Food, Family, and Memory

FreddeMoulinRougeNow that awards season is over I have a big one to give out.

Let me say at the start, I go to too many restaurants. I was basically raised eating in fancy restaurants. Long before other parents took their kids out to dinner, mine were trendsetters. We were taken everywhere. We were seen and heard. But, we ate our gourmet meals and behaved. Then it was straight home to a proper bedtime.

A friend’s mother, whom I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, recently told me that the first time she met my family, she had been eating with her husband at Villa Capri and spotted us, kids and all, dining at this almost exclusively grown-up place. What she noticed was how well behaved we were.

My parents rarely adhered to the unspoken rules of the 1950’s. They didn’t believe in babysitters. Aside from Villa Capri, we ate at Chasen’s, Scandia, Brown Derby, Moulin Rouge, and every Sunday night at Matteo’s. We even lived for a brief period at the Garden of Allah Hotel, though it was long after guests like Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and F. Scott Fitzgerald had checked out. Anyway, that’s a little of the backstory.

Would today’s Hollywood even exist without its bistros? Nobu, Palm, Mozza, Craft. The oil that lubes the wheels in this town is extra virgin olive oil, preferably for dipping the great bread into at Giorgio Baldi in Santa Monica Canyon. And no great restaurant would survive here or anywhere without those unsung heroes of fine dining – the bussing staff. Technically bussers. But usually referred to as “busboy,” an antiquated term it may be time to lose. Setting tables, clearing tables, cleaning tables, bringing food, you name it, quietly and efficiently. If the service is good, much of the credit goes to them. And that includes “busgirls.” In England the job is often referred to as a waiter’s assistant, a more dignified job description, if you ask me.

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passportsIt was the early 70’s and my sister and I went to Europe for the summer just like everyone in colleges across America. The only thing different for me was I was in my first year of high school and no one could quite believe that my parents encouraged us to don hiking boots, a sleeping bag and backpacks - not even me. “Take your sister or you can’t go.” With 500 dollars each in American Express travelers’ cheques we could afford to eat very well as long as we stayed in youth hostels and camped some of the time.

Our parents dropped us at Logan airport in Boston giving us the following lecture: always stay together, be careful with your passports and call home every week. “See you in August!” and we were off on our first solo adventure. Young and ignorantly fearless.

We landed in London, took a train to the ferry to cross the English Channel and reveled at how easy this traveling solo was. That was until an older couple tapped my sister on her shoulder and asked to speak with us. “Are you traveling alone, just the two of you?” they asked. Yes, we answered in unison, like we always do. Then we got a lecture about keeping ones travel documents safe. The man reached in his pocket and showed us our passports. How could that have happened? My sister had both passports freshly stamped in her back pocket. She had missed her pocket and they had picked them up. They had a difficult time catching up to us because they both needed a cane to walk. Lesson #1, learned.

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