Restaurant critics are asked three questions: How did you get your job? How do you keep your figure? How do you choose the restaurants you review? This won't answer the first two questions, but it ought to give you some insight into the last.
Today 32 people I don't know called and asked for dining advice. Some of them were very nice, but when a secretary called from Boston I finally lost my patience. Her boss was coming to L.A. for an eight-day jaunt, and she wanted me to tell her where he should eat each of his meals. "Please do a little research," she said, "I'll call you back tomorrow. Don't forget the telephone numbers." That was the last straw. I told her about the many wonderful guidebooks on the market. And then I hung up.
The phone rang again almost immediately. It was the restaurant critic from a college newspaper, and he wanted to know what I thought of the Bistro Garden. It reminded me that I haven't been there in a long while. "Are you going to try it?" he said wistfully, "I wish I could come with you."
Two hours later I am thinking that I wish he were there to see the treatment Colman Andrews and I are getting at lunch. They take one look at the two of us and promptly seat us in Siberia. There may be a beautiful garden, but we can hardly see it from the entrance way in which we are seated, and people going in and out keep tripping over us. The waiter seems ineffably bored by our presence. I have a quesadilla , topped with truly awful guacamole; it costs an astronomical $12 (well, their rent is high). Colman has the hamburger, which has little bits of chopped onion sprinkled into the meat, and is great. Unfortunately, Colman gives me a manuscript, which I manage to leave under the table, and I spend the rest of the afternoon talking a friend into picking it up so that the restaurant won't find out who I am.
The Bistro Garden, 176 N . Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, 550-3900.
Tonight the Reluctant Gourmet is taking me to see "The Cotton Club." Someone suggests that the perfect place to eat before the movie would be Nickodell, and since I've never been there, we do that. We are both immediately charmed; the place is sort of worn and comfortable and filled with an interesting mix of rumpled people who look as if they have been sitting there since the '30s. Is the roast beef rare? Our waitress--who is straight out of the movies--lifts her eyebrows and leads me to understand that this is a near impossibility. "Here?" she says. We end up with great onion rings, decent hamburger steaks, and some of the worst vegetables I've ever eaten. When I give the waitress a decent tip, she says, "Honey, let me stamp your parking ticket twice." To try next time: grilled swordfish.
Nickodell, 5511 Melrose Ave., Hollywood, 469-2181.
A wine importer calls to tell me about a wonderful little Italian restaurant he has just discovered. It sounds so interesting that I call the writer I am having lunch with and ask her if she would mind changing restaurants. Both of us manage to get lost trying to find the way into the garage.
Giovanni occupies what must once have been a coffee shop in a Wilshire Boulevard office building. A lot of money has been poured into the place; there's a green marble bar, an open pastry kitchen, and lots of neo-modern art everywhere. Despite the sophistication of the decor, the restaurant has a naive feeling; when we order, the waiter nods his head approvingly and says, "Yes, yes, I like risotto very much." I also like the risotto with porcini very much--the chef has managed to make it both creamy and al dente at the same time. The ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a butter and sage sauce are equally fine.
These are followed by a couple of disappointing entrees, but the first dishes are so good, the bill so moderate and the service so charming that I leave with every intention of returning sometime soon.
Giovanni, 3540 Wilshire Blvd., 381-6240.
Tonight a friend from out of town has insisted upon eating at Trumps. I'm game; it's been months since I was last here. I am also a little nervous: the chef, Michael Roberts, knows me. I needn't have worried; Michael never emerges from the kitchen, nobody pays us the least mind, and the food is wonderful. Michael may be L.A.'s most slyly humorous chef--there's a little joke lurking somewhere in most of his food. Who else would top plantains with sour cream and black beans and then garnish them with big dollops of black and gold caviar? Who else would put fried chicken, French toast and maple syrup together on the menu of an expensive restaurant? And who else would tuck a plump little duck liver into the thickly battered chicken? This is delicious food, made by someone who not only loves to eat, but never quite gets his tongue out of his cheek. I can't wait to come back.
Trumps, 8764 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood, 855-1480.