I could see it in their stilted postures, their tepid sips of wine, their silence that was nearly as deafening as the Top 40 music and screeching sirens of drunk conversations that were clogging the air in the wine bar like rush hour traffic on the 405.
I took another swallow of my acidic Zinfandel, cringing as the assertive presence of alcohol sliced at my throat. I set the wine glass back down on the black lacquered table patterned with condensation rings and leaned in so my three companions could hear me over the throbbing tones of Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend."
"It's a little loud," I said, not so much as an observation, but as a means of apology.
What I really meant was, "I'm sorry I took you here. And I'm sorry that you might contract an STD from your pleather bar stool."
My brother's friend shrugged. "It would be this loud anywhere on a Saturday night."
I appreciated the gesture of the shrug, her attempt to make me feel better about dragging her, my brother and his sweet girlfriend to the frat house of wine bars, but was secretly hoping she -- or anyone at the table -- would state the obvious. Would voice what was running through all our heads as we attempted to make headway on the astringent wine.
I'd been worried about this portion of the evening since my brother had let me know he was coming into town that past Wednesday with specific instructions about the trajectory for his visit.
"Just pick someplace fun where we can go out after... maybe either West LA or Santa Monica?" He'd texted, unaware of the challenge this presented to me, a girl who hasn't gone out to a bar on the Westside since 2010. A girl whose bar repertoire includes just two places -- Bar Covell and Beer Belly, both of which are considerably east of Highland.
The restaurant part had been easy -- a no brainer aside from the detail that it wasn't close to anything remotely acceptable as a post-dinner destination for the brother who introduced me to the words "tasting menu."
I couldn't exactly take him to Cabo Cantina.
The wine bar seemed like a passable option, mostly because I knew it had seating and wine that didn't come from a box. I'd been a handful of times when I was working in Santa Monica, usually for a quick post-work drink, and once for a birthday party that I vaguely remembered as moderately fun (as a 25-year-old).
I hadn't remembered the girls passing off white spandex tank tops as dresses, nor the thick-headed guys still embracing the time-honored traditions of their Sig Ep fraternity. I certainly didn't remember the piercing shrill of music that would never be played on my Bon Iver Pandora station at home.
"I think I'm getting a headache," I said suddenly, desperately, hoping to call a time of death on our evening with six swift words.
"I shouldn't drink anymore anyway," My brother said immediately, pushing his barely touched glass of Cab Franc to the center of the table with the same eagerness he usually applies for the inverse -- accepting wine.
Two more glasses joined his as I stood up to find our server to secure our check.
Minutes later we were out on the street, free from Justin Bieber, white spandex "dresses" and STD-laden bar stools.
Perfectly content to be no more wild than a bowl of miso-dressed rice.
Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen
Notes: This is exactly the type of salad you want to eat after a "wild" night out -- particularly if, like me, your idea of a "wild" night is drinking half a bottle of Rosé over a three-course dinner at a Zagat-rated restaurant. I love the different textures and flavors packed in this salad -- the snap of the carrots and cucumbers, the chewy nubs of earthy rice that are more than hearty enough to stand up to the tangy, sweet dressing, and the nuanced nuttiness of the sesame seeds and edamame. The tofu makes this a meal in and off itself, though it could be easily be turned into a side dish or a visually arresting salad at a potluck.
I didn't do too much to alter the ebb and flow of this recipe other than adding Persian cucumbers (an idea I borrowed from Adam over at Amateur Gourmet), and a pinch of orange zest. I played a bit with the proportions of the ingredients as well, using a touch less tofu and more wild rice, edamame and carrots to extend the recipe into a family-sized affair. Though, despite his proclamations that we have similar tastes, I doubt my brother would go anywhere near it. Unless I snuck it into a tasting menu and lured him in with a glass of Barolo (not a suggested pairing).
1 cup wild rice, rinsed
10 ounce package of extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 teaspoons coconut oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup shelled edamame
1 1/2 cups carrots, sliced into 1-inch long matchsticks
2 Persian cucumbers, sliced into thin rounds and quartered
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 shallot, minced
Juice and zest of half an orange
Bring four cups of water to boil in a medium-sized pot. Add the rice, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, until water has been mostly absorbed and the black shells are starting to crack open, approximately 35-40 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
While the rice is cooking, prepare the miso dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together the miso, maple syrup, sesame oil, rice vinegar, shallot, orange zest and juice until well-combined.
Heat large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the coconut oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the tofu and stir-fry until browned on all sides. Lower the heat, add the soy sauce and pepper, and stir until tofu is evenly coated. Turn off the heat.
In a large bowl, toss together the cooled wild rice, edamame, carrots, cucumber, tofu, and half the cilantro and sesame seeds. Re-whisk the dressing then pour over the salad, stirring until evenly distributed. Serve immediately, garnished with the remaining cilantro and sesame seeds.