Town of Pretend: my tale of Saturday night luxury
All great culinary adventures begin with an automated reminder of a reservation you wisely made a few weeks prior.
I say “wisely” because some restaurants are simply too hot for my skimpy self.
They are ultra hot. Ultra crowded, ultra in-demand. Unlike me.
Some restaurants are everything I am not. Lawry’s “The Prime Rib” of Beverly Hills is one such establishment. Lawry’s is notable because even in a city of such high here-today-gone-tomorrow restaurant turnover, restaurant names changes as often as breast sizes, and Lawry’s is “establishmentarian old-school” by local standards. Lawry’s has been housed at its classic La Cienega address on restaurant row since 1938.
So you get the reminder, as I did, and you must (I must) mentally prepare for such an ordeal.
For many, this may come naturally. The glitz, the glamour, the pretentiousness. For me it is foreboding. I’ve learned to co-exist with this fanciness since my 20’s when I began working in the “industry.” Hollywood is all about “spots” and trendy expensive joints where rich people mingle. Even Asians and Blacks are tenuously welcomed. Hispanics…uh, not so much it seems. Hispanics are familiar with fancy Hollywoodites insofar as we wash their cars, burp their spawn, or wipe crumbs from their tables. Hispanics are the unofficial slave laborers of modern day elite urban America. We work like dogs for peanuts and then get reamed by radio talk show hosts, repressed conservatives, and hysterical HBD bloggers who blame us for coming to America when it is their brethren who solely possess the power to do something about it. It’s like complaining about a roach problem but not throwing the trash out….and getting mad at the trash.
So I’ve always loved the fancy life.
Well, not particularly, but I’ve always loved the pretension. I enjoy the act. It is an act. It’s pretend. I play the impostor sometimes. I’ve never been averse to frequenting exclusive restaurants where most of my fellow diners are WASPy gluttons with too much money too burn and too much social ambition to waste. Los Angeles is the city of pretension. It is the city of being what you are not but maybe wouldn’t mind being. It’s the Town of Pretend.
I’ve been to Lawry’s 3 (4 now) times. It is charming, steadfast L.A. tradition. L.A. has very little of this. The only other “traditional” eatery I’ve dined at in this town was Musso and Frank, a truly, truly old-fashioned grill on Hollywood Boulevard which is now ensconced within the plastic hordes of Hollywood’s new up-and-comers who change names and themes with each shifting tide of market-driven capriciousness.
Knowing this, I hopped in my car, reset all the “trip 2” parameters on my dashboard to zero just to “keep track.” I’d written off a lot of money and a lot of miles to tonight’s rare foray into exclusivity. Even tightwad so-called ascetics like me must eventually submit to contingency. I picked up my dinner guest in Orange County, and headed all the way back to the glowing hinterlands of La Cienaga Boulevard. Not quite Hollywood, not quite West Hollywood, not quite Westwood, why…it’s Beverly Hills! Beverly Hills is like Hollywood but reduced, condensed, and fortified. It’s the worst and the best of our show biz town. The ostentatious glamour, the unworldly means. Except most of it is real. Beverly Hills is the real deal. Once you plod through the thick traffic, diamond lanes, weekend party traffic, street traffic, crowded exits, you finally find yourself driving through Wilshire Boulevard which seems to demarcate the Haves from the Have Nots. People drive ridiculously expensive cars. The scent of money pervades. The scent of conspicuous money. You can choose to fall into one of 3 categories here: 1) Pure envy, 2) Pure resentment, 3) Pure neutrality.
Being the Zenster that I am, I strive for #3, but once you drive through this privileged village, it can be a challenge to maintain the frame.
People drive Range Rovers in Beverly Hills like people drive Honda Civics everywhere else.
The occasional Lotus or Ferrari sighting is exciting for an autophobe such as I. The people (especially the women, grrr) are beautiful here. And they are so strikingly White. Upper crust folk.
I’ve noticed, on the subject of upper crust, that drivers of big Mercedes’ are wise and do not race or act childish on the road. Drivers of big BMW’s have a nouveau riche immaturity still. They aren’t as wise as Mercedes drivers. They might drive childishly and impulsively. They try stupid stuff like passing on the right lane of La Cienega even though the MTA bus is stopped to pick up the Mexican help lined up at the bus stop. Everyone here is frantic, and I do not know why. I am not. We are early. We have a 5pm reservation which is a horribly early reservation in such a hip town. Who eats at 5pm on a Saturday evening in Beverly Hills? The “hip” dining hours are about 7-9. That’s when the It crowd eats. We just want to eat and leave. We aren’t here to enjoy the merriment of the local night life. It is important that you and your dinner guest share dining habits and values. I overestimated the traffic. We exited La Cienega from the Santa Monica Freeway about 4. Damnit. The Harbor Freeway was much lighter than I had feared.
This is how we live in this town.
We estimate our life in terms of traffic. We plan around the reds, yellows and greens of the Sigalert traffic advisory site. Some of us are horrified at the prospect of being tardy. We are vestigial conscientious artifacts of an older era. We never want to be late, especially for an exclusive reservation. So we leave way too early and arrive way too early. We are those nerdy non-party types who show up at the appointed start time which was only intended cosmetically. You know, when you’re still preparing the dips. we are there knocking because you told us to show up at 3:30…?
Despite our earliness, we drive straight to the restaurant and pull up to the valet line. Seems all the iron in the parking lot is typically overpriced European. My previous car was a 1990’s Subaru. I bought a new “stylish” economy-minded Ford a few months ago, and it blends in well in terms of sleekness, but alas, it is a Ford. Car make is a major signalling device in this town. Ford is not the way to ingratiate yourself with status-fixated consumerists here. Ford is for proles. Ford is…Ford. Who cares how well the car has been touted by the automotive press, who cares how well it drives. It is a Ford. Even my dinner guest once guffawed at my Ford acquisition. Whatever! My first car was a Ford. I love cars, I love their mechanics, and I’m more educated about them than most of these bon vivant flavor-of-the-month pieces of elitist shit. They drive only what their society overlords dictate is right. European, Japanese (only high-end stuff, though)…everything else is just garbage. If you choose to drive a prole car, you are one. Well we drove up in my Ford, the best car I’ve driven since my 1996 Honda Integra. We were about 45 minutes early. The earliest reservations at Lawry’s are 4:30. There is a guest room where they serve delicious meatballs. We decided to walk around the block instead. I handed the valet my keys and we walked. It was a cold evening. The days here have been a tad warm, but once the sun sets, you are on your own. We walked around the back of Lawry’s. There are a lot of really expensive rentals on the parallel residential street, apartments and such. The neighborhood is old. Everything is secured and safeguarded. None of the “for rent” signs stated a price except for a one-bedroom we saw that was asking $1400/month. I could handle that but I prefer to hold my money for more useful stuff. If I could live in a forest, I think I could do it. I live in a dive right now. What’s the difference? Big deal. These fancy folks would laugh at my life. Or cringe. I just live. Live is what we are here to do.
We walked peacefully, glimpsed at how the other half lives. We circled back up La Cienega. The restaurants here are high-brow and diluted. Ethnic but watered down by money. They do not breathe the true essence of the culinary ancestry they camouflage. They are palatable to the rich people, which means they are muffled behind the shield of inauthenticity. Why must rich people be such chickens? They don’t seem to enjoy personal risk unless it involves climbing some stupid remote mountain peak. Why are rich people so picky, so discerning?
We turned up La Cienega again and began walking back to Lawry’s since it was nearing 4:45pm by now. We neared a neighboring restaurant called Gonpachi, a very fancy Japanese grill and stumbled upon the end of a shoot that had just taken place at Tanzore, an Indian restaurant, where a bus filled with a crew waited to leave. Apparently the shoot had just finished in anticipation of the normal dinner rush. We walked behind a tall blonde chick in tights and a great ass as she went to pick her car up at the Lawry’s lot.
We arrived and I gave my name to the hostess. I told her I had an “appointment.” I do this often. It’s an amusing and entirely accidental habit. I’m not even embarrassed by it anymore.
We sat in the guest area. Lawry’s is plush with money and well-bred conformity. We had a couple of delicious meatballs and watched as this guy dropped the meatball lid sloppily and loudly on the carpet. Juices and remnants went flying. The attendant came and made light of it. She joked about “wearing it [the lid] as a hat.” She minimized his stupid-ass faux paus and all was good. He laughed and uttered some self-effacing lame ass bullshit. If I had done the same thing, I doubt I would have received such a rousing rescue. Perhaps I’m being touchy. She probably would have rushed to my faux pas and barely broken a smile while vigorously cleaning my mess. This is how I feel.
We got called and were seated in wonderful style. Lawry’s is run to make you feel special. This is their goal. We were taken to a thickly laden room of large leather booths and sat as the attendant dragged the table back, and then forth, to siphon us into our seats. Once you are seated at Lawry’s, you take a deep breath, sit back, and begin to inhale the atmosphere.
A couple of washed-up-looking rockers sat to our right. The dude had a dashing goatee, but he looked like he was on the downhill side of middle age. His date was no younger.
We were greeted by a charming Asian waiter named xxxxxx and he was cool but he wore his role like an artificially enunciated Bruce Lee movie. He was a little aloof, but like all of Lawry’s waiters, he was excelled in the role of table host. He directed the periphery servers well and efficiently.
I had coffee, my dinner partner drank water. Coffee was never scarce. The coffee server was an unsmiling Filipino gentleman but he kept it coming. He always checked on our drinks. The coffee was deep and fabulous…or was it the context? I’ve often wondered if coffee is generally the same everywhere, but perhaps you sympathetically elevate it in accordance with your present environment so it never seems as bad as it was because life is never as bad as it seems.
First up is the bread and salad. The bread is freshly baked sourdough which is as good as bread can get. The waiter then serves up the salad, but it is done with a dash of showmanship. The steel salad bowl is rolled to your table on a cart. It sits atop a layer of ice inside a larger bowl. The waiter then “spins” the salad while flamboyantly pouring in the Russian dressing from up high. The stream of dressing is drizzled over the spinning salad and then served to the guests. Your are left alone to eat the salad and bread in anticipation for the star of the evening: the meat!
When that anticipated moment finally arrives, it is heralded by one of Lawry’s carvers who pushes a large silver meat vessel around the restaurant. When the moment is right, he wheels it up to your table. Time to eat. It is beautiful!
Columns of oozing slowly cooked beef impaled on vertical spikes swim to your table. The carver adeptly slices off the cut you requested (as conveyed by your waiter who took the order earlier). He has different spools for each type of request. I ordered my prime rib “medium rare” which rested on a different column than the one my dinner partner ordered her “medium” from. The prime rib oozes deep meaty flavor and, in my case, a trace of blood as well. Biting into the soft meat and letting the juices flood your mouth is the sweetest sensation. As you chew the prime rib, you experience its dissolving joy as the flesh fibers reduce slowly in your mouth.
You have the choice of ordering creamed spinach or creamed corn, or asparagus. The asparagus takes longer and must be ordered prior. The creamed vegetables are served from the cart. I had the creamed spinach because I am a spinach kinda guy. I love spinach, but it has an unfortunate gastric effect on me if I overdo it…it “overstimulates” my lower instestine. If I eat a sizable amount of spinach, I am attacked by gas, requiring a run to the toilet. But I love spinach, so I endure it. A labor of love.
We were well into our dinner when they seated a cheeseball and his date across from us. He had puffy hair and sideburns. I felt like I was watching an old VHS copy of Swingers. The minute he sat down he spread his arms as far as they would stretch of the top of the booth, as if he was mimicking or recreating some self-conscious tryhard Alpha pose. This is how guys are supposed to comport themselves I suppose. First they need to chub up, grow a lot of hair they can mold into a creepy pompadour. He was such a 21st Century kinda guy. Flaccid fat boys with big mouths and snarling judgements.
I finished my meal apprehensively because the the emetophobe in me has a shaky time with public eating in crowded situations. We feel shaky about eating too much in public. My ideal public eating situation is a quiet, sparsely crowded place, and to be seated outside is even better. The worst dining situation for me is a crowded, cramped and loud restaurant. This draws the emetophobia out. In fact, last month I ate at a Peruvian restaurant that met all my undesirable dining requirements. My meal was excruciating. In such situations, I may experience difficulty in swallowing. The fear of vomit, and vomiting, casts eating as a shaky burden when eating in loud, crowded places. Lawry’s is quiet and never seems frantic or crowded. This made dinner smooth, by my standards. We were so full, we decided dessert was not in the cards. Not now.
Such a dining experience is a foray into exquisite sensual bliss. I’m not much of a foodie type, but I can recognize the vivid pleasures that a great meal can impart. Dinner was nice, conversation was relaxed and intermingled with grunts of masticated orgasm.
After we ate, we were ready to go. Wham, bam, thank you m’am. Actually, I was ready for a nap. But there could be no loafing or frivolity. We were far from home. We were too full for dessert. I’m amazed that after a meal like this, anyone could eat dessert.
We just needed to roll. We were tired and lazy, the kind of sated laziness that a predator might experience after polishing off a large kill on a sunny afternoon. Consumption of heavy food is an amazing thing to witness as it saps your body of energy in order to enable digestion. I would have liked to roll over and slept by a quiet, ripply pond. But we were in the middle of the big city. And the last obstacle arrived, the check. Look, you eat at a place like Lawry’s, and if you’re thrifty like me and my dinner guest, you accept and realize that this is a rare and wonderful event. So you appreciate it in ways I suspect the wealthy might not, the types of people who could easily afford to eat there once a week. It’s a lot of money but you’re fine with it because you know it was worth every penny. It was a fabulous meal and I hadn’t the slightest hesitation or misgivings as I signed the receipt.
We marched slowly out of the restaurant as the hip, nighttime folks were beginning to arrive. I handed my ticket to the parking attendant and he ran off.
We stood atop the stairs while we waited for my car. It was a cold evening. We watched people leave their fancy cars and walk regally into the the restaurant. Much ado about ourselves. We are here to flash our money, our willingness to part with a chunk of it for a single meal that many, many people could never fathom. Here amid the glitter, we don’t think of them. We are too busy being rich, or living as if we were! One couple got out of their car….dressed sharp and trendy. The guy was wearing a black polo shirt. He was buffed out. He wore the inflated muscles of an earnestly masculine man. The girl wore extraordinarily high heels. My dinner guest is averse to such a display and called her a whore (whispered, in my ear, of course). She wondered why women wear shoes like that. I told her it’s what women do. Big-ass heels are the way of the world now. That is a subject in itself. Why do women wear shoes like that today? Super high heels do seem whorish and trashy. I admit this while simultaneously loving it. Men call women whores as a term of endearment.
We continued watching them. I nudged my dinner guest. “Korean?” They looked Korean. Koreans and Japanese love Lawry’s. A large part of the customer base is this Eastern Asian set. In fact, if you look on the Lawry’s website, you’ll note that they have a page entirely devoted to helping Koreans celebrate their children’s 100-day celebrations (a traditional Korean “birthday” celebration) and 1-year birthdays. A whole page devoted to Koreans. Tell me…who frequents this restaurant? You sure don’t see any Lawry’s marketing directed at the quincanera set. Even my dinner guest was Japanese, she’s the one who turned me on to Lawry’s.
And why is it that high heels make women more sexy?
I do not know.
But I love prime rib. This is a constant.