Thursday, February 11, 2010

Two Companies I Should Work For: Yuplet and California Fish Grill

California Fish Grill
3988 Barranca Parkway #B
Irvine, California 92606
Phone: 949-654-3838
Fax: 949-654-3858

Think of Chipotle, only a little bit nicer, and instead of barbacoa (which I learned is traditionally made with beef cheeks) in our tacos, we have fish – not the nasty kind that you would find at Baja Fresh, but the kind that would make a 29-year-old jaded attorney reduce to tears. This is California Fish Grill, and poetically, it is my last meal in California.

After the traumatic events of coming out to my mother, I decided I wanted to spend the next day with Jon. This of course meant going to work with him, and actually I was quite excited because I wanted to see the magic. Jon is currently part of an internet startup called Yuplet. It is actually a rather simple but brilliant website – free real estate listings. I know Jon and his cohort would disagree, but I kind of think of it as a sexier Craigslist. Anyway, I find business to be fascinating, and what better way than to see the people that he works with.

I never have been part of a startup. My career path has always been marked as “safe”. Even during my “rainmaker” period, I could have chosen to intern at an organization that represented people held at Gitmo, instead I chose to intern at Lambda fighting the rather pedestrian right of making sure Iowan couples could marry. I mean think about it, a gay lawyer, fighting for the right to marry – it is quite cliché (in fact one could argue that my current occupation, not to mention its environs are much more contrapositive to my orientation). Regardless, a start up is actually quite foreign to me, and boy it was quite a shocker. There was no espresso machine, no muffins, no bottle water in a fridge – hell – there was no fridge. It was just five people working damn hard to get their website up. Since Poi, Shaw, Traci, David and Jon are all around the same age, I thought there would be foozeball and nerf guns all over the place. I was shocked to find that Yuplet is an unusually quiet working atmosphere. My god, these people are more professional than the ones I work with. As I said, it was the day their revised website was going up and it looked stressful. Sometimes there would be a break in the tension: “Fuck” was used more times than in this blog, voices were raised, people were moving at a frenzy pace, there was the occasional slamming of keyboards – but it was mainly quiet. They were like part of the 300 at Thermopylae, these five were working in a harmonious nature with one goal. It was exciting, God I wish I was part of it.

It was 6:30, and a monsoon cleared out of Irvine; in fact, there were tornado warnings in the area. Surely God is not mad at California for the gays, the state did pass Prop. 8 after all. The skies were clear, the air smelled like rain, leaves and branches were strewn all about the streets. Dreading the potential commute from Irvine back to California (and it gives me an excuse to avoid my parents) I practically insisted that we eat dinner in Orange County. Jon immediately punted the suggestion with the Yuplet executives. Their deliberation over dinner was like Conclave. Mapquest, Yelp, and a host of other websites were being browsed simultaneously. Windows within Windows were being opened at a mere tap of an index finger. Habemus Papam! California Fish Grill was announced, and directions were given. If Homeland Security hires Yuplet, we would never have to take our shoes off at an airport ever again.

The location of the restaurant is actually awkwardly situated in this mammoth shopping center. It is located at the very southwest corner, but the back of the restaurant is actually facing towards Barranca; hence, if you were trying to find the restaurant from the street your eyes would naturally scan past it and be directed towards Target, Office Depot, Homegoods, Red Mango, Subway, Home Depot, McDonalds, Express, Toys R’ Us, Kohls, TJ Max, Jamba Juice ….

California Fish Grill is not a particularly attractive restaurant, but I really have no problem with it. Like I said in the intro, think of it as Chipotle. It looks like a hollowed out warehouse that is the vogue nowadays. Within 6 steps of walking in, you hit the ordering counter, and I have two minor quibbles about the arrangement. First there is no natural queue, so one does get rather claustrophobic if there are several other groups who are waiting for/to order. With two groups behind us, and a group of four in front of us, I was already getting the sensation that the walls were closing down upon me.

The second problem I have with the arrangement is the lack of a large menu above the counter. The customer is to rely on laminated menus to make their menu selection. This is not an initial problem if done correctly, but Dear Reader, if you want to mess up operations, do it the California Fish Grill style. The menus are located next to the cash register, not at a location when you walk in. Hence, we can only select our order when it is our turn to order. This leads to a rushed and most uncomfortable situation especially if you have no idea what is going on; moreover, it just creates angst in the customer who is regularly acquainted with the menu and just waiting for me to decide. While I understand that placing the menus closer to the entrance may not be an adequate solution for the following: 1. I regularly waste ample amount of time at Starbucks waiting for the twat in front of me to make the distinction of a latte vs. cappuccino, 2. There isn’t that much room in California Fish Grill between register and entrance, and 3. Intrepid groups could send out a scout to procure menus while the rest wait in line; there is a lot of ample space to the right of entering the restaurant. So a simple solution is to make a queue to the right and place a little slot at the beginning containing the menus; thus, we can read at our leisure as the group in front determines if they want Fried Fish Tacos vs. Grilled Fish Burrito.

The menu is not particularly complex, but it is a bit cumbersome. The restaurant serves entrées, like Red Lobster, and they also serve seafood tacos. I am a sucker for fish tacos, so I tell Jon to order me a mahi taco, a large clam chowder, and a Cajun shrimp taco and I run to the bathroom.

As I return, I already find Shaw et al. nestled into a booth. The restaurant has two types of seating arrangements: tables and booths that can comfortably sit four. Since there were five of us (David peaced out and was nursing an injured foot caused by a domestic squabble), Poi acting as CEO decided to sit at the end.

My clam chowder came out first, and the runner actually brought out a second bowl. I was actually amused that the service at California Fish Grill already exceeded 80% of the restaurants in Illinois. I split the chowder with Jon. I thought it was orgasmic, he thought it was pedestrian. I was impressed that the chowder was creamy but not so heavy that I felt like I was eating clumps of flour. There were a good amount of clams in there, they were not particularly fantastic, but serviceable. But what I was particularly partial to the onions and bacon. The chowder was really smoky and rich; hence, the kitchen (or some offsite location), cooked bacon first and sweated down onions in the fat. My brother waived the soup away with a Rabbinic disdain of all things porcine.

Within another 5 minutes the meals arrived. Poi, Shaw and Tracy all ordered the ahi. If memory serves, I believe Jon ordered the mahi. But my tacos – yes those tacos – I would sacrifice distant family members for an endless supply of those tacos. The generous portion of mahi was grilled to a medium (which I normally disdain), but it was juicy. I was impressed with the fact that it was sliced on a bias and that the strips were not particularly long; hence, preventing awkward situations of constant taco chewing and its absolute destruction. The taco had perfect amounts of cilantro, tomato, cabbage (anathema in Chicago), and this amazing cream sauce. Yes, cream does make everything better.

The shrimp tacos were even better. I personally believe the shrimp were frozen because they did not give off the taste of fresh shrimp, but I often think an even more important quality of good shrimp tasting is how it is marinated, and if it maintains that snap between bites. It is hard to describe, but I thought the shrimp were amazing. Now I rapidly concede, many people will be turned off with the shrimp because it was blanketed – nay carpet bombed with Cajun seasoning, but I am particularly partial to bold flavors. Underneath the seasoning, you can still taste shrimp, not out-of-the-sea shrimp, but good shrimp. But this cream sauce, this reddish (I presume paprika), was a revelation. I could take facials in it. If women regularly bathed in it, I would become heterosexual. I rapidly devoured my taco in less than 2 minutes. The Yuplet gang looked at me with a mixture of disgust and wonder. My Bar results were taken into question. Nom nom nom.

Probably from trying to direct attention from my gluttonous ways, Shaw wanted to get some beer and started to look around the restaurant to get a runners’ attention. A rather sharp expediter noticed and directed three runners to come to our table. Shaw asked one if they served beer by the pitcher. She said no. Shrimp was hanging out of my maw. How is that possible. They serve tacos. They serve beer. How could they not serve beer in pitchers? Within a minute the same runner came back and corrected her comment “Yes we do have pitchers.” At that comment I believe Shaw (or Jon) shot up and bought a pitcher. I immediately went for seconds and ordered a fried fish taco. Jon also purchased some sort of fried combo platter.

The beer, which I believe was a Hefenweiser was pretty good. Tracy was already throwing lemon into her beer like a pro. I found out a lot while drinking with this motley gang. Tracy is a faghag. In fact I was trying to get her to hook me up with half of her rolodex. Shaw thought Tracy was Pocohontas during the first three years of their middle school years. Poi knew I had a thing for Matt Damon a decade ago.

Jon’s fried combo came and it was just ordinary. Nothing terribly poor about it, but nothing of real note, except that the items were scorching hot when they came out. My fried fish taco – was just as good as my previous two. It was cod fried in this most delicious batter covered in the same white sauce as my mahi taco. I was seriously contemplating being Yuplet’s janitor if they could buy me lunch and dinner in lieu of any compensation.

Things turned mildly personal, Shaw mentioned to Tracy that bf #1 was “a good guy” and “thumbs down” for #2. Poi and Shaw then listed a laundry list about why #2 was bad. Tracy mentioned why #1 wouldn’t work – primarily him being gay. Who are these people? Why don’t I have these characters at work? I have made some amazing relationships at work, but my coworkers are never as emotionally invested in my dating as I was of Tracy’s.

Discussions about dating continued. Since beer and fried food was purchased, I thought I should do my part and order a slice of each dessert. There was key lime pie, chocolate brownie cake, and carrot cake. When the runner came with the desserts he also brought five plates and forks. What training – or commonsense! Does this place offer a deferred comp plan? Is there health insurance? Why are the runners more intelligent than the managers at restaurants on Michigan Avenue? Unfortunately, I became quite deflated with the dessert. The key lime pie, was more pie and less lime. In fact we did not get a taste of lime until you get near the crust. The carrot cake was rather ordinary, but I liked the chocolate cake. I noticed that the guys favored the other two items, but that Tracy and I preferred the chocolate cake. Quite fitting actually.

One thing I need to note, two days after, Jon told me that Tracy, Poi and Shaw felt quite terrible after the meal. I presume it was the ahi, or some sort of Midwestern disease I brought over.

In a scale of 1 to 4 with 4 being the best.
Quality: A solid 3, I really liked my food, but Jon’s fried combo and the desserts were meh. Of course if I got sick we would have a different score.
Service: 3.5. It would be higher, but not knowing if you have pitchers is ridiculous.
Atmosphere: 2 Warehouse redux.
Hotness of clientale: 2 Orange County families – no hot Housewives – or maybe there was.

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