June 13, 2015
Just found a box of old menus – from my days at the Los Angeles Times – hidden in a box in the closet.
I've been trolling through them, which is like encountering old friends. Here is early Thomas Keller, and his fascinating menus from Checkers. And the inaugural menu from the much-missed Rex, which I still consider the most beautiful restaurant I've ever visited. (The dining scene from Pretty Woman was shot there.) And here, in all its laminated glory, is Michael Roberts' menu from Trumps; it's at least thirty years old, but still so modern you could change the prices and offer it up today without anyone finding it strange. Was there another high-end restaurant in the country whose menu offered Tacos, BBQ brisket on a bun, tuna pastrami, fried chicken, salmon tartar, chicken with spicy peanut sauce, french toast with bacon and fruit donuts on the dinner menu? I'd guess not. Michael, who passed away ten years ago, was one of the most interesting chefs in the country, cooking to some interior music no one else could hear.
I'll be posting menus now and then, as I find them. But for today, here's John Sedlar's menu at St. Estephe from 1982. He's been a pioneer of Southwest cooking – but as this menu makes clear, so much more. Isn't it amazing to see a recipe for pasta with sea urchin sauce from a time when most Americans had not the faintest notion that those spiny creatures even existed? And just look at that price! (John was also the first chef who ever served me American caviar and home-grown snails.)
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Love old menus. Among others, have several from Mustards Grill in Yountville. My first time there, I was working at Robert Mondavi Winery. Mr. Mondavi took a group of us out to lunch for secretary’s week on a Friday in April 1984.
Menu from that era has food on one side, wine on the other, with the wine list being almost entirely Napa Valley (exception for Champagne). RMW Fume Blanc $12 for a bottle, onion rings were $1.95, and Housemade Ketchup was $.50; hamburger was $5.50.
Later menu from Michael Oullette’s tenure as “general manager and head wine geek”. Price of onion rings was then $3.95, ketchup $.75. No wine list. Hamburger – $7.50. Menu states “NO TOFU (at all)”.
Online menu now shows onion rings at $9.00 (ketchup included), hamburger $15, Fume Blanc at $29.
Had lunch with Mr. Mondavi and Margrit at Auberge du Soleil in 1996. and we had Cristal prior to eating. He said that was the wine he wooed her with.
So what does one do with all of these old menus…and memories? (And now I want a hamburger!)
I grew up in the South Bay & went back after college to work for a magazine. I vividly remember going to St. Estephe, located in a new mall in Manhattan Beach, and being absolutely dazzled. I remember the Salmon Painted Dessert, both delicious and visually stunning, and the box of chocolates dessert. Everything John Sedler has done has been wonderful, but St. Estephe was such a wonderful surprise. Thanks for the reminder of so many good times and meals in the 80’s, including taking my young daughter for chocolate tea at Trumps shortly before it closed.