There’s a knot in The Monster’s stomach. He sits in Chaya Venice waiting for his lunch companion to arrive. He looks around the room swept by nostalgia. The bay windows with a view of Main Street, the table in far the corner, the date fourteen years ago. The night started off with dazzling promise, a beautiful date, the very first The Monster had in LA, and a fine meal in the offing. A packed room on a Friday night, a corner table from which to spy the hip goings on of a city that was still alien to this newcomer. The restaurant chosen because The Monster used to drive by and look on in envy at the life those inside were leading while his seemed to be stagnating. A bottle of wine procured far outside a price range The Monster could afford, a selection of appetizers and entrees ordered that to the ears of a man used to places like Jan’s Pies for the past six months sounded more delicious than any human should have the right to consume.
For it was in this very location that The Monster’s life took a wide u-turn. Because in the midst of the date The Monster fell asleep at the table, only awoken when one of the waiters tried to put down his entrée. It was then, sheepishly looking at the date he knew he would never see again that he decided to dump the job that was making him miserable, enter the profession he came to LA to pursue, and buy a Zagat Guide and eat his way through it.
Fourteen years later and while much has changed with The Monster much is the same with Chaya Venice. It’s still packed to the gills most nights with people watching par excellence, still serves up a decent menu of sushi and other eclectic bites, still holds a soft spot in The Monster’s heart as the first real restaurant he ever ventured out to in LA.
And with the recent completion of all the restaurants in the 2011 Zagat Guide coming back to Chaya feels like life has come full circle.
On this day The Monster goes simple and healthy for lunch and gets the bento box. It’s a safe order, the kind where you know you won’t be quietly contemplating the beauty of your meal like you might an exquisite sunset, lost in its radiance. But the bento box is also not going to have you cursing under your breath as you walk out, secretly plotting the phone call you’ll make to the health inspector to have the place shut down. It’s much the same as the Chopped Salad/Pad Thai/General Tso’s Chicken order you might make at the Italian/Thai/Chinese place you frequent. Low risk/low reward. But sometimes that’s all you’re looking for.
The table decides to split a calamari appetizer as well. And so the calamari comes and it is tasty enough, the sauce tangy with a hint of spice. It’s a portion big enough for three. As conversation ebbs and flows the basket dwindles down until only the nibs are left.
The bento box arrives soon thereafter and it is as The Monster described, a sampling of fish, a Chinese chicken salad, a couple pieces of sushi. And while the meal isn’t revelatory, while the meal isn’t really more than a way to keep the body moving into the afternoon crush of meetings and expectations, it does bring a huge smile plastered to The Monster’s face as he heads out.
Because the person who walked out of Chaya Venice fourteen years ago couldn’t know he’d be returning fourteen years later with so many reasons to be happy.
Why go? Sometimes nostalgia for the soul is more nourishing than anything else we consume.
Monster rating: 3/5
110 Navy Street
Venice, CA 90293