Forgotten Restaurants

November 11, 2015

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It’s late at night, and I’ve just uncovered a box of old menus I didn’t even know I had.  I thought I’d thrown them all away in the move from Los Angeles to New York in 1993, but I seem to have sent one big box, neatly sorted into alphabetized folders.  All I’ve got is the end of the alphabet; how I regret having jettisoned the rest! What did I send instead?  Rickety furniture?  Old clothes? How could I not have known that one day I’d treasure these old menus?

The one above had a note tucked inside, from an L.A. Times reader, who sent it as a gift.  There’s so much to parse here, including that “Russian Caviar, Ambassador Importation” for $2.25, the Denver sandwich (an omelet of ham, onions and green peppers between two slices of bread), and the once ubiquitous Biscuit Tortoni.

Trolling through the Rs I come to Rex Il Ristorante – certainly the most elegant restaurant of the eighties – and sigh over carne crudo with black truffles – $8.50.  The food was extraordinarily innovative for its time, and the decor lovingly evoked another, earlier time. In its first incarnation Rex had been a fancy Los Angeles gentleman’s boutique, with an elevator designed by Lalique. (The learning-to-eat scene in Pretty Woman was filmed at the restaurant.)

Moving on I came to these menus from Rose et LeFavour in St. Helena, which may have been my favorite restaurant of the time. It was tiny quirky and utterly charming, with a constantly changing menu. Here’s one from January 1982

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You probably can’t read my scribbled notes, but they say that the scallops were served on red chard with a raspberry vinegar sauce and a julienne of snow peas.  The rabbit, I thought was fabulous, the cheese tray offered a chevre, Morbier and unspecified blue, and the dessert cart contained a persimmon tart, candied fruit and chocolate souffles.  And we apparently drank a ’69 Meursault and a ’66 Cos d’Estournel.

Three months later I went back.  Here’s that menu.

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Alain Chapel’s pigeon jelly would come to be widely copies (not least by Heston Blumenthal), but this was the first time I’d encountered it outside of Chapel’s own kitchen.  I first met Chapel in the seventies, when he came to California to cook a dinner for the Great Chefs of France series at the Mondavi winery. I was a young journalist covering the event (Edna Lewis cooked lunch, Chapel dinner), but when I turned out to be the only one who spoke passable French I ended up in the kitchen, translating for the chef.  What I remember best is that we ended up hunting all over the Napa Valley for the cox combs he required – and Chapel swooning over “les foies blondes de la California.

Bruce Le Favour’s interpretation of Chapel’s jelly was a loose translation, involving raw yellowtail and pigeon breast, a sauce of creme fraiche and orange juice, shards of daikon, leaves of arugula and bits of chervil.  The salmon on the millefeuille, I noted,  was slightly overcooked, but that the sorrel sauce I scribbled was “like a beure blanc made with egg yolks.”  Whatever that means.  The quail breasts had a texture reminiscent of poached eggs, and were served with lemon-poached slices of apple.

The lamb (brave to include the kidneys), was served with chard with red peppers and beautiful asparagus, the cheeses were chevre, Pont L’Eveque and a brebis, and the dessert cart included a strawberry tart, an unsweetened chocolate cake, and a macademia tart. But there was more to come: stuffed dates, cookies, fruit jellies and chocolate truffles.

Quite a meal for forty bucks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  • Robert Blake says:

    Hello Ruth I am a charter member of AIWF with JuliaChilds and Robert Mondavi in 1984. I was sent a red kit that I cannot find and have no way of proving that my wife(Carolyn and I) are founding members of AIWF. Please help us. Thanks for any assistance you can provide

  • Peter Mantas says:

    Ruth, keep up the Awesome work, I love reading your Stuff! Peter MAZI MAN Mantas . I would luv to send you a few Bottles for Your Turkey and X Mas . Email me an Address, I want to thank You for the MAZI Hookup.

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