Sunday, January 13, 2013

Date night

A sidecar at Musso's
 Last night we went out to the movies and then dinner. A date night!!

We saw "Argo" - which I highly recommend. Then we had a dinner date with a friend from out of town. He was staying in Hollywood, right at Hollywood and Vine, so what better recommendation for a Hollywood experience than Musso and Frank Grill? We called and made a 7:00 pm reservation.

The perils of LA traffic are predictable, yet sometimes even the best of us forget. We took Santa Monica Boulevard from the Westside to Hollywood, and at Wilshire we got snarled in the lane closures and congestion near the Beverly Hilton for the Golden Globes Awards. Luckily it was only the set-up day on Saturday and not the show!

Hollywood traffic
The story goes that when Bette Davis was asked what advice she'd give an aspiring actress to get to Hollywood, she replied without hesitation, "Take Fountain."

From Santa Monica to La Cienega, we turned onto Fountain Avenue, which was, good as the diva's word, clear and unimpeded. We took it all the way to Highland Avenue, and pulled into the lot behind Musso's at 7:30 pm.

The back parking lot at Musso and Frank Grill
The joint was jumping with the pre-theatre and pre-concert crowds. I worried that our late arrival had cost us our table, but the charming host seated us within five minutes, in a curved red leatherette booth in the main dining room, or "Old Room."

Musso's Old Room
The thing to know about Musso and Frank Grill is that it's an ancient Hollywood institution. It's virtually unchanged from the days that Raymond Chandler drank gimlets here, or Charles Bukowski whiled away his drunken afternoons. The waiters are all over sixty, and wear short red jackets and black bow ties. There are coatracks for your overcoat; the white linen tablecloths are immaculate. The menu has an old-school predictability about it - soup-of-the-day, steaks, veal marsala, fettucine alfredo, chicken a la king, chicken pot pie.

It's the kind of place older people feel comfortable in, and younger people go to be ironic. I guess I've always put myself in the second group, but now, looking around, I realized I'm almost the same age as the grey, balding heads in the booths around me. Have we finally transcended our youthful embrace of "retro," and now we're just the old people who seek the comfort of old familiar places?

Never mind that! We ordered cocktails and enjoyed the fine crusty bread, served with soft butter. A gibson for [The Man I Love], a Rob Roy for our friend, and a sidecar for me. They were served with a wee ice-bucket alongside, holding a tiny carafe with an extra serving.
I ordred grilled calves' liver with onions - this is the only place where I have a craving for liver. [The Man I Love] ordered rib-eye steak, medium rare with asparagus and potatoes lyonnaise. Our friend ordered the flatiron steak.

And here's where the inevitable Musso and Frank quirks cemented the evening. This could only happen at Musso and Frank. Time slowed down. Over [The Man I Love]'s shoulder, I watched a couple finish their dessert, pay the check and depart.  Then, I watched the table linens change, a new seating; cocktails served, then entrees served - while before us, our cocktails drained, our table remained empty. Somehow, our grey-haired waiter knew we were not in a hurry. Finally, he arrived, a tray on his shoulder. He deftly kicked open a folding stand, set the tray down, and with a flourish, served my liver and onions. Then [The Man I Love]'s steak. Then he placed before our friend something that looked like a pizza.

Our friend looked perplexed. "Is this the flatiron?" he asked.

"Yes," our waiter assured him, before confidently moving on. There were things that looked like nuts, slices of - were they mushrooms, pears? Was there some sliced steak on there or was it onion?

"Oh," I said, remembering the Daily Special menu. There had been something called "special artisan flatbread" on it. "I think that's the flatbread."

Then I remembered the last time we'd come here. On that occasion, our son had ordered sweetbreads, but had been served the Daily Special short ribs instead. Flatiron, flatbread. Sweetbreads, short ribs. Clearly there had been a misunderstanding - due perhaps to the general din of the dining room, but also the age of our waiter - and perhaps a hearing impairment.

[The Man I Love] cut his huge rib-eye steak in half. "Why don't you share this with me, I don't think I can eat the whole thing," he offered. As before, we went with the flow. Perhaps the elderly waiters at Musso's really do know best.

At the end of the meal, our waiter returned.We asked for a doggie bag for the flatbread and some leftover calves' liver. While we watched, transfixed, as he juggled the food, almost dropping it, our waiter favored us with a lengthy shaggy-dog story, a classic "little Johnny says to the teacher" dirty joke that left us perplexedly blinking. Only at Musso's.

The New Room dining room
After our friend departed, [The Man I Love] and I peeked into the adjoining "New Room," where the bar is located, and there were empty stools. Such a beautiful and mellow space. "Oh, let's have one more drink," I suggested, not wanting to leave this faraway time and place yet.

So we sat on the substantial, leather-upholstered barstools and ordered a round of sidecars from barman Mario. We watched as he expertly concocted them, and then set them in front of us, with their own wee ice buckets and carafes.

Mario at the bar
Mario has worked at Musso's since 1980. He's from Zacateca in Mexico; we met his son Mario, Jr. who is working as a server.  [The Man I Love] talked with Mario about Zacatecan music, and Mario recommended a good Mexican restaurant in Koreatown where his wife works and the menudo is good.

The dining room was thinning out, now that the shows had started. Our doggie-bag was at our feet, and we sipped our cold and delicious sidecars. It was only a breath of quiet before the night-time crowd would arrive, and the place would heat up again.

Bartender Ruben
 Savor the moment. This is when you love living in LA.


small mind said...

And there was me thinking you were curled up by the fire! You two do get about! :-) I parked in that car park - now I need to try the actual place itself!

Gilly said...

We read dreadful things about US traffic in cities over here! Think you've proved it right! But sounds a wonderful place to go.

I'm glad you enjoyed London - sounds as though you had fun there, and you posted a lot about it I didn't know! Though I reckon its changed a lot since I lived there in my little bed-sit 60 years ago!!

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

From Santa Monica to La Cienega, we turned onto Fountain Avenue, which was, good as the diva's word, clear and unimpeded.

Advice that stands the test of time is good advice.

smalltownme said...

I would be more than a little upset if I got bread instead of steak, but probably starving enough to eat it after that long wait!

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

[shaking head sadly over the waiter's mix-up of your order]

The fact that you took the time to talk to the man behind the bar and got to know him as a person is one of the things I appreciate about you.
My grandfather was like that, too.