If you need a mini vacation away from the real world, you can hardly do better than to sit back and relax with George Geary’s new book, L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants - Celebrating the Famous Places Where Hollywood Ate, Drank and Played. It's sheer indulgence in the romance and glamour of Hollywood in the golden era. The photography will make you smile. So many famous faces looking like they are having the time of their lives with each other surrounded by food and beverages. This book tells the happy part of the history of L.A. and the U.S. in the 20th century. The history of southern California architecture and design are presented along the way.
Here are a few examples to give you an idea of the stars between these covers. The Brown Derby of the book’s cover receives a lovely long photo spread revealing just how beautiful Loretta Young was in 1931 and how handsome Clark Gable was in 1938. Who can resist chuckling along with Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball in 1952? They were so good together! I love Angela Lansbury intently sucking her straw at Schwab’s after the opening of the Picture of Dorian Gray in 1945. Of course Gary Cooper had a beautiful wife with a great laugh. It was probably something Jack Benny said at Ciro’s in 1947. Jane Mansfield looked terrific chatting with Sophia Lauren at Romaoff's in 1957. How many women want to pose next to Sophia? That takes courage.
The glamorous types liked to eat! It’s not all the fine dining of L’Escoffier at the Beverly Hilton and Ciro’s but plenty of low key places like the counter at Schwab's Pharmacy and the Hamburger Hamlet. The 24-hour coffee shop fare at Ben Frank’s and Van de Kamp’s were as popular as the pizzeria Miceli’s and the drive-in Tiny Naylor's.
The tiki bar phenomenon was launched with Don the Beachcomber in the 1930s, became widely imitated and led to the successful franchising of the upscale Trader Vic’s. Nightclubs, with dinner and dancing to big bands, like the Palladium and Florentine Gardens were the favorites of servicemen in the 1940s but didn't last as long as the tikis.
French cuisine always had high end places like L’Orangerie and Le Dome. French-California fusion exploded in the 1970’s with Michael's and Ma Maison. Wolfgang Puck called his place Spago and his gourmet pizza and pasta California Cuisine in 1982.
Throughout the century the menus are almost unanimously, shockingly hearty with big meat, potatoes and opulent desserts. Reading about menus before khale salads became ubiquitous makes it a double vacation to imagine indulging in old fashioned favorites like hobo steaks and chocolate sundaes.
What’s to eat in these pages? Desserts (24) and Entrees (27) make up about half the recipes. The next biggest section is for Soups, Salad and Sandwiches (16). A half dozen or more recipes appear in sections for Drinks, Appetizers, Breads, Sauces and Sides.
You can approach cooking and eating from L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants depending on your preference for "I want what she’s having…” or the restaurant you loved, or the one you wanted to go to but never had a chance. I’m also thinking about having a Hollywood party starting with the cocktail Mike Romanoff from Romanoff's, Maude Salad from Chasen’s, Braised Short Ribs from Musso and Frank’s and ending with a Macadamia Tart from Spago. What a century of good times to savor and remember--again and again.
I am so happy for my old friend George, a famous baker and cheesecake maker with so many cookbooks to his credit, who never gave up the dream of this book.