Xmas Dinner at Scandia

by Amy Spies
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swedish_meatballs.jpgWhen I was growing up, my favorite grown-up restaurant was SCANDIA in Hollywood.  Run by Ken Hanson, this award-winning Scandinavian eatery was the place my family flocked to for holidays, not just birthday dinners and Sweet 16 luncheons, but also un-Hallmark events—like when I cut my head and all I wanted was Scandia’s Swedish meatballs so my dad got them on his way home from the set of “The Untouchables” episode he wrote. 

At the time, there wasn’t a big L.A. take-out scene, but Scandia accommodated because it was elegant enough to be casual.  Scandia was the treat I always chose when my mom and I collectively took the day off from life (for me, high school; for her, writing/editing and house stuff) to hang out together.  And a few years after my mom died, I chose Scandia to go to the night a movie I wrote opened.

Scandia was also the place my often-divided family always chose for Christmas dinner.  I did notice that many families cooked  Xmas dinner at home, Scandia felt like home to us.  After all, my mom’s family in St. Louis had lived in a hotel.  My mom grew up eating meals in a formal dining room that felt like a restaurant.  Plus, my family liked being different.  And Christmas dinner at Scandia felt practical.  If you were able to ‘get in’, which meant knowing someone who knew someone, you could celebrate with the best food and least work.

scandia.jpgIt was fun for my two older sisters and me, after opening presents in our Lanz flannel nightgowns, to dress up.  One present was always something we’d wear to our Christmas celebration--an antique stickpin, Italian scarf, or tiny Parisian purse from our parents’ work travels.  Off we’d all go in my mom’s yellow Mustang convertible with my dad at the wheel, my sisters and me, hair straightened, eyes almost covered with bangs, squished in the back, bitchen mini-skirts hiked up, seatbelts unfastened in those days, heading to our culinary lodestar on crowded, ‘swinging’ as my dad put it, Sunset Strip. 

We drove into Scandia’s huge driveway where you knew Warren Beatty or Natalie Wood would soon emerge from a sleek black car.  Near the entrance was a moody, then Rat Pack/now Ocean’s 11/12/13 wooden bar.  The Scandia chefs served perfect Swedish meatballs in silver platters.  Beer mugs with names of notable Scandia ‘Club of the Vikings’ guests such as Errol Flynn were displayed.  Women in low-cut, tight cocktail dresses who I later learned were mostly hookers hovered around film producers.

tvm2162_072707_coconutcake_l.jpg We settled into what felt like regal red leather chairs in the nearby bright, glass-walled dining room that seemed to float over lit-up Los Angeles.  Our favorite Scandia dishes were beautifully displayed on the Christmas buffet table.  There was a version of Scandia’s signature truly ‘for the table’ appetizer dish, a three-tiered wooden Lazy Susan-spin tray with sectioned-off delicacies like creamed herring, bay shrimp, dilled cucumbers, beets, and good black fresh caviar.  There was the Bof Med Log beef and onion casserole that my dad, after amusingly quizzing a waiter, always settled on along with my sisters.  And there was the saucy filet of sole that my mom consistently succumbed to, despite her delicate stomach. 

I remained a loyalist to my ‘Hamlet Dagger’ (fresh lobster pieces non-greasily fried with exquisite tartar sauce).  Our breadbasket was refilled with flat and pumpernickel breads as my mom reapplied red Elizabeth Arden lipstick, using her compact mirror to covertly check out couples at nearby tables. This embarrassed my sisters and me at the time, but it was also kind of exciting.  While my parents figured out the ‘story’ behind other diners, we dug into the delicate pastries, the multi-layered coconut cake that seemed so tall, and the holiday chocolate logs.  

aquavit.jpgIn a Jewish family that dined out for Christmas and where every food decision was re-worked, Scandia was our religion in a way.  Sadly, Scandia is now an office building and much more sadly, my parents are long gone.  I wish I could say to my family now, ‘Hey, let’s go to Scandia’s for Christmas’, even if it means enduring horrible west to east L.A. traffic.  My two daughters and I could be spinning the smorgasbord tray as my husband and I sip excellent aquavit.  I scan restaurant ads, hoping to find the next great ‘Scandia’.  They say you always remember your first love and that sequels can disappoint, but one thing I want for Christmas is for Scandinavian fusion to come soon to a restaurant near me.

 

 

Amy Spies has written movies, television shows, and new media drama/games.  She is currently working on her first novel.

Comments   

#8 Amy S. 2015-02-02 11:53
Quoting Linda W:
Amy, I didn't have the pleasure of going to Scandia, however it sounds like it was a spectacular place. I have the honor of owning some of the dishes from Scandia, given to me by my mother in law. She received them from the Peterson's, who owned the restaurant after the Hansons. I use these every day and am considering giving them to my grandaughter who will be married next year. How exciting it is to wonder if Natalie Wood or Warren Beatty ate from them! I loved reading your story, especially the special moments we have all shared with our parents. It made me realize what a historic place it really was. Thank you again, Linda


Linda, I remember those beautiful dishes. How lucky you are to have them. Can you take a photo and post it?
Thanks for the memory!!! Amy
#7 Amy S. 2015-02-02 11:52
Quoting Jon Fischer:
Amy, My Dad George Fisher (aka Fischer) was one of the original "Vikings of Scandia". ... He asked to talk with the chef who was Ken Hansen. My dad started to talk about Scandia on his radio and TV shows. What my dad didn't know at the time was that Scandia was about 2-weeks from going out of business. Well his plugging of Scandia on his shows turned around Scandia's fortunes. Ken gave my dad his own table and offered him a large stake in the restaurant which he turned down. Instead he asked Ken to teach him to cook. So he worked in the kitchen for years. Later Ken kicked him out of the kitchen and told him to go and open his own restaurant. Which he did, it was called "The Potted Pidgin", but that's another story.


Hi Jon,

Thanks for the wonderful story. Isn't it sad that the building is getting torn down?....only in L.A. for all of it, the legacy, your story, my story, the tear-down....

Amy
#6 Amy S. 2015-02-02 11:49
Quoting Laura Plotkin:
You took me right back there, Amy! I would add the gravlox and dill sauce as a special favorite of mine, but you completely recreated the visceral feeling of the time, the place and the food for me! It was my family's go-to special occasion place as well and I have so many happy memories associated with it. Thank you!


Thanks so much, Laura! I LOVED their dill sauce. And what about Hamlet's Dagger? Why isn't there a Scandinavian restaurant these days? I always thought Scandinavian fusion would be the next great thing--- Amy S.
#5 Laura Plotkin 2015-02-02 09:06
You took me right back there, Amy! I would add the gravlox and dill sauce as a special favorite of mine, but you completely recreated the visceral feeling of the time, the place and the food for me! It was my family's go-to special occasion place as well and I have so many happy memories associated with it. Thank you!
#4 Amy S. 2014-12-01 09:07
Hi, thanks for sharing your amazing story. It makes total Hollywood sense - I remember the expert Scandia bartenders - being a little girl in a big wacky world, what I cared about was that there were Swedish meatballs on the counters, but I also noticed that they elegantly handled a very dramatic group of customers. I would love to hear more stories about your father-in-law's life in Scandia-land.

Best, Amy S.
#3 JA 2014-11-30 00:21
My husbands father was a bartender at Scandia's for many years. One night my husband picked up the phone (he was a kid then), and on the other end of the line was Liza Minnelli asking if Johnny (my husband's father) could bartend for her at one of her private parties.
Apparently, Johnny was a great bartender, tight lipped and very respectful of his customers privacy.
When he tells me about the food, I drool and wish so much that I had been able to go to this iconic L.A. landmark!
#2 Jon Fischer 2011-12-18 08:47
Amy, My Dad George Fisher (aka Fischer) was one of the original "Vikings of Scandia". Ken taught my dad how to cook and he cooked in the Scandia kitchen for many years on weekends. My father was a pioneer in radio and TV and reported on the Hollywood scene. He has a "Star" on the "Hollywood Walk of Fame" at about 7072 Hollywood Blvd. Back when Scandia was about a year old my dad stumbled in for dinner and of course LOVED the food. He asked to talk with the chef who was Ken Hansen. My dad started to talk about Scandia on his radio and TV shows. What my dad didn't know at the time was that Scandia was about 2-weeks from going out of business. Well his plugging of Scandia on his shows turned around Scandia's fortunes. Ken gave my dad his own table and offered him a large stake in the restaurant which he turned down. Instead he asked Ken to teach him to cook. So he worked in the kitchen for years. Later Ken kicked him out of the kitchen and told him to go and open his own restaurant. Which he did, it was called "The Potted Pidgin", but that's another story.
#1 Linda W 2011-02-07 13:46
Amy, I didn't have the pleasure of going to Scandia, however it sounds like it was a spectacular place. I have the honor of owning some of the dishes from Scandia, given to me by my mother in law. She received them from the Peterson's, who owned the restaurant after the Hansons. I use these every day and am considering giving them to my grandaughter who will be married next year. How exciting it is to wonder if Natalie Wood or Warren Beatty ate from them! I loved reading your story, especially the special moments we have all shared with our parents. It made me realize what a historic place it really was. Thank you again, Linda

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