Vintage Menus: Two from Los Angeles

February 3, 2016

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Just landed back in L.A., which may be why I’m finding these old menus so interestingly nostalgic. They’re from two of the chefs who made eating here in the eighties so exciting. 

I’ve admired John Sedlar since I first tasted his food at St. Estephe in 1981.  Classically trained (like so many of the city’s best young chefs of that time, he worked with Jean Betranou), his Manhattan Beach restaurant started out serving French food with a California twist. But Sedlar was restless, and before long he began looking to his roots in Abiqui New Mexico, experimenting with American ingredients and American ideas.  He was the chef who introduced me to American caviar, and I’ll never forget his salmon painted dessert, which owed something to Georgia O’Keefe. He recreated that – along with other St. Estephe dishes a few years ago at Rivera (which is, alas, no longer with us). 

But Sedlar went farther, offering a menu of traditional foods within the modern Southwestern menu.   At the time it was very brave: posole in a fancy restaurant with a French name?  

These days, if you want to taste Sedlar’s food you have to leave L.A. and head for Eloisa in Santa Fe.

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Joachim Splichal was another chef who made eating interesting in Los Angeles. He came to California as chef at the Regency Club in 1981, and I heard so much about the place that I managed to wangle an invitation to lunch. (My host, a friend of the publisher of the magazine I was then working for, was H.R. Bob Haldeman.  I was ashamed that I accepted, but I was so curious about the chef…)  

I went back one more time, for a dinner Splichal cooked with the late Jean-Louis Palladin. It was a most amazing meal. Among other things, I remember gooseneck barnacles; I’ll bet it was the first time they were ever served in California. Splichal moved on, eventually opening the spectacular Max au Triangle in Beverly Hills.  I’ll try to find the original menu for the restaurant which was, when it opened in 1984, one of the most impressive (and luxurious) restaurants in the country.

Splichal went on to open Patina – a much smaller restaurant – on the eastern end of Melrose in 1989. His sous chef was Traci des Jardins (who now owns a number of wonderful restaurants in San Francisco, like Jardiniere).

This is an early menu.

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7 Comments

  • Teresa Baker says:

    I grew up in the South Bay, so you can imagine my surprise the first time I was a guest at St. Estephe. I wisely ordered the Salmon Painted Desert, and it was a sight (and a dish) I will never forgert. I followed Sedler to his too-brief stint in Santa Monica at Abiquie, where I remember an amazing space (a wall of water, scupltures by Robert Graham, hostesses who were gorgeous enough to step right into the pages of Vogue) along with wonderful food. There was a second-floor outdoor patio where you could sip a glass of wine and watch the sun set over the Pacific. It was magical. Sadly, I only made it to Rivera once, but now I have another reason to revisit Santa Fe. The man is an artist.

  • judy north says:

    Ruth,
    Do you have any menu’s for the Brown Derby in Hollywood when it was a brown derby? I don’t know what the food was like , but many celebrities hung out there for a time.

  • ff says:

    What did Haldeman talk about?

  • Shannon McFarland says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for your new cookbook. Gourmet ended at a bleak time for me personally. Looking back now, as I spend a year living with my family in Paris I find your stories and recipes from that time mesmerizing. Someone suggested that I “Julia Child” my way through my year here. It didn’t quite fit. On a whim I downloaded a sample of your book before I left home and then finally downloaded the rest of it while after ariving. I guess I’m “Ruth Reichling” my way through my year here and it is delicious. (By the way, my 8 and 10 year old children have dubbed the Longchamps Rice Pudding “creme brûlée for breakfast.”

    • admin says:

      Shannon – Sounds like you’re better now. Good! I LOVE the idea of creme brulee for breakfast. And I envy you Paris.

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