Bathing in Primordial Soup
A Review of Hotel Kabuki and O Izakaya Lounge
Maybe my craving is just as simple as a desire to return to the womb and the constant flow of liquid. There is nothing to do but be nakedly warm, safe, and snuggly. In my momma's placenta sack, I was never troubled by any enraged superintendent banging on her belly and accusing me of causing a flood. But in the bathrooms in which I grew up, tubs were not meant to be turned into infinite pools, and the neighbors in the apartment directly below us furiously reminded my parents' insurance company of this fact...
I settle in the tub and the water starts flowing in. I am floating in a comatose state of abiogenetical bliss, only to awake from my reverie as my parents and the building superintendent bang on the bathroom door. I gasp in horror that my tub indeed runneth over – rushing the ramparts of my bath, streaming onto the floor tile – and it is clear that my waters have invaded the ceiling of the neighbors' bathroom below us, creating what I would regard as a lovely rainforest effect, but they have no appreciation for it.
Bathing was not an option in my home in San Francisco – lead paint dripping with black mold that peeled from the walls with any extra moisture; the tub so overrun with mold that a bath would be the equivalent of soaking in a sod pond. My bathroom was more of a car wash: a fast in-and-out experience.
After a court ordered clean-up, my home was sealed off as toxic-menace wasteland. Men in space suits entered as I left with my belongings in protective garage bags.
I am to stay at a hotel, and I pick the Hotel Kabuki. The description of this boutique hotel, "inspired by the rituals and customs of Japanese culture," evokes not the samurai's battle for survival, but the geisha's attentive delicate care. The staff does not offer to dispose of my Hefty trash-bag luggage; instead, they handle my sacks as if they were antique Louis Vuitton. Along with a breathtakingly lovely view of the city, my room has delicate paper shoji screens, sliding closet doors, and a Japanese-style tea service that I normally would get all fetishistic over. But the mannered polite orderliness of the property only increases my feeling of displacement. I want to be home, with my stuff, in my disorder.
Then I peer into the bathing room. It is not the usual bathroom – the tub is its own room! They even have a special name: furos, or deep soaking tubs. There is even a bath butler who will draw your bath – but I Vanted To Be Alone. Serenity, Love, Courage, Zen, Awareness are the heady titles of the bath salts they have at hand, but I have the scent of LUST waving under my nose, rousing me into a prehistoric frenzy – my primeval soup beckons.
No one is enraged as teeming water crests the porcelain walls of my furo. But my inner Al Gore forces me to halt this carnal water waste after three minutes, with loud calculations of how rapidly I am contributing to our species' extinction in an ironic return to primal mush.
But I'm able to sustain a cocoonlike sensuality, for in the elegant lobby every evening is a complementary sake tasting. Nobody minds if you don't ask what the differences are and just knock back the rice wine like whiskey shots. They indulge me with glowing smiles of good will, which only consecrate the knowledge that I am now in an alternative universe of love and pampering for all anthropoid types. (The five sakes have no influence at all, I assure you.) My joyous bountiful bliss reaches new crests when I join in a group activity hosted by the Kabuki Hotel. The Taiko Drum instructor graciously smiles as I respond to his prodigious beats by slipping rather quickly into the depth of my unconscious to pound the beat beat beat of my mother's heart on the drum. Who knows what primitive creation I fashion in Bonsai Lessons, Origami Instruction, or Sushi Preparation?
My need for nourishment is easily sated – I only need to stroll into the hotel's O Izakaya Lounge. With huge screen hangings of animated traditional Japanese baseball cards, the sense of play is immediate, yet there's a careful attention to detail: cork floors, bamboo trim, welcoming leather booths and communal tables – this is no iHop! Executive Chef Nicolaus Balla's menu for O Izakaya Lounge is meant to be shared with friends. This is the rare find of gourmet bar food, and I sip the most perfectly made Sake Mojito. Then my friends and I gasp at what is at least gastronomic proof of evolutionary genius.
Berkshire pork belly braised with house-made kimchee, Mendocino seaweed salad with mustard greens and umeboshi, and saba with beets, cucumbers, and freshly grated wasabi is a long way from club and catch. The presentation alone would impress Jackson Pollock.
If our planet does return to the sea, engulfed by global warming – a massive undulating liquid that was our world – perhaps one day a species will evolve out of our leftovers. If they ever start excavating to uncover what our civilization was, when they come to beer tempura mushrooms and spiced ginger chicken wings, they will know we were a lucky tribe, loved by our Gods and chefs. Oh, if only we kept to our furo tubs to overflow our delicate boundaries. Then life could go on forever.
Hotel Kabuki, 1625 Post Street, San Francisco, CA. (415) 922-3200
For reservations, call 1 (800) 533-4567
O Izakaya Lounge, (415) 614-5431