What makes a memorable restaurant experience? Recently I dined in San Francisco at a restaurant that perhaps even Lewis Carroll would have been reluctant to introduce into Alice’s wonderland. The staff was so remarkably disorganized that we delighted in trying to predict the unpredictable outcome our routine restaurant protocol generated.
Customers and staff disregarded the restaurant’s wait-to-be-seated list, much as New York pedestrians ignore red lights. Our friends told us that those who put their names on the list never get seated. So, we walked past the unmindful hostess and headed for the best available table, sat down and placed our orders. Our friends warned that ordering had an element of uncertainty – one could never be certain of receiving what had been ordered. In fact, I did get some of what I had ordered – three times over! During the course of my meal I received three separate servings of clam chowder – each one slightly warmer than the previous.
Undeniably great music, an outstanding view and friendly but erratic servers complimented our meal. No one seemed to care that the food was mediocre. The experience was, in its own way, fun. It was also memorable but not one I would care to repeat very often.
Each of us has our own criterion when it comes to identifying restaurants we like to frequent. We also have our own measuring stick when it comes to choosing where we entertain visitors. Among the many fine restaurants Los Angeles offers, I’m going to suggest a few that you may perhaps not have thought of. None of them are imitations of the San Francisco restaurant although each will, I think, provide a positive, memorable dining experience.
Inn of the Seventh Ray
128 Old Topanga Canyon Road
Topanga, CA 90290
Au naturel. The Inn of the Seventh Ray is a throwback to that aspect of ‘60s hippie culture that called for a return to nature. Fresh food is prepared on the premises using unique recipes reflecting a judicious use of herbs. Cooking is done with nut and olive oils. Most of the dining area is outdoors next to an oak lined brook that ripples past during winter and spring, at least during non-drought years. The Inn of the Seventh Ray is one of my favorites. Their Sunday brunch is among the best in Los Angeles.
Located in the Santa Monica Mountains, Inn of the Seventh Ray is a short, scenic diversion from Pacific Coast Highway. The early evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson was rumored to have had her private mountain retreat here. The little shop adjoining the dining area is worth a walk-through even if its items don’t lighten your pocketbook.
27400 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90265
Reaching for the Stars. Built in 1948 and known as the Holiday House, a resort/hotel/watering hole, it became a hangout for stars of the day such as Frank Sinatra, Lana Turner and Shirley MacLaine. It has also been identified as the place where John F. Kennedy began his affair with Marilyn Monroe. In 1983, under new ownership, its name was changed to Geoffrey’s and converted to a restaurant only. It continues to attract Hollywood luminaries, politicians and locals.
Their outdoor dining area offers a striking view of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Bay coastline. In stark contrast to a number of other ocean front restaurants that offer great views, Geoffrey’s also offers great tasting food.
6800 Westward Beach Road
Malibu, CA 90265
Romance. Located on the southern end of Zuma Beach, separated from the sand only by the two lane Westward Beach Road, Sunset Restaurant is a hangout for locals that serves good food and provides live entertainment on some evenings. This is an ideal place to have a leisurely dinner while watching a kaleidoscope of colors formed by the setting sun, followed by a stroll on the beach as the moonlit surf crashes toward shore.
Saddle Peak Lodge
419 Cold Canyon Road
Calabasas, CA 91302
Hunter’s Delight. Known for its exquisitely prepared wild game dishes Saddle Peak Lodge is nestled in the Malibu Hills. Originally a way stop and general store along a rugged mountain trail, in the 1920s it evolved into a summer resort that was discovered by such Hollywood stars as Errol Flynn and Clark Gable.
Creeping housing developments have eroded but not eliminated the area’s wilderness ambience. However, Saddle Peak Lodge retains its historic interior charm whether you are dining inside the old lodge or on its enclosed outdoor patio. Also offered is an outstanding Sunday brunch. Except for the Sunday brunch, it is only open for dinner.
7001 Franklin Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90028
It’s Magic. Located at the foot of the Hollywood Hills in one of the first mansions built in Hollywood (1909) the Magic Castle is a private clubhouse operated by the Academy of Magical Arts as a showplace for top professional and amateur magicians who perform a variety of close-up, parlor and stage magic.
The performances are preceded by a dinner that is, I think, superior to that served at a typical dinner theater. A nice view of Hollywood adds to the dining pleasure. If you need to simultaneously feed and entertain visitors, I have found the Magic Castle a good solution.
The Magic Castle is a members only club. In the past, they have accommodated members of the consular corps who wish to introduce visitors to their club. The Los Angeles County Office of Protocol and Lourdes Saab have been most helpful in intermediating with them.
Jaak Treiman is author of A Diplomatic Guide to Los Angeles: Discovering its Sites and Character. He is also the Honorary Consul for Estonia and a member of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. This blog is written in his personal capacity for members of the Los Angeles Consular Corps and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Estonian government or foreign ministry or the views of the Los Angeles Consular Corps. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.