Operation: Cheap Fabric

And by “cheap”, I don’t mean low quality… I mean inexpensive. Today, my uncle, his fiancée, Anni and I headed up to the LA Fashion district in search of áo dài fabric for dresses for the wedding. My mom and aunt were supposed to meet us there, but my mom’s car broke down on her way up (she pulled of the 5 freeway at Olympic, and got a pickup truck to tow them to a church parking lot while they waited for the tow truck), so it was an adventure for the four of us without them. My mom told us where to park and what stores to look at and generally what amount of fabric was needed for the dresses. She also left us with this advice: Do not pay more than $5/yard for fabric. They’ll try to sell it to you for $15/yard, but you should try to negotiate it down to at least 1/4 of what they’re selling it for.

Now, my sister and I were never taught the skillful art of haggling from my mother or her older sister. For me, I always determined whether or not I would buy something on whether or not I thought that item for sale was worth the amount asked. If it wasn’t, then I didn’t buy it. If it was or was worth more, than it was usually a done deal for me. No haggling involved. My uncle (having been raised, for the most part, by my aunt) may have had more of an education in the art of haggling from his older sisters, but I didn’t have full confidence that he would be able to pull it off or if he would just give in to the prices (which were already pretty good for the 100% silk fabrics we were looking for).

When we got there, I had to go to the bathroom right away. I had pretty much been holding it since we left the house, and even though I could hold it for a little while longer, it would probably be a good idea to go at the first sight of a public bathroom. None of the stores or restaurants in the area had public bathrooms. This was probably a good policy since the area was crazy crowded and you never knew who would walk into your business and use your facilities.. and for what. We finally found a public bathroom in one of the big buildings (a mall of sorts). “Public” just means that it was open for anyone to use, but it costs 50cents for each person who wanted to use it. While this was weird at first, I soon realized that it was a very good idea. I didn’t mind so much after I realized that the 50cents was going toward keeping the bathroom clean (which it was).

It was quite a day walking around looking for fabric. A lot of the stores we went into didn’t have much of a selection to choose from. This doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a lot of fabric. On the contrary, these places had hundreds of bolts of fabric all over the place. Some places had them neatly arranged so that you could see what the pattern was, others had them thrown in random piles in shelves or leaning against tables. But even with the plethora of different fabrics (textures, colors, materials, patterns, etc) we had difficulty finding anything that really caught our eye.

Eventually, we decided to break for lunch and try again after we had some sustenance. We stopped by a kabob restaurant called Maple Grill.  I was skeptical of place at first, here’s why: (1) The majority of food choices in the Fashion District consists of bacon-wrapped hotdogs or fresh cut fruit with lime and chili. (2) It’s downtown LA, crowded, and if the majority of stores were any indication of how the restaurants were maintained, then I’ll need a large bottle of hand sanitizer and my own set of silverware. Luckily for us, the Maple Grill did not fall into any of my preconceived notions about the place. The tables were all full, so we had to sit outside, but it was a nice enough day for that. The owner, who doubled as our waiter, was one of the nicest servers I have ever had. He made conversation, made sure we had everything we needed, helped us out with menu choices, even cracked jokes with us. His kids were running around, but they weren’t bothersome.. more cute than anything else. The restaurant was clean. And the food was surprisingly delicious.

Anni and I split a plate of Chelo Kabob Soltani, which was a combination plate with beef filet kabob and seasoned ground beef kabob. It came with basmati rice and a salad. We also ordered a couple appetizers: the cheese plate, which was this delicious, slightly salty, goat cheese, and this eggplant dip that was garnished with fried mint and caramelized onions. Both served with thin pita bread. My uncle also ordered a traditional Persian yogurt drink called Doogh. It tasted like watered-down yogurt with some other flavors that I couldn’t pinpoint. We suspect it was mint and cardamom. In any case, it wasn’t good or bad, but something different to try.

After lunch, we continued our search for fabric, and stopped into a few more places before we hit Top Ten Fabrics.. or Tip Top Fabrics.. something like that. It’s on Maple, between 9th and Olympic. This place was one of the clean, well-maintained stores. And it had a great selection of fabrics, and a lot of good ones to make áo dài with. They also sold coordinating solid colors for the pants. We were there for a little while, but my uncle and his fiancée ended up picking out four great fabrics and a champagne/gold sateen/polyester-ish fabric for the pants. He put on his bargaining cap when it came down to price, and the owner was willing to work with us as long as he made a sale. The owner was also a very nice and extremely helpful seller, especially compared to some of the other workers we encountered that day. He was very attentive and helpful, not just following us around the store making sure we didn’t rip or steal something. My uncle got out of there with 16.25 yards of fabric (most of which was 100% silk) for $162. I would say all parties came out winners in that situation.

Once we had the fabrics, it felt like the weight of the day lifted a bit (a sigh of relief from the happy couple hinted at so much). We walked around a little bit more, then headed back to the car. We stopped by Babycakes NYC‘s latest store (which was only a mile away) per Anni’s request (for gluten-free cupcakes). We picked up one red velvet cupcake and one chocolate cupcake and two of their brownie bites made with agave nectar.

I haven’t tried the cupcakes yet, but if the brownies are any indication of the quality of the cupcakes, I fear that I will not enjoy them. The brownies had good flavor, but the texture was wrong. The brownie was dense and left a powdery feeling in my mouth, where as I like my brownies to be a little bit more dense than chocolate cake, but super-gooey and moist, and leave a little sticky feeling in my mouth that leaves me wanting to wash it down with milk, but not a dry feeling. I’ll be taking a bite out of the cupcakes in the morning (perhaps after a jog, if I get up for it, and before Easter Mass), but I anticipate having the same reaction. Something just gets lost when you try to make baked goods without wheat flour.

Overall, a bit of a tiresome day, but definitely fun. We don’t often head to Downtown LA, and rarely go into the Fashion District, so this was a good day out. Anni and I will definitely be heading back (with Mom) to get some fabrics to make some áo dài for ourselves (I don’t think either of us have one that fits).

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