Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Restaurants I Have Known



As a working-class kid brought up on lumpy mashed potatoes, boiled chicken and burnt liver it's no wonder my palette wouldn't know truck-stop food from the fancy-schmancy in a double-blind study. My mother barely mastered recipes from the Shtetl cookbook. However, or perhaps in compensation, I would now drive two hours for an atmospheric eatery.

I'm a sucker for restaurants in houses. I can forgive their overpriced food for the coziness of the small rooms. The ambience is worth the menu. All the dishes taste like home cooking; thank God not the one I remember.

House-restaurants seem to be an endangered species disappearing faster than Jamba Juice joints are popping up. Perhaps chrome and noise have won out over wood and quiet.

Warszawa, on Lincoln Blvd., is one with about six or seven rooms and old Polish theater posters on the walls. The lacy-curtained windows are particularly romantic in the rain while exchanging poems as we do, after a martini, with sounds of a violin or harp playing off to the side or was that my imagining?

The Raymond House in Pasadena is another such destination. The long drive is part of the fun and makes it more of a dining than eating experience. Which reminds me of a quaint place near Lake Arrowhead called Casual Elegance; and it is just that, with sorbet between courses to clean the palette, served in rooms not suggested for claustrophobics.

There is non-house restaurant in Fullerton, The Cellar. Well-named, it is subterranean and dark (but not dank) with the feel of a cave. It's good to remember this in case you become famous and wish to avoid being seen. In fact I'm told that Kobe Bryant and some Laker buddies frequent the place descending in a private elevator.

We just discovered The Secret Garden in Moorpark's which seems like a good place for a witness protection hideaway. The chef is French, formerly with some of A-list places in Los Angeles. We had the entire room to ourselves for one o'clock linner. Not a house but homey and the food was like my mother didn't know from.

My daughter, Shari, and Jim took us to one of those areas in L. A. which I associate with Donald Trump and other robber barons. I imagine an Obama bumper sticker would be a felony. Terranea is a resort hotel on the Palos Verde peninsula. We had an uber-lunch overlooking the ocean which they threw in at no extra charge.

For tasty and shamelessly immense hamburgers nothing approaches 26-Beach. Their burgers are high enough to challenge a yawning alligator.

Nothing is beneath me....except perhaps a vending machine at a car wash. For the best value and healthiest food what beats The Soup Plantation? However the gluttony in my reptilian brain often slays my higher constraints. I tend to lose my proportion with unrestricted visits to the frozen yogurt machine. If I enter as Humphrey Bogart I leave as Sydney Greenstreet.

Maybe you can't take the shtetl out of the boy. I'm still learning how to hold a fork. If I remember, I wear shirts that can accommodate a splotch of Ragu sauce in their pattern. An occasional splurge to my favorite restaurant is like sneaking into a house on the right side of the tracks.

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