September 29, 2016
Billy Rose was one of the great theater figures of the last century. He began as a lyricist (among other things he wrote It’s Only a Paper Moon), was married to Fanny Brice (Funny Girl) for almost ten years, and became a producer (there is still a Broadway theater named for him). But as I perused this old menu from The Diamond Horseshoe, the nightclub he ran in the Paramount Hotel near Times Square, I realized he also had one of New York’s first farm-to- table restaurants. (The farm was apparently bought before the United States joined the war, in anticipation of rationing.)
If you’d like an image of the dining room, here’s one from the New York Public Library archive.
And here’s the menu. The night club opened in 1938 and closed in 1951; I’m not sure what year this menu dates from, but from this comment about the taxes, I suspect it was during the war years.
(Sorry I cut off the prices; the lemon sole was $3, the lobster $4.25, everything else either $3.50 or $3.75.)
September 28, 2016
Just came upon this trove of menus from a visit to St. Helena in 1988. This French Laundry (same place, different restaurant) belonged to the Schmitt family, who sold it to Thomas Keller and moved up to an apple farm in the Anderson Valley.
The French Laundry, in those days, had a legendary wine list; every wine grower in the Napa Valley was on their list.
Tra Vigne, sadly, closed last year.
Another long-lost restaurant….
Mustard’s, however, soldiers on, still serving Cindy Pawlcyn’s fantastic food after all these years. And look at those wine prices!
And finally, Miramonte, another restaurant that is no longer with us.
September 27, 2016
Please excuse the quality of the reproduction: this is a forty year old Xerox of a menu that was already forty years old when I copied it. But there’s a lot to look at here, from the fact that abalone was still pretty inexpensive, that Olympia oysters were still available (they all but disappeared for many years), and that a child’s plate consisted of filet of sole or lamb chop (one). Not exactly what we’d consider kid food today.
If you want to see what Di Maggio’s Restaurant looked like, this article includes wonderful vintage video of the place.
What isn’t mentioned? That Joltin’ Joe’s Dad, Giuseppe, a lifelong fisherman, was not allowed to fish during World War II because he was Italian, and considered an alien risk. He was not, in fact, even allowed to visit the family restaurant: As an enemy alien, he was prohibited from traveling more than five miles without permission. (Italians in San Francisco also had a curfew, and many of their homes were seized by the government.)
For more information on the family, this article is instructive.
September 22, 2016
Bipin Desai is a physicist, professor and fabled wine collector. For years he threw wonderful wine tastings at various Los Angeles restaurants. This series of menus is – as you can see – from the summer of 1989.
The first was held at Michael’s in Santa Monica. Michael’s, which opened in 1979, was a game-changer: Michael’s chefs were all young, educated and American (among the first to cook there were Ken Frank, Jonathan Waxman, Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton), and Michael proudly used American products.
The second dinner was at Valentino, which was certainly appropriate; Piero Selvaggio had (and has) one of the great wine lists in the city. One of the first cutting edge Italian restaurants in Los Angeles, it began as a little bar on a nondescript Santa Monica block. In those days Piero was importing exotic ingredients from Italy – balsamic vinegar, great Parmigiano, true Prosciutto – and you’d go there to learn as much as to eat.
The next venue was Katsu, an extraordinary sushi bar on Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz. Katsu was famous for the purity of the fish, the minimalism of the room, and the wonderful collection of contemporary art on the walls.
Judging by the food, I’d guess that this meal was at Patina, the restaurant Joachim Splichal opened after Max au Triangle closed.
This was not part of the Bipin Desai dinners – or at least I don’t think it was. As I recall, this was a luncheon held in the Picasso room of the Los Angeles Times in honor of the Vrinat’s, owners of Taillevant. M. Vrinat was, truly, one of the greatest restaurateurs ever.