Think there aren't any restaurants open late in L.A.? Residents who work late beg to differ. Mike White, a writers' assistant for TMZ and now a regular player on the website's TV show, burns the candle on both ends these days, but still tries to be healthy ... unless there's banana cream pie around.
Oscar's Cerveteca, a beer bar that serves beachy, Veracruz-style plates in Venice, is buzzing with a well-dressed crowd late on a Saturday night. The owner, Oscar Hermosillo, calls it a "neighborhood joint." With entrees selling for upwards of $20 and Rod Stewart playing in the background, it is a very particular kind of neighborhood joint, but the creative design crams at least sixty people into an indoor/outdoor space not much bigger than the surrounding Venetian apartments, making for a community feel where locals come to meet and eat.
According to his Twitter profile, Oscar's fan Mike White is an "Emmy-touching comedy writer." He's also the newest face in the TMZ boardroom. When Mike's not working, he grabs fish tacos from Oscar's and writes Twitter one-liners like, "Considering opening a Jewish bakery called '99 Problems But a Knish Ain't One.'"
The wide, exotic beer selection would set off anyone with even the mildest case of ADHD, but our patient server helps Mike settle on a Weihenstephaner Vitus. Only the waitress knows how to say it. Mike sips it with his pinky out.
Mike: I'm proper. I'm a gentleman.
Laurenne: I can see that. I like the tie.
Mike: I like ties. One of my New Year's resolutions is to stand out. Not stand out, but to project more confidence. There's a study out... well... I didn't read the study, but someone tweeted about a study that says women don't really like modest guys anymore. I'm way too modest, so I'm gonna be cockier.
Laurenne: Thanks to you and your cocky tie for spending your Saturday night with me.
Mike: I only really have the chance to go out twice a week. I'm usually in bed by ten on weekdays.
Laurenne: Is that TMZ's fault?
Mike: Yes. I have to be at work at 6am every day. My alarm goes off at 4:45am. And 4:55. And 5:10. And 5:20.
Laurenne: So you overcompensate on weekends then? Midnight Snacks every Friday and Saturday?
Mike: Oh yeah. I'm generally a nocturnal person.
Laurenne: Why Oscar's?
Mike: I'm terrible at eating, but Oscar's forces me to eat well. I love the way they prepare stuff. I'm not a foodie, so I don't know what to call any of this style. Whatever they do, it really makes me like vegetables. The fried fish tacos are my go-to, and that is probably not good for me, but everything else here is. I dig this whole place. I like the vibe, the beers, the food. And I love being in Venice.
We order tapas-style sides of plantains, fried pickles, beans and rice, and grilled cauliflower from the farmers market.
Mike: Oh! And we have to get the beet salad with the goat cheese. Beets and cucumbers are the unsung heroes of the vegetable kingdom. With goat cheese, this salad is a mix of fresh and tangy. Beets get a bad rap. They are like criminals with hearts of gold.
The fish tacos are beer-battered cod, avocado crema, slaw, and salsa saddled by tortillas. If I had ever been to Veracruz, I would say they sure take me back to the Veracruzana beach. We also order the Pescado a la Veracruzana, a white fish served with olives, capers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and ajillo rice.
Mike: The thing is, I like everything. The only things I don't like are soccer and Republicans. I've been watching the debates and it's one of the most hilarious shows on TV. It's like Chuck Lorre produced them or something.
Laurenne: So you could order anything on this menu except the Republicans?
Mike: Yes. Especially here. I love Mexican food, which is another reason this place gets my vote. Anything with avocado is great. Avocados are right there after beets. Is avocado a vegetable? Is jicama a vegetable? I don't know what jicama actually is. See? I'm bad at vegetables, but this place gets me away from my at-home favorites, Cheerios and Cheez-Its.
Laurenne: What's it like to be on TV?! You've been on now for three weeks?
Mike: It's fun. They stick 30 of us in a room. We pitch stories. Everybody throws out jokes. It's a really hilarious group of people. It's 6:30 in the morning, and everyone is cranky, but it's really fun.
Laurenne: Do you feel famous?
Mike: No way! I don't see it as a big deal, but I was recognized! I got my haircut, and this barber kept making eye contact with me in the mirror. I was like, 'Shouldn't you be, ya know, looking at my hair?' He grabbed the barber next to him and they were like, 'Hey! Aren't you the guy that sits behind the surfer guy on TMZ?' That's my new claim to fame: Guy behind the surfer guy.
Laurenne: Guy behind the surfer guy. Right here!
Mike: It was surreal. I'm actually really shy. I'm on TMZ because it's a writers' room and I'm trying to learn how to write better jokes. My goal is not to be famous but to be a comedy writer.
Laurenne: How do you feel about being a paparazzo?
Mike: Oh no. I do not consider myself a paparazzo. I'm not one of the guys they send out to bother celebrities. I show up in the morning, brush up on our subjects du jour, chug several cups of coffee, shoot a TV show, then sit at my desk and search the web for stock photos of cats.
Laurenne: You worked there for a while before you got on TV. Have you made any changes since your face is more exposed? Some Botox? Did you buy new clothes?
Mike: Nah. Nothing really changed. I got my hair cut in an attempt to look more like Ryan Gosling, and now I'm conscious of which shirts I've worn during the week to avoid repeats. Other than that, it still takes 5-6 alarms to get me out of bed in the morning. Oh, and now I see more raccoons on the way to work.
Laurenne: Do you ever feel bad about gossiping about celebrities?
Mike: In my perfect world, everyone has my sense of humor. Let's just all make fun of each other. I learned early on to make fun of myself. I was a really small boy. Plus, I had an orthodontic mishap. I named myself The Notorious G. A. P. That's when I saw the value of self-deprecation and not being bothered by other people's comments. I think if you make fun of yourself enough, you earn the right to make fun of others.
We order two desserts because that's what famous people do.
Mike: I can actually NEVER pass up a banana cream pie. It's my favorite, and I have such a sweet tooth. Shoot. I'm already breaking my New Year's resolution to eat healthier. I never usually eat healthy or work out.
Laurenne: How do you stay so svelte?
Mike: I walk everywhere. And, once in a while, I think about jogging.
Laurenne: That's it?
Mike: Everyone always says it's the thought that counts.
523 Rose Ave., Venice, 310-310-8937
[Photos by Hagop Kalaidjian]
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