faced amigos drunk off freedom and angry Luchadores, and candles featuring dead, Catholic saints flickered on the mesa-tops. theme. You know, the ones you can buy at Vons for when the power goes out or when you’re constructing a Michael Jackson shrine?

We got seated and looked to the endless list of specialty cocktails to keep up the buzz. We were recommended the Mojito by Steve (who has recently stopped drinking) and not recommended the sparkling Sangria by the waiter (who wanted to start drinking). We ordered both drinks and later confirmed both opinions reputable.

They delivered a basket of chips glistening in grease, giving the shakers worth of salt we shook on ‘em a place to stick. And while most joints do salsa solo, a trifecta of complimentary smoked chipotle, green chili, and a mild fresca salsas accompanied.

However, the non-complimentary guacamole we ordered up looked better than it tasted. It was served on an edible plate (a fried tortilla) over a palate of endive spears and a dollop of refried beans. But like all guac, it was worthy enough to eat.

And with nothing left in the “bottomless” basket to scoop the remains, we got the scoop on how Steve got into magic. Turns out, his pops started as a radio DJ up in the San Fran area and became a game show host in the late 40’s-- the kind that rewarded screaming housewives with frozen packs of peas. He started picking up some tricks on set and wound up performing them for the audience between commercials.

Both of his parents were performers and writers and claimed responsibility for “My Favorite Martians” and many of the early Tarzan scripts. After Steve was born, they left the bay and took off for the Valley where he grew up. And after a long career in writing and performing, his father began managing The Magic Castle. Yep. The one you must be a member of or get invited to. The one that requires a password to get into. The word Steve has and is willing to give to us. Jealous much?

Just as our eyes swelled in excitement, our mouths began to water at the appetizers that magically appeared out of heavy grease. The shrimp ceviche was a medley of sea meat, cucumbers, corn and peppers all tossed in a citrus juice with a hint of cilantro, and topped off with a fan of avocado slices. It was a light start to a very heavy order.

Next, we grabbed for the green corn tamales that were more like corn pudding surprise wrapped in a husk. Although it lacked the mealy texture and density of the typical tamale, it did not lack in flavor. It was soup-ely delicious, especially with the hefty dollop of sour cream and salsa fresca served on top.

And the lamb tacos, they were b-AAAAAA-d ass. The tender meat definitely fell off the bone straight onto the corn tortilla, ready to be topped with poblano peppers, manchego cheese and drizzled in sweet adobo sauce. This two-taco dish is something you don’t want to split, especially into fours.

But, as we reluctantly divvied up the apps, we prodded Steve more about his magical beginnings. He told us that he started splitting the deck at the time magic was still dormant. He hung around The Magic Castle (the only place of its kind at the time) convincing Vaudeville guys sitting around doing nothing to teach him their tricks. Some of them are now legends in the trade. Most noteably, Guy Vernon, the great card shark of Kansas City, who was tracked down by card counting gamblers in pursuit of his quick, secretive maneuvers.

Steve finished high school and…

“Well I was going to go to college but instead I snorted tablespoons of white powder and made bouquets of marijuana.”

Yep. Steve got involved in what he called Magical Drug Acts. (UM. Yes please) His troop, Flash Cadillac, toured the nation visiting colleges, putting on acts combining magic and drugs. You could say his college experience was comparable to many American grads, just without all the classes and homework.

Then, just as our munchies were coming back, the next round of eats arrives.

Now we’re nowhere near vegetarianism (no thanks to Animal’s, eat meat or get lost menu) but if I were, the Border Vegetable Platter might bring solace to my misery. The creamed corn, spiced squash, and the braised fennel were just a few of the flavorful options among many that are sure to please both veggies and flesh eaters alike.

The Cochinita Pibil was supposedly a slow-roasted pork cooked in an orange, cinnamon sauce served with rice, beans, and roasted plantains. And while there was rice, beans, and two mushy plantains, we couldn’t find any damn oink in the orange sauce. Either Steve was practicing some "pork-slide-of-hand" or Border Grill 86ed the swine.

Much like Steve 86ed “the fun yet unruly drug-filled days” to hang his top hat in Aspen, Colorado. There he became a magic bartender and finally bankrolled enough to move to the East coast and start his own theatre act. And, as magic’s popularity started to rise, so did Steve. For the next 20 years, Steve traveled the world, performing in comedy houses, casinos, and clubs. That is, until he ran into some of life’s strange magic. He met a woman. The woman he’s called his wife for 13 years now. And that undeniable magic forced this nomadic magician to settle down.

Yea. Yea. I know what you’re thinking: the ole ball and chain does it again… but it’s quite the opposite actually. We owe this magical love connection for bringing us Magicopolis, Santa Monica’s very own magic theatre. Miss Steve not only helped write many of the acts, she used to star in them as the beautiful assistant.

But Steve is still the biggest star of the show. He’s constantly tweaking and fine-tuning his surprisingly wonderous acts. He’s always working on new tricks, which we are told take years to perfect. In fact, to introduce a new trick or a skit into the show takes months to years. And because of the hardship from practice to mastery, Steve doesn’t even have an understudy to help perform the 250 shows each year. Which means when Steve’s on vacation, so is the magic of Santa Monica.

And apparently we also hit Border Grille on a night when the Chicken Chilaquiles chef was also on vacation. Expecting to get a “cheesy chicken chip casserole”, we instead got dry, burnt chicken, sitting on beans dosed in various salsas, with a few chips on the side of the plate doused in some white cream. Disappointment on a plate.

But our dinner still ended on a high note known as the Lamb Sirloin. It was marinated in a pomegranate which let the gamey flavor of meat battle it out with the sweet citrus flavor. It also came with quinoa (pronounced Keen Wa for those of you who don’t practice yoga) and a deep-fried kale leaf. Who knew a shrub could taste so damn delicious or a Mexican joint could cook up any meat beside chorizo.

There were many surprises that night. Some good (every other dish) and some bad (every other dish). But most surprisingly, who knew that you could find good magic in Santa Monica and even better company?

Here’s to hoping Steve doesn’t get impaled by dozens of sharpened metal spikes before you get a chance to go see him.



Father's Office.
1018 Montana Ave.
Santa Monica, CA

Scientology was created by an American science fiction writer named L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s. Father’s Office is the most recent venture of a South Korea-born chef and
restaurateur named San Yoon.

At first glance, it may seem like the two don’t have much in common.

But, really, the resemblance is uncanny.

In their respectively short existences, 50 years for a religion and two years for a restaurant, they’ve both amassed quite a following. Scientology, with 8 million members and Father’s Office with locations in Santa Monica and now even the mysterious Culver City.

Pilgrims come from far and wide to worship both. Each has a pretty considerable price of entry and I’m pretty sure both have sweet potato fries, upon request.

But, we all needed some clarification, especially on the last point. And after many ignored emails, awkward cold calls, and fruitless visits to “reading rooms,” we finally found Vikki. A believer in both Scientology and Father’s Office, she agreed to join us for a little dinner and debunking.

Walking up Montana Ave., past the dozens of boutiques, pretentious eateries, designer strollers and designer babies, we see the Father’s Office’s sign. It looks like something more at home on Mayberry Main St. than Montana Ave. But we’d soon learn that it’s just the first of many meticulously-crafted contractions.

We arrived at Father’s Office early to secure one of the very few first-come, first-serve tables. We seated ourselves, as there’s no hostess, studied the chalkboard, as there are no menus, and headed to the bar of libations as there are no waiters. There we discovered one of the finest walls of taps in town. A truly refreshing site considering that we're in a city that considers Heineken a microbrew.

We ordered a few pints of Arrogant Bastard and sat wondering what to expect from our meal and our company: a casually formal burger joint and an unorthodox orthodox.

Then, a moment later, your granny walked in. Well, pretty much.

Vikki was a soft-spoken, older gal with a smile from ear to ear. Jovial and strikingly not bat-shit crazy.

We ordered a water for her (she doesn’t drink), a couple more brews for ourselves and immediately dove into the minimal menu, asking Vikki if she had any favorites. We expected her to say the same thing everyone says:

“You HAVE to try the burger. It’s the best burger in Los Angeles. Maybe the world. ( insert foodgasm moans and uncontrollable quivering ).”

But, surprisingly, Vikki gasmed over of the Organic Beet Salad. Turns out, the woman that chose the burger joint with brew pub doesn’t eat red meat or drink. Go figure. It’s a good thing we do.

Squeezing up to the bar, now packed (picture any bar within 6 miles of UCLA, Thursday night, finals week, $4 Long Islands, “Ladies Night,” DJ Douchenozel spinning), and placed our order. An Organic Beet Salad, Spanish Mushrooms, an infamous Office Burger and Sweet Potato Fries “A La Cart.”

As we returned to the table, Vikki asked the question first, “Why Scientologist?”

We replied, “ditto.”

Turns out, she wasn’t raised as a Scientologist. Quite the opposite actually. Her family had dabbled in this religion and that, but it never really stuck. She said that even though it has now become her life, religion it wasn’t a big part of her upbringing.

Her religion was skiing.

Vikki grew up in Lake Tahoe, and spent much of her youth worshiping powder and bowing to the iron cross. She started competing at an early age and by the time she was a teen, she was semi-pro. And, just a few short years later, Vikki became a member on the US National Ski Team.

By the age of 25, Vikki was an Olympian. But her champion status changed, right around the time the champinones arrived. As we dug into an earthen pot of mushrooms, Vikki told us about the day that everything changed. She had a terrible crash during a qualifying event, tumbling all the way down the mountain and tearing all the ligaments in her right knee. When she finally came to a stop, so did her professional skiing career.

But, on the bright side, the horribly tragic story was perfectly complimented by the beautifully sautéed Spanish Mushrooms. The balance of garlic, herbs, vinegar and olive oil was spot on. The best tapas mushrooms we’ve had this side of Sevilla.

Next came the Sweet Potato “A La Cart,” and the quote marks finally started to make sense (see picture). They came with a side of blue cheese aioli and a friendly reminder that there is no ketchup. Yep. You heard right. By law, they can refuse you service and ketchup. No substitutions. And absolutely no goddamn ketchup. If Father’s office was a religion this would be a commandment.

Anyway, as we dug into the delicious, garlicky tubers, served in what would be every bums dream cart, we dug further into Vikki. That's when we found out that after years of representing her country on the slopes, she decided to protest against it.

Yep. Vikki went hippie. And not just the flowery-acid-tripping-moccasin-wearing hippie. This was the top of the line. The dank dank. The urple of all purple. The grade A-anti-afghani-hippie shit. She camped out on the hill in Berkeley and spent the next decade fighting the man. She protested, sat in, striked, lobbied, burnt bras, even chained herself to fences and tanks. She was trying to stop the war and looking to find a purpose.

It turns out Purpose is sold at books stores across the nation, in hard or paper back. Dianetics, by L. Ron Hubbard. The book that lays the foundation of Scientology.

Just as we were getting to the juicy part, our main courses arrived. And speaking of getting to the juicy part, the Office Burger. The rare, dry-aged beef, filled with magical juices of a cooked cow was topped with caramelized onions, apple wood bacon compote, gruyere, Maytag blue cheese and arugula. Yes, there are no substitutions and no ketchup people. And rightfully so. This is enough to make any veggie zealot question their allegiances.

And Vikki’s towering Organic Beet Salad was also beautiful (for a salad). The vibrant reds and greens were stunning and the generous topping of cabrales blue cheese, walnuts, aged jerez vinaigrette, and pumpkin seed oil made a very well-composed dish (for a salad).

But lucky for us, Vikki shared her Beet Salad as openly as she shared her life story. Both simple and yet full of flavor. Over bites of the subtly balanced sweet yet sour beets and over-powering aged blue crumbles, we got back to the main course: Scientology.

Vikki, along with many of her hippie friends, found a smooth transition into Scientology as their core beliefs were ultimately the same. She told us that, regardless of practice, she had always believed that a sound, clear mind is the most important thing that a person can have. For her, Scientology was something she had always practiced, one way or another.

So Vikki stopped digging for drugs in cow shit and started paying her taxes. And over the last few decades, Vikki, along with her husband, have both made Scientology their work as well as their religion. They specialize in counseling people addicted to drugs and alcohol. Together they travel the globe helping set up free rehabilitation facilities and Scientology start-ups. Oh yeah, and they’ve been known to hit the streets to test some stress in their day and still do.

And as much as it stresses me to say it, I will. This famous LA burger joint doesn't house LA's Best Burger. Good, yes. But it didn't make us want to jump up and down in our chairs and profess our love for it on national television. And while the Office Burger does justified the right to deny you any chance at tarnishing its yummy, troubleshot beef and bun with a bottle of Heinz, better burgers are out there. Your perfect patty is awaiting you at Hinano and or The Counter, with whatever condiment your heart desires.

Anywho, as dinner came to a close, we only had one questions left:

Q: If you could change one misconception about Scientology, what would it be?

A: Don’t believe everything you see on South Park.

Words to live by.

We paid our tab at the bar and walked outside, the sign and ourselves now more illuminated than when we walked in. We shook Vikki’s hand at first, but couldn’t help but hug her goodbye and thank her for one of the most genuine Dinners with a Stranger we’ve ever had.

We all learned something that night. Whether it’s a burger joint without the best burger or a Scientologist who is remarkably unremarkable, don’t judge a book by its cover. Or a menu… Have a taste for yourself.


The Prospector
2400 East 7th St.
Long Beach, CA

If you walked past him on the street or saw him in a mattress store, you probably wouldn’t notice him. But if you boated past him a mile off the pacific shoreline (apparently that’s the unspoken rule) or happened to stumble onto one of California’s “special beaches,” you’d see him and all of his droopy, middle-aged glory.

This is Michael. He’s a nudist…Amongst other things.

There’s a reason Michael’s favorite joint, The Prospector, is a Long Beach icon. Ironically, maybe, it’s not very hard to unearth. Outside, it’s exactly what you’d expect a restaurant called The Prospector to look like-A John Wayne wet dream. Every inch of brick and mortar is covered in pictures of lonely cowboys out on the range, with no one to keep them company but their trusty steeds. Inside, a dozen or so toothless regulars are tethered to the bar. Their heads hang inches above draft specials, while other drunks toss darts or suck on each other’s faces in the dark corners.

This place is a proper dive…ie- there isn’t a hipster in sight.

As our eyes slowly adjusted to the dark room and darker element, we saw a sign that said “DINING ROOM” and headed for it. We entered a room of fake wood paneling covered in animal heads and anything to do with the cavalry. We spotted our guests, sitting at a lopsided table surrounded by four mismatched chairs, eating from a complimentary dish of chilled relish and veggies. They were almost fully clothed!

As we walked up, we caught the tail end of a conversation that even my imagination isn’t wondrous enough to conceive. Michael’s stern-faced wife looked him dead in the eyes and said…
“I want the coffins out of my living room, Michael!”
Their attention then turned to us and we introduced ourselves to Michael and his wife, Lorraine. We proceeded to sit down and pry.

We soon find out that Michael is somewhat of an investor. A coffin investor. He currently has six coffins lying around the house, accruing value and pissing off Lorraine. His most prized piece is the oversized casket, custom ordered by a Samoan family to fit their 580-pound uncle, sitting in her entryway. And, just when we were about to find out how the hell he acquired all these caskets, our waitress arrived.

She’s a 70-year-old with a red-dye-job-fading-pink-livin’-on-two-packs-of-Pall Malls-a –day-since-she-was-7 type gal. Tapping her pencil on a pad, we hurried to decide, asking Michael about his favorites. He told us he used to come here for the frog legs, before he met Lorraine. So with no help from him, we turned to the waitress, who’d apparently never heard this question in her life.

To avoid the follow up glare, we ordered two of the Tuesday night specials.

And before she even left, a bus boy delivered our first course: “The Prospector’s Famous Soup.” We’re still not sure what kind it was, or where this fame aspired from, but we can tell you that it had some corn in it. And it may or may not have had a celery element.

After two bland slurps (that’s what she said), we got back to finding out how he got a hold of all them caskets.

Turns out, Michael is a mechanic at a cemetery. What does this entail, you may wonder? Well, apparently over 100 pieces of machinery. Yep, he fixes the limos, the golf carts, the hearse, the plows, the ovens, casket hinges, toilets…anything to do with anything in the cemetery.

The weirdest experience had to do with a family moving out of state, who wanted to take their loved one with them. You know, I can understand uprooting an Oak tree your kids planted 20 years back, but uprooting crazy Aunt June? Anyways, they can. Michael assisted, taking a blowtorch to the rusted shut casket to help get her out. Yep. This is actually legal. If you’re the head of someone’s estate, you are in control of everything, including their rotting corpse.

Oh, and I got the answer to the question you’re dying to know but you’d never ask…
“The bodies are like jelly. Jelly mixed with bones. And it stinks near awful!”
Oddly enough, the “freshies” (buried in the last 3 yrs) are usually still recognizable due to embalming, but much longer and you get the “jellies”. And because it’s illegal to transport the bodies in caskets, already buried (wtf?) Michael scoops up the “jelly” into a plastic bag and hands it over.

I looked down at our second course, a standard dinner salad of ice berg lettuce, topped with shredded carrots and 3 cherry tomatoes, and pushed it aside as the Italian dressing turned into the jelly of an aging cadaver. With no visible rust or rot, I’m guessing the salad probably tasted fine. You can be the judge, though.

We noticed the effects of the dinner conversation and changed gears, asking the couple about their craving for nudity. Michael told us he was born with it while Lorraine told us she’d been tricked into it. Apparently, Michael took Lorraine for a weekend vacation, which was coincidentally on the same beach his nudist club frequents. He conveniently left that tiny detail out.

Since then, Michael has been able to get her out of her clothes and into nudity. Together they even formed AANRF: The American Association for Natural Family Recreation. (Click to see what our diners look like naked) And rest assured, Michael isn’t just a member, he’s the President.

AANRF is a nudist club made up of 6 families and one teenager (well, sort of). She’s still begging mom to sign the permission slip. The club takes Michael’s boat out and visits clothing-optional resorts around the Botox-required state of California. Their most frequented spot is Deer Park Resort, where Michael swears they serve the best spaghetti he’s ever tasted. And speaking of food, our entrees arrived, clothed in deep fried goodness.

The Chicken Fried Steak at $8.99 was down right dirty and delicious, just the way it should be. The steak wasn’t tender but it wasn’t tough. The mashed potatoes where whipped with just the right amount of cream and butter: A LOT. The side of green beans where straight out of can, as they should have been. The gravy, poured over the entire plate of southern goodness, tasted like it came from the skillet you’re Granny spent the last 70 years seasoning. It was rich in fat and flavor.

It also came with a basket of garlic toast. The thick white bread was toasted to perfection with every bite bringing you a tablespoon of garlicky butter that melted in your mouth and warmed our hearts…in more ways than one, I’m sure.

The filet mignon, on the other hand, was just plain scary. At first cut, it looked normal but as oxygen took its toll and the temperature dropped, it took on a grayish hue. But hey, you pay $12.99 for a steak, you get something with grey flesh that’s pronounced fill-it mig-non by your waitress. That’s science.

We definitely didn’t have any trouble making quick work of the fries, though. They were hand-cut, perfectly-salted steak fries, with the ideal ratio of crispy to soggy. Skins still showing, just the way God intended. Right, Michael?

Michael wasn’t as interested in his chicken fried steak as he was in telling us about all of society’s hang-ups and the laws keeping him from getting nice and naked.
“They got a prop about lettin’ gays marry, but nothing’s on the ballot about gettin’ nude.”
However, knowing the laws means knowing loopholes. And Michael’s a regular Cochran of nudey pursuits.

His favorite, and somehow totally lawful, way of flying his flag is to roll through the McDonalds drive-thru butt ass naked for a hamburger. Although, he says, he’d prefer to shame the drive-thru of a White Castle, if they had any out here. He even told us that sometimes, when the WC craving gets the best of him, he’ll take a very thin burger patty, fry it on onions and spread a little strained beef baby food on top. Apparently, it’s almost identical to a slider. But again, you be the judge.

As dinner came to a close, Michael couldn’t help but plug his newest endeavor. He has taken his pension for nudity into the more acceptable medium of photography and released it onto the worldwide web. Click to see more of Michael originals, most of them featuring naked women holding skulls. Are they real skulls? We may never know.

We’ll leave you, just the way that Michael left us, by saying, “Being naked ain’t so wrong. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.” And, as I sit here writing this conclusion without the burden of pants, I can’t help but apply Michael’s words of wisdom to the moral of this story:

Eating at a dive bar ain’t so wrong either. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it or you may end up eating your words.