Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Royal/T: High Kitsch High Tea

I've been wanting to check out Royal/T ever since I heard about the kitschy-weird cafe in Culver City with food served by Japanese girls in French maid outfits. When an old friend who's never been to L.A. came to visit last week, Royal/T popped up as a perfect venue to show my Kiwi friend an 'Only in L.A.' (and maybe Tokyo) experience. Set a few blocks east from the newly bustling downtown Culver City, the restaurant is easy to miss (despite the pink neon crown insignia and hedge-covered facade.) Upon arrival, we discovered it's actually more of a gallery/experimental space/shop/cafe shared within a spacious loft-style, communal space.

The current--and inaugural--exhibit, Just Love Me, is an exploration of all things cute, or, more accurately, "kawaii". So this means we were dining under paintings of Bambi-eyed animegirls, ceramic statues of cuddly Sanrio-esque aliens and Louis Vutton initialed art prints from famed pop-artist Murakami (who recently had his own exhibit at Moca). For sale were hipster-friendly items such as photobooks of Japanese trendsters in Gothic-Lolita garb, weird plush toys and of course, french maid dressed action heroines.

Like the Tokyo-pop style french maid costumes, the food is a mix of Japanese & French, with a bit of Caifornian thrown in. Lunch items were a mix of sandwiches (my friend Pip ordered the spicy tuna tar tar with avocado on sourdough$9.00), salads (such as yuzu shrimp with asparagus, tomatoes and avocado) rice bowls (I got the Royal/T curry rice with chicken $9.00)) and the Royal/T High Tea with tea, small patries, mini quiche, Kappa Maki, California roll and Spicy Tuna finger sandwiches ($19.50) Pip's sandwich looked good but I didn't love mine. I was expecting curry-flavored rice with chunks of white chicken'n'japanese curry gravy but got a bowl of curry sauce with a chicken drumstick and a side of steamed rice. They had interesting drinks such as watermelon juice, ginger lemonade and a selection of teas.

I don't know what it is about cute costumes, but everything did taste a little better when served by a Japanese maid, or, in our case, we also had a perky brunette sporting fake pigtail extensions. Although more Sanrio/Alice in Wonderland than fantasy-rated, our maids/servers were still a fun novelty, and super friendly, even obliging requests from the couple sitting next to us for a photo-op. I chickened out and covertly took a pic of the maid from behind instead.

Although the food's just okay, I wouldn't be opposed to going back to Royal/T, the gallery and store space is interesting and it's still a more entertaining alternative than Starbucks or Zen Zoo Tea for grabbing a cup of tea.

8910 Washington Blvd, Culver City
Lunch with a drink: Approx $15

Lovin' High School Girls Who Stay the Same Age As You Get Older at the Drive In: Dazed & Confused Outdoor Screening

Apparently, I'm on an outdoor screening roll. Less than a month after my Hollywood Forever Cementary experience, I was invited to another screening event which--while not six feet under--was more of an underground affair.

This screening series--which runs every two weeks throughout the summer--is a combo of a drive-in (complete with audio piped in through car speakers and rollerskates'n'mini-skirted carhops) and a sit-in (a nice strip of astroturf is laid out for those who prefer to spread out on cushions and lawn chairs.)

A nondescript, rundown and total fire hazard of a rooftop parking garage served as the 'theater'. Upon the entrance ramp, viewers have the choice of driving up to the theater or parking downstairs if you want to watch sans car. Although I've never been to a drive-in before and was intrigued by commanding carhop service with the mere flash of my Prius' high-beams, we were meeting some friends so opted for the car-less, lawn-chair section instead.

Armed with enough blankets and cushions to recreate a harlem-style living room, we settled in at the front of the 'theater'. The featured film was Dazed and Confused so I was expecting to battle it out for blanket space amongst a legion of hipster stoners but the turnout was surprisingly--and pleasantly--small. There were maybe two dozen cars and about 80 people tops, sprawled along the astroturf in front of the screen.

Similar to the Hollywood Cemetery, doors open 90 mins before the screening starts and food and wine are encouraged, so there's plenty of time to pre-film tailgating. Too hungry for basic brie and crackers, we had picked up a Papa John's pizza along the way and downed our slices with red wine while simultaneously admiring the skyline silhouetted against the setting sun and wondering if the decrepid, adjacent apartment building was a crackhouse (while safe, the neighborhood had a level of sketchiness). For those not prepared with their own BYOPicnicking fare, rollerskating carhops are on hand to serve hotdogs, nachos and other snacks.

Promptly at 9pm, the projector--sitting on top of a vintage '50's Chevy--started whirling and the cult 90's film started. Dazed and Confused is one of those films where I've watched parts of it a million times, but haven't sat down to watch in its entirety in years. Viewing it in its full-screen glory is the ideal way to enjoy D&C's bam-bam-bam succession of quotable dialogue; for best line, it's a toss up between McConaughey's "Say man, you got a joint?...It'd be a lot cooler if you did." and Parker Posie barking "What are you looking at? Wipe that face off your head, bitch!"

Although the parking lot's cramped ramps would normally be a nightmare to navigate out of after the screening, due to the wonderfully small turnout, exiting the theater was a traffic jamless breeze.

There are several more screenings scheduled through September but although it's easily google-able, I did promise my pal who invited me that I wouldn't reveal too much info about the drive-in/sit-in theater if I wrote about it (yes, it's that great of an undiscovered L.A. gem). So sorry, no links to the screening series attached this time!