LAist Interview: The BSE
Everyone loves a mystery. But Mondays turn into Fridays turn back into Mondays and it’s not long before you arrive at the sobering realization that the last time a good, old-fashioned whodunit inundated your methodical lifestyle was during a chance encounter with the collected works of Agatha Christie. Imagine your surprise, then, when going about your normal A.M. routine – coffee, toast, LAist (ahem), MySpace status update (mood: exanimate!) – you happen upon a peculiar friend request from someone called “The BSE.” Nary an identifier save a graphic of a fighter jet in flames, you click over to find a well-designed, visually appealing web page with a red, “Who is the BSE?” button in the upper right corner daring you to solve the riddle.
Relieved that Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis has yet to be anthropomorphized, it turns out that BSE is an acronym for Best Supper Ever, as in The Search For. Upon further perusal, you come to find that a group of twelve rag-tag 20somethings are slashing and burning a path through Los Angeles’ restaurant scene, reviewing food and décor alike, and we (the discerning palate-d public) are to “Deal with it”. Well, yeah. OK. We can do that. Especially when we’re told that “Drakar cologne [is] a must” for attending a restaurant in the Hollywood and Highland complex or that “The chandeliers were very ‘trophy wife’” at a local Peruvian joint, which ended up with a 6.5/10, no doubt because one reviewer was “pretty sure someone peed on [their] bike outside”. This ain’t your parent’s Zagat, folks. Despite a wild ride of a read in the culinary pursuit of the good, the bad and the downright unsanitary, several questions still remain: What’s with all the pseudonyms? How do you join? And what do they have against Boston Market?
One comment regarding the ethical injustice of rickshaws and two well-received inquiries about attending a BSE function for journalistic (and let’s face it, Scooby Do-worthy sleuthing) purposes later, a sparse email arrives consisting of a few clearly delineated instructions:
1) Pick a restaurant.
2) Keep it within 10 miles of Hollywood.
3) Keep the price under $20/person.
4) Email us back with your restaurant name within 7 days of this email. OR ELSE.
This email will self-destruct inside your computer. For real.
Not wanting to chance a binary Armageddon inside a newly purchased MacBook, it is decided that Warung, an Asian-inspired eatery conveniently (and perhaps presciently) located in the middle of the "Barmuda Triangle" (Bar 107, La Cita, Charlie O's) will nicely do and the crew is notified at once. Before long, an official one-of-a-kind, secret invitation arrives, digitally created by graphic designer Battlecat, the de facto ringleader of the group. Members are encouraged to RSVP in a timely manner and are along the lines of “I will be there plus ZEROH. Now leave me alone.”
The thought that any dinner involving six strangers whose birth names are still an enigma will naturally involve a fifth of Ketamine, a roll of duct tape and some large black plastic garbage bags is immediately disbanded when the very sweet and very hungry BSErs arrive with smiles and handshakes all around. The entire Warung menu and a sake flight ordered, Battlecat and the rest settle in for fact checking, myth busting, photo documenting (of both food and foodies) and, of course, face stuffing.
When did the BSE start and who were the OG founders?
Battlecat: BSE technically started in 2005 after a long talk by Battlecat, Ice Capades and estranged member SugarSmack. We were basically just detrimentally bored with the same ol’ night-life scene in Los Angeles – sitting around dive bars ingesting extra calories from beer, and not accomplishing much at all. The main framework actually hasn't changed much from the beginnings. Well, I guess when you hit perfection, where else is there to go?!
At what point did the spin-offs from the main reviews (Man Date [Two men enter, one man pays], Battlecat Bites, etc.) start?
BC: The series of BSE articles have just come about recently, probably around five months ago. The BSE wanted to really just review more crap! There's so much stuff out there that people should know if it's honest to God terrible or amazingly awesome, we're here to let everyone know the truth. Citysearch lies, man! And Yelp just isn't like, fun. People want photos and color and shit. But it's hard to get the whole group together, so the articles are smaller groups or individual reviews. We also really wanted to start posting daily content. Before we just had new stuff on the page once a week or so, so the BSE actually is functional now as a daily source of fun. There's going to be more articles releasing soon, too.
We really want to know, what are the best and worst places you've collectively reviewed? Any perks or backlash from these places?
BC: Oh man, there was a very early on BSE that was at Havana’s, a Cuban restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. The Citysearch review said that it had live music and dancers and looked like a rowdy time. This is obviously why you should never use Citysearch. When we got there, we were one of the two parties in the whole place and it was in a shopping plaza. There was one server/bartender/hostess/cook taking care of us who served us the driest chicken on the planet, which took about an hour and a half to get. Then, the only other patron in the building had a stroke! (I kid you not.) Following that, ambulances came, there were fireman, yada yada yada. It was hilariously awful. Havana's closed down shortly after our review so we didn't get any backlash. Goes to show the BSE has a greater force behind them. What we say goes, man! I think our best review to date is Spring Street Smokehouse on Spring Street (duh) Downtown. It got a solid 9 out of 10, the highest number we've given out so far. I guess maybe we should start telling the restaurants we're reviewing them so they can look up their review, because no restaurants really contact us. Well, except for our beloved Eat Well friends. Holla, boys!
Tell us about the relationship with your readership. Any interesting tales from your MySpace "friends"? And let’s be honest, who in the BSE is using it as a dating service?
BC: We get around a thousand hits a day and we get new friend requests daily. When you become a BSE teamster on our website, you are treated like an actual friend. We send you comments, we reply to every single email we get, and we just slam you with adoration and reverence beyond your wildest nightmares if you regularly email the BSE or if we run into you on the street. It's so heartbreaking too, because so many people want to get involved, but we actually don't know how to make the BSE more of a public domain! We seriously get like, five emails a day of people asking to go to dinner. So, this actually is going to reflect on the functionality of the BSE in the future. I think we're going to do more guest dinners and try hosting large events and stuff. We wanna eat with everyone! But, we can't eat out every night of the week. I mean, we're not rich, just a gaggle of blue-collared schmucks and ding-dongs. Man, wouldn't it be cool to have a BSE stalker?! We would have to call the police all the time, and hire body guards. [Gazes upwards] One day...
Glass Joe (the only member who has the uncanny ability to smell or taste something and relate it to another, more recognizable item): [Mumbles something to the effect of: OK, so maybe I met my special lady friend through the MySpace page but like, no one else has met anyone mostly because Battlecat is smart and decides who gets the password to the MySpace page. So, basically none of the guys get the password.]
Ok, so then how did dinners with "special hosts" evolve?
BC: So, the BSE started with only the top 12 teamsters choosing the restaurants. But then we felt shitty 'cause the very few significant others we had all wanted to pick a restaurant, and so did other close friends, etc. So we had a BSE "Lightning Round" where a couple of weeks of dinners were hosted by others. Then it started to get crazy and we got approached by like, online blogs and well, mainly online blogs, that wanted to write articles on us and go to dinner. So we're like, "Hell yeah!" We need the press! We just started pushing to get more celebrity supper hosts too, like Jonah Hill and the renowned Jill Sobule. We're working on it, goddammit.
Who is the most dedicated BSE member and why? Besides yourself, of course.
BC: [Laughs] Go on. I'm not the most important! [Pause] Of course I am! [Laughs] But seriously I'm not! As cheesy as this sounds, the BSE wouldn't be what it is if we lost any of its members. The whole magnetism of the BSE is its characters. It just couldn't hold it's own with one or two people. I mean, we're a secret club! Who doesn't want to be part of a club? I do. We're like the fucking Little Rascals, but old. And with no African Americans. Or dogs.
For real though, Master of the Souls and Garbage have probably saved the BSE from utter non-exsistance like 20 times. I'll admit, I've wanted to quit. But thank the stars that M.O.T.S and Garbage were there to talk me off the edge. They both help so much with managing the MySpace page, organizing dinners and governing rules and stuff. I'm an extremely indecisive person, so basically they're the ones calling the shots, I just design everything! Also, to point out: Glass Joe, Mainframe and Walt Disney all have pushed meetings on new BSE outlets, like BSE videos to be particular. And Garbage is extremely proactive with the BSE graffiti projects and building new marketing campaigns. Wild Rice always pops in more than others too, helping with adding MySpace friends and stuff. We also have a lot of group voting sessions about new rules or ideas so everyone is pretty involved. We're quit a tight machine, as stupid as we look.
What's next for the BSE?
BC: Well, the original idea was to create an outlet for our friends to actually do something to entertain each other, as opposed to sitting on bar stools and starring at stuff, not particularly to be lucrative. But, it's just too fun and too popular to not grow it into something crazy. We just currently met with a web designer to build www.thebseclub.com, so be on the lookout for that this summer for sure, to start. Yeehaw! I'm so amped on that! The BSE TV show has also been mulled around a bit. We’ll see. It’s hard because each of us in the BSE are just real people with 9-to-5 jobs, so there isn’t much extra time to work with. But, I'm sure a new teaser-trailer or pilot even will be released this summer. Everyone in the group is getting antsy to film something. But, if everything falls apart and the world of BSE collapses, don't worry because there will 100% be a hard copy book published absolutely. There's just too much content to let it like, disappear. If this scenario plays out I'm sure BSE NYC and BSE Chicago, San Fran, Miami, etc. will shortly follow. 'Cause everything's better in a cute little set. I love collecting shit! In the end, the concept of the BSE is pretty much golden, and it’s more fun than I’ve ever had in regards to a nightlife scene. So I’m pretty sure I’ll be a millionaire in about two weeks.
With the last of the plates wiped clean, the BSE gets down to the business of reviewing and rating the restaurant. Though Battlecat reminds everyone that hard facts of the night’s spread make it into the final reviews more often then musings on the meaning of life, the group takes to a smart and funny melding of both truth and irreverence. Final evaluation? Warung merits a solid 7.75 with agreement all around that a return trip is a necessity. After a group photo outside, you bid the teamsters adieu to their after-dinner merrymaking and leave with the freaky sensation that the BSE feels an awful lot like a real-life version of Choose Your Own Adventure. Except death and peril doesn’t await them on page 53; it’s just good times in the beloved quest for good food.
All photos courtesy of the BSE