The problem with what happened to me this past Sunday afternoon, March 29, 2009, was that, I had woken up and had developed an appetite to eat some home kind of made food; the ofe olugbo, bitter leaf soup, coupled with the orishirishi, the ingredients and varieties of meats and dried fish that comes along with it.
Actually, there was no pub-crawling the previous night, quite unusual, which normally should have justified my quest to fill up my stomach from partying hard. And, precisely, not that I even went to see a show ending up hanging out where I'm not suppose to have been getting up the next day with some hangovers, headaches and things like that.
I was clean and sober. It's just that I did not feel like going to the popular Tak's Coffee House around my neck of the woods for lunch. I wanted bitter leaf soup and garri to do justice to my stomach. And here I am in my journey. And what a way to learn a lesson.
I had made up my mind to go to different Nigerian or African restaurants in the LA area, a place I am not a regular. Feeling like swallowing garri with a paste of deliciously prepared bitter leaf soup, I landed at Lagos Cafe run by Ronke Bernadette, located on the 1400 block of Crenshaw Boulevard in Gardena, California. It took me about half an hour to get there, driving through the Crenshaw thoroughfare of "Black Township", and combing on the cultural festivities of Leimert Park where a series of African American women dance and beat the drums on Sundays as if it is a spiritual revival. Crenshaw Blvd., from my destination to Gardena stretches through four different suburbs -- "The Jungle" around the Mid City area, Inglewood, Hawthorne and Gardena.
I was hungry and had anticipated a good meal, especially when breezing into a place I'm not a regular. But restaurants of the African ilk in the Los Angeles area are not just regular cuisines some few dollar can get you something to chew on. These are restaurants you have to spend at least 15 bucks for a regular meal, and 15 bucks for a regular meal in these days of belt-tightening is not a chicken change.
Anyways, here I go. I walked in to a place that looked totally deserted. The owner, Ronke and her friend who had told me she came from Togoland sat on one corner running their mouth -- without paying attention that a customer had arrived. I made my request: bitter leaf soup with mixed meat, dried fish and garri. I sat down and waited until only God knows when a waiter, apparently my home boy, popped up and told me my "food will soon be ready."
As it happened, my friend, Ardis Hamilton, whom I have known for many years dating back to the "read my lips" era called me, and I told him exactly where I was and how I got there. Immediately, he picked up interest to join me, in order to have a feel of a well-prepared African dish. In about 20-minutes, he was in. He was turned off right away because of the owner and her Togolese friend's attitude, loquaciously erring in French. Yes, they spoke French and did not care if a customer had arrived.
Meanwhile, I had waited long enough and my stomach was burning for some reason. I requested for some water to drink. Lagos Cafe had no water, absolutely no water for its customers which had me wonder why this garrulous woman and her friend are in business, in the first place. They drove down the street to buy some water after my request. In a restaurant and no water. Imagine!
At Veronica's Kitchen which sits on Manchester in Inglewood, the service is always great, the environment conducive and the waiters and waitresses well-behaved which is why the owner, Veronica Ogbeide, beats them all, hands down, and presumably from learning how to run a restaurant, effectively and efficiently.
However, they got my water while I waited for the so-called 'finest food' to arrive. Ardis, too, was looking forward to something special. To my friend's surprise, these talky women and the attendant who is also my home boy, changed their tone of language, all of a sudden, and just like that. Ngbati-ngbati, the normal Yoruba noise making kind of stuff, typical of a gabby Oshodi market women, became a trend, and it baffled my friend because they all knew he's a Yank as in "no speak English" a Hispanic would pretend to tell you.
My food finally came and I wanted my friend, Ardis, to taste the soup before ordering his own on my tab. Ardis has not recovered. His ass has been burning from the overseasoned habanero pepper and some other chili stuff that was used in cooking the soup.
In my own case, I'm the kind of guy who would eat up everything served and face the consequences later. Money is hard, these days, you know, but how could I have gotten myself into a situation where I now live in my restroom until the whole mess is flushed out from my system?
Not only that the service at Lagos Cafe was horrible, it was also ridiculously expensive. 20-something bucks and no leftover to take home? Come on, now, be real! At Veronica and 15-plus something bucks, you will have a whole lot of leftovers to take home, and you will be glad you did.
Lagos Cafe, Ronke, the talkative Togolese lady and my home boy, quote me, I will never be back because it really sucks, (excuse my language for I am pissed), and from my observation, you will be the last to earn a Michelin star.