Recipes for Old Menus

LA in the Eighties: Looking toward Asia

November 10, 2018

Before Night and Market, there was Talesai. As you can see, it was always a family affair.  And always exciting.

And I had forgotten, until I unearthed these old menus, how interesting the food was at Chaya Brasserie.  Note that back then, early eighties, they felt the need to tell their patrons what pesto was. There is so much here I’d like to be eating right this minute.

Meanwhile, my kitchen is filled with interesting new products I’m testing for the annual Gift Guide.  Lot’s of great stuff here; the Guide begins the day after Thanksgiving.

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More Menus from the Eighties: LA Game Changers

November 7, 2018

It’s hard to convey to a contemporary audience what a huge breakthrough Mandarette was at the time.  Philip Chiang, who’d been running his mother’s Beverly Hills Mandarin Restaurant, decided to open a casual little place of his own serving the food the staff made for themselves back in the kitchen.  But there was a twist: Philip was brought up in Japan, and the food had a spare, clean quality that was completely new to inexpensive Chinese fare.

I couldn’t get enough of the food.  i think of that, wistfully, each time I pass a PF Chiang (after Philip sold Manderette he went on to co-found the fast food chain). If only he was still serving this!


Angeli was another huge game changer.  Marcella Hazan once told me she considered Evan Kleiman’s little cafe one of the only authentic Italian places in America. (There seems to be some question that Evan may have invented the caprese salad. Not sure about that….)


Although it came a bit later (1986), Bruce Marder’s Rebecca’s, with its wonderfully weird building designed by Frank Gehry, was another seminal restaurant.  Back then, before John Sedlar started opening his beautiful places, upscale Mexican food made with top quality ingredients and served in a fancy environment was not part of the LA dining scene.

And finally, just for the fun of it, here’s the late, very great Michel Richard’s wedding banquet, created by a group of friends:

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Old Menus: Berkeley in the Eighties

November 6, 2018

I’d happily eat this menu all over again…. Mark Miller was really onto something with his celebration of chiles. Even today, almost forty years later, this menu looks totally modern. (Not sure what year this was, but Mark opened Fourth Street Grill in 1979, and I remember this as being early on.)

Sounds delicious – was delicious – but looking back, this strikes me as the strangest menu for Marion Cunningham. She, after all, was the woman whose most ardent desire was to be the spokesperson for iceberg lettuce.

Alice, on the other hand, just wanted to feed her friends perfect little lettuces….

This was one of Bruce Cost’s most memorable meals… I’ve always loved his pork kidneys, which have the texture of clouds, and that fresh bacon is the best kind of dessert.

Doesn’t this menu sound wonderful?  It was particularly nostalgic for me, because I was just about to leave Berkeley and move to LA, and I wondered what I’d find to eat there.

Tomorrow, what I found when I got to LA.  The great Max Au Triangle as well as opening menus from Mandarette, Angeli, Rebecca’s. Every one of them has had an influence on the way we eat today.

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Menus from 1980

July 17, 2017

This is the menu I stole after a lunch in 1980, at Cecilia Chiang’s elegant Mandarin Restaurant in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square.

And speaking of The Mandarin, if you have not seen Wayne Wang’s beautiful movie about owner Cecilia Chiang (still going strong at 97), don’t miss  Soul of a Banquet.

Meanwhile, across the Bay in Marin, I was reviewing Maurice et Charles Bistrot.  It was less fun than it had been when the irrepressible Robert Charles was on hand, but by then he’d decamped to Truckee to open La Vieille Maison.  I got to know him while writing a story about the garlic cult: I  accompanied filmmaker Les Blank to Truckee where he was shooting a scene ( Bruce Aidells leaning into a garlic massage at the restaurant), for Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers.


Old Menus from 1983

July 16, 2017

Came upon an old folder filled with menus from when I was a California critic.  I’ll be posting them over the next few days.  This one, from The Trellis Restaurant in Williamsburg caught my eye.  Marcel Desaulniers (despite his name, he’s an American-born chef), has since sold the restaurant. But he remains famous for, among other things, a cake called Death by Chocolate. (It was not on the menu in 1983.)

With its three Michelin stars, Meadowood is now a much more exalted restaurant than it was in 1983.  But it’s always been good – it was always a favored place for local winemakers to take clients to dinner  – and is still one of the dreamier places to stay in the Napa Valley.