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.
September 20, 2016
Max Au Triangle was one of the most exciting restaurants to open in Los Angeles in the early eighties. The chef was Joachim Splichal, who had been cooking at The Regency Club before that. After the Beverly Hills restaurant – wildly ambitious – closed Joachim opened Patina. But this special meal took place while Max au Triangle was still in its glory.
There’s a lot to study here. For one thing, tapas were almost unknown in this country in the eighties, so the idea that Trumps’ late chef, Michael Roberts, was creating them was ground breaking. (Also, they’re fairly classic, which was strange for Michael; he was a chef with a great sense of humor and an iconoclastic bent.) Then too, Darrell Corti is one of the great experts on sherry, so this was an opportunity to learn about the fortified Spanish wine. I remember this as a really exciting occasion.
Yanou Collart was an original, a strange amalgam of publicity agent, talent-seeker in the world of food, party girl and collector of rich people. She seemed to know everyone in Paris, and I’ve never met anyone quite like her. This meal, in a fabulous Hollywood home, was memorable; the guest list glittered, and every single one of the chefs was a major talent.
September 19, 2016
These menus are from various times – wish I had the dates. But The Quilted Giraffe was a game changer – Barry Wine’s wonderful, and utterly idiosyncratic restaurant. You never quite knew what to expect. (Barry was self-taught, but chefs who worked at Quilted Giraffe include David Kinch, Katy Sparks, Wayne Nish, Noel Comess and Tom Colicchio.) I imagine, from the little drawings, that these menus all date from after the move from the modest digs on Second Avenue to the very fancy midtown restaurant in the Sony building with its cutting edge design.
These are the set menus from Girardet in Crissier, Switzerland, widely considered the best restaurant of its era. The dish I remember with the greatest fondness is that kidney roasted in bay leaves on the final menu.
I also remember that when the ice cream cart came around, each flavor was at a slightly different temperature.
September 18, 2016
Cleaning out a closet this morning, I came upon a huge box of old menus from the eighties. It was like opening up a time capsule, and for the next few days I’ll be posting some of these finds from San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London and France.
First up, a few vintage offerings from:
Here’s Marion Cunningham’s birthday menu in 1984
the menu Bruce Cost created for Alice for Chinese New Year in 1987:
Another menu from 1984, with wines selected by the great Darrell Corti (note that his name is misspelled on the menu):
Not sure what year this was, but also a Chez Panisse menu
And finally, just because these restaurants are basically in the same wheelhouse, and because this is also a menu from the early eighties (1983), here’s one from London’s River Cafe: