One of the things I always say on The Food Show(airs weekdays 2-4 pm on WGSO 990AM) is that we are privileged to be here because “even our bad food is good food.” We take that for granted, but it’s easy to be reminded of that when we travel to places not so fortunate. Even places renowned for good food often don’t measure up.
As everyone knows, I am in Los Angeles a lot. We go there to visit family, so a lot of eating is done at home. My son makes a very credible French omelet using deft flicks of the wrist while holding the special omelet pan, and carefully lifting the eggy mass with his soft spatula. And his wife is a master of Asian salmon and rice dishes that are very tasty. Lastly, the mother-in-law is a fantastic Italian cook, who veered off the path this time and delivered a killer Mexican lasagna featuring house-fried tortillas. So if we never went anywhere we would be eating very well. But our business is dining out and I feel compelled to visit a few restaurants. This is much easier without Tom in tow, but we make a serious effort to do it anyway, and sometimes our misses are more interesting than our successes.
First, no report on eating in L.A. is complete without mentioning one of the great pleasures of my life, and now Tom’s: breakfast poolside at our beloved Langham Hotel in Pasadena. My favorite longtime waiter Fernando was not there for most of the breakfasts we had, which has an outsized impact on my personal experience.
I actually thought about getting something different this time, but the simple American breakfast just checks all the boxes for me.
I never even change the toast, because sourdough is synonymous with California to me. And Tom will not part ways with French Toast, anywhere. Here it is especially pretty with an orchid blossom to grace the plate.
On this visit, we had the opportunity to have the brunch buffet, which was a disappointment. It is a shadow of its former self, offering only unappealing eggs in a huge chafing dish in lieu of an omelet station. But the delectable Quiche Lorraine was there, along with piles of bacon that is thick, smoky, salty, and stiff. I also love the grilled ciabatta chunks. In our group waffles were popular, but there were never enough of them in a serving dish.
I had a bucket list of places for a lengthy trip like this where I had a car. I wanted to visit the Panda Inn, the flagship of five concepts including the Panda Express, ubiquitous everywhere. It is located in Pasadena, and naturally, was finally getting a redo of the mid-Twentieth century property. So I missed the good stuff. I also said I would visit one of the last remaining outposts of the Spaghetti Factory, a popular Seventies chain, but I decided not to waste a rare chance to eat on that. Instead, I would focus on two places I have longed to go: a Sinatra hangout in West Hollywood called Dan-Tana’s, and an early Wolfgang Puck favorite, Chinois On Main in Santa Monica.
Dan-Tana’s has long fascinated me, ever since I heard of it. A tiny dump of a place serving old-fashioned Sicilian Italian food, it is insanely busy, so much so that one shouldn’t even think of going there without a reservation, which is nearly impossible to get.
When my daughter-in-law mentioned that, I immediately called them and snared a reservation from a cancellation minutes before. It was for 6 pm the following evening. These are serious business people who check and recheck reservations and are monitoring their phones all day.
On Tuesday, the day of the resy, Tom was a zombie. There was no way I could drag him there, no matter how serendipitous it was to get in. I got a call mid-afternoon to re-confirm, which I did, but I had to cancel two hours later.
I was planning to abort the entire trip based on Tom’s condition on Tuesday, but he arose on Wednesday just fine. Our son felt bad about us having to bail on the Hollywood institution, so he offered a different one on Wednesday for lunch.
The Smokehouse in Burbank is directly across the street from the Warner Bros. massive studios. There is a side door where stars like Erroll Flynn would run over in their costumes and have lunch in sort of a side room. I have passed the Smokehouse a zillion times, declaring it an excellent example of what I call “Giorlando’s Syndrome,” a place with such dreadful curb appeal you wouldn’t consider crossing the threshold. Then you do for some reason and are saddened by all you missed.
Giorlando’s is one thing and The Smokehouse, quite another. I sat at the table for a good half hour with my jaw still gaping. The place is absolutely stunning. Mesmerizing. It is very dark and meandering, with different rooms, nearly all of which have a fireplace. The walls of each room are covered with real movie posters lit brightly, which is where most of the light in the place is found. But it is enough to set a mood. A very glamorous mood. Tufted shiny red leather booths line the walls, and “business” is being conducted at all the adjacent tables.
The extensive menu is leather-bound and runs the gamut. There is Prime Rib alongside Fish & Chips, and I was intrigued by a “Cajun Pasta” dish, as well as Chateaubriand carved tableside. We will return for this. As for the "Cajun" dish. I didn’t want to waste a meal to laugh at a California version of our food, though I suspected it would be delicious rather than laughable. This place caters to the most well-heeled of the well-heeled, and they get around. They would know an imposter of our local cuisine.
There was chaos ordering for a family with three little ones, so Mom did that quickly. One of the orders was Prime Rib, which astonished me with its goodness. The mashed potatoes that accompanied it were also much better than they had to be. The grilled chicken got the same reaction. Surprisingly delicious.
I ordered grilled artichokes and spin dip, just to see how it would be here. The artichokes, were tender and delicious, with a nice char and a great aioli for dipping.
The Spin Dip was another pleasant surprise. It was baked with a good cheesy crust, and the flavor of the cheese medley was complex. They made a point of mentioning that it included bacon. This was served with crispy tortilla chips.
We also got a house specialty. It is their signature garlic cheesy bread. This was really great, really cheesy, and really garlicky. They are very proud of this, and they should be.
For an entree Tom and I split a cheeseburger, which came with fries and a “special sauce.” It was a massive thing, piled high with dressings and another pile of frozen but good fries. This was a delicious burger. It was thick and crusty with a good smoke flavor. Like a backyard burger complete with a slab of purple onion.
The kid section had its own thing going. The Smokehouse takes its buttered noodles seriously. There was a carrot and asparagus mixed veggie dish that was very good, and the mom of this bunch got a Caesar salad that was intense with anchovy, but very good.
Our eldest grandson is intrigued by all this picture-taking of food. He has taken to doing his own staging.
The Smokehouse is an iconic place with such a storied history that a photographer traverses the room looking to chronicle your visit. We are suckers for such things and left with a great memory of a special visit, along with the pics to prove it.