BEATS & EATS – TJ OYSTER BAR

By Mikey Beats

 

On this episode of Beats & Eats, I have the pleasure of sitting down with Karlos Paenz of The B-Side Players at one of the best Mexican seafood places in town: the TJ Oyster Bar in Bonita. I brought along my wife Jenny Beats for moral support and also Steve Kang of Four EL to snap some pics.

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Mikey Beats: For the record, we’re sitting at the bar at the TJ Oyster Bar. We’re not gonna order any oysters but I’m still proud of what we get. Karlos, are you here at the TJ Oyster Bar on the regular?

Karlos Paenz: Yeah, this is my mom’s spot, so I come here with my mom a lot.

MB: If your mom’s into it, it’s gotta be good! (Laughter). When you told me about this place, I looked it up and saw that it had 622 reviews on Yelp with 4 1/2 stars, which is unheard of. My mouth is already watering, I can’t wait to dig in. Do you live around here?

KP: Yeah, I live in Chula Vista around downtown.

MB: Where are you from originally?

KP: I’m originally from Tecate, across the border. My dad is from Sinaloa, so I am very familiar with this style of food.

MB: You were born in Mexico?

KP: No, I was born here. My parents were living in Tijuana at the time. As soon as I was born, I went back to Tijuana. I lived my first eight years in Tijuana with my family. It was kind of a way to legalize my parents, by me being born here.

MB: Where did you go to high school?

KP: I went to high school right here in Bonita … Bonita Vista High School. But I was back and forth between Hilltop and Bonita Chula Vista.

Jenny Beats: We’re native San Diegans.

MB: I met her in ‘97.

KP: So you guys have been together for awhile.

MB: Yeah, a wonderfully long time. Almost as long as your band. How long have you been playing with B-Side?

KP: 20 years this year.

MB: 20 years, wow. You guys formed in ’94; were you still in high school?

KP: I was out of high school for a little bit. I graduated in ’91. We all met in community college. We were taking some African drumming and other music classes. We all kinda formed out of there.

The waitress comes up and takes our orders. Karlos gets a Queso Taco Camaron, Queso Taco Marlin and a fish taco. Jenny also gets a shrimp and fish taco. I go all out, of course, taking full advantage of the situation and order Diablo Shrimp Ceviche, Agua Chile and a Fried Whole Talapia. If I am trying a new spot, I like a lot of variety.

MB: I’ve seen B-Side many times. One of the times was at Chicano Park Day in the late ’90s. I imagine many members have changed; how many original members are still in it?

KP: Just the drummer and I are the only ones left. People are always coming in and out because we tour so much. In May, we take off for the whole month to do a cross-country tour. West Coast to East Coast and back. We end at California Roots Festival, a huge concert in Monterey. Because of the touring, for a lot of guys it’s rough because of the family. The band keeps getting younger and younger as we get older.

MB: They stay the same age (Laughs). That’s a trip. You also play with the reggae band MAIZ?

KP: Yeah, when I’m home I play with MAIZ. It’s mostly in Baja, Ensenada, Tijuana, but we’re starting to play more in San Diego.

MB: Eddy Kisfaludy, he’s a mutual friend of ours. He’s played with you for awhile?

KP: Yeah, he’s played with B-Side and MAIZ for many years. But he’s doing the pilot thing right now, flying helicopters and planes.

MB: Yeah, you guys played in his hangar a year or two ago, right?

KP: Yeah, we just filmed a video there. We robbed a bank and took off in the airplane and threw the money all over San Diego.

MB: Sort of Robin Hooding them with the redistribution of the wealth. I love it.

Some food comes out. Jenny and Karlos get their tacos and I get the Diablo Shrimp Ceviche out first.

MB: Oh my goodness. Once again I ordered way too much food. Oops, darn, now we have to eat it all.

KP: Eeeeee!

Karlos and his “Eeeeee” expression were heard throughout our lunch together. This isn’t like a siren wailing but more of an expression of Mexican delight in a monotone high pitch. The length dictates his delight: The longer the “Eeeeee,” the more Karlos is delighted. In this case, he showed his delight in the food served to us by a very long “Eeeeee.”

MB: My goodness.

JB: Yummers!

Steve steps behind the bar to get some product shots and points the camera at Jenny.

MB: Hey, that’s my wife, buddy!

Steve Kang: She’s a model now.

MB: I know this, man.

I go into the Diablo Shrimp Ceviche with no respect of the word Diablo. After the rapid first few bites, I sit back in my chair and reach for a cup of water.

MB: Definitely spicy. Oh man, that is hot as hell!

Jenny takes a small piece of shrimp for a taste.

JB: Oh yeah, definitely diablo.

MB: My eyelids are sweating right now.

KP: You’ll pay for that later.

Karlos takes down the Queso Tacos like he’s Pac-Man and they are pellets.

MB: What kind of projects are you working on? Any new album releases?

KP: Yeah, we got a greatest hits kind of record for B-Side for our 20-year anniversary. We’re working on that. We’re grabbing some songs and re-recording them. We’re doing a lot of Banda stuff right now, you know, the Sinaloa style with tubas for the recording just to make it fun.

MB: Website?

KP: TheBsidePlayers.com

MB: Do you have management right now?

KP: Yeah, Ivory Daniels with Regime Management. He manages Everlast, Molto Sanchez, a good mix of different music. I’ve been with him for 20 years.

MB: That’s a long relationship. I see you are booked by Zach at Union Artists Group. Do you have any upcoming shows in San Diego?

KP: We’re looking at August for our 20th anniversary show at the Belly Up.

MB: How many albums do you guys have out?

KP: Seven.

MB: Seven? That’s a long career, dude!

More food comes out. This time it’s the Agua Chile in a solid Molcajete bowl and a few tacos that we didn’t order, but the staff wants us to try. The Agua Chile is a spicy green sauce with shrimp, baby scallops, red onions and fish. It’s much like a ceviche but the green chile takes it in another direction. I invite Karlos to dig into the green delight. After the first bite, Karlos is silent.

MB: Karlos is speechless over the Agua Chile. Not even an “Eeeeee.” Wow. For the record, the Agua Chile is delicious.

KP: … A lot of food, dude …

MB: Yeah, I do it every time. You got family?

KP: Yeah, boys. Two boys.

MB: Good job, dude. How old are they?

KP: I have an 8-year-old and a 16-year-old.

MB: They jam?

KP: They jam. Drums and bass.

MB: The rhythm section! Good parenting! I just knocked Jenny Beats up!

KP: Yeah?! (Laughter)

JB: (Shaking her head) He’s so romantic.

KP: For reals, though?

MB: Yeah, we’re fertile. Back to the Eats. I am going for this Chipotle Shrimp Queso Taco.

Open mouth, insert food. Immediately my eyes roll back in my head and my salivary glands start firing off bursts of saliva. My toes ball up in my shoes and I inhale through my nose like I am smelling a flower.

MB: Dude, that is outstanding!

Jenny takes a bite.

JB: Mmm, that sauce: I want to put it on everything. The tortillas are really good, too.

MB: My goodness, that’s the best thing I have ever had in my mouth.

A momentary awkward silence befalls upon the Oyster Bar, which is broken by my burst of excitement as I position the Octopus Taco for it’s final few moments before digestion.

MB: The octopus looks fan-friggin-tastic. It has a white cream sauce that’s like mayo and lemon juice on it with cilantro and onions sparkled over it. A lot of people don’t like octopus because of the chewiness, but I love it.

KP: I like it.

JB: This place is so good.

MB: Good call, dude; you know your stuff.

JB: Now I know why your mom likes this place so much. Are your parents into music?

KP: My dad, he’s a professional musician to this day. He still plays. He never forced me to play. He just kept instruments all throughout the house.

The Fried Whole Talapia comes out last with a side of beans and rice. Karlos and I devour the fish on one side and are pleased to flip the fish to do the same to the other side.

MB: For the record, the beans, rice and hot sauce are all excellent and likened to what you would find in any traditional Mexican family’s kitchen. The flavor in that fish is so special and dear to me, it’s life changing.

Judging by this performance, Karlos, I will trust you to eat anywhere. You know, some people are like, ‘This place is great.’ Then you go there and get pissed off because it sucks?

KP: Yeah

MB: Oh man, some people I don’t trust. You, I trust. I hope you don’t have anything to do after this, you might pass out.

KP: A little siesta.

I decide it is time to address the staff from my seat at the bar.

MB: I just want to say that I love you all very much. I can feel the love in your food and as my Nana used to say, “Ya Comi, Ya Me Voy.” Thank you all very much!

Cheers all around.

KP: Oooo, I’m full.

MB: Man, we did it.

JB: I’m proud of us and am ready for a nap!

We all part ways with passionate hugs and promises to return here again. Although I had met Karlos many times before in passing, I felt closer to him now by sharing a meal at one of his favorite places. It goes to show that an artist takes pride in all they experience and share with others, especially meals. And “Eeeeeee’s.”