When noted French restaurant critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau published their "Gault/Millau Guide New York" in Paris in 1981, they give particularly low marks to the Manhattan version of London's (and Beverly Hills') Mr. Chow. The dumplings were thick and fatty, the guide noted (in French), and the crepes accompanying the Peking duck were as plump as a finger; the chili chicken was rubbery; the steamed Chinese meatballs had a disturbingly "high" taste. Nothing at the restaurant was much good at all, in fact, according to the critics.
Apparently, few "New-Yorkais" paid attention to the guide when it first appeared. When the English-language edition came out in 1983, however, it was widely reviewed and widely noticed. And Mr. Chow, as Millau himself notes in the April issue of the Gault/Millau magazine, proved to be "as allergic to the rights of the critic as we were to his Peking duck." He sued for libel--and, astonishingly, won a $20,005 judgment against the guide.
The good news, at least from my side of the table, is that the U.S. Court of Appeals has overturned that judgment. Millau was pleased to find, he adds that American justice confirms the opinion of the French variety--which has supported the Gault/Millau publications in at least 30 cases brought against them by restaurateurs or manufacturers. Millau adds generously, "All that remains now is to reserve a table with the good Mr. Chow--and, if I have a better meal at his place than I did the last time, it will give me pleasure to write about it."
"M" IS FOR THE MOUSSE DE POISSON I BOUGHT HER, "O" IS FOR THE OEUFS A LA NAGE . . . : Today, as I hope you've already noticed, is Mother's Day. I will not bother telling you what restaurants are offering special holiday treats for dear old mom, and I will not recount details of all the wondrous menus being offered hither and thither for the occasion. I will simply note that virtually every restaurant of every kind in every corner of the community is open today, and that lots of them are giving away some little gift or other to bona fide mothers. And if you don't plan to take your mother out for a nice meal today, young man (or young lady), I hope you've got a good excuse.
HI TO HY: The Princess Restaurant is no more. The elegant Century City eatery closed its doors last Monday. When it reopens them, in late June or early July, it will be an "upscale steakhouse" called Hy's. Princess Cruises says that "the rapid expansion of the company in the hotel field" is behind their decision to sell the restaurant. . . . Pinafini has just opened at the Beverly Center, featuring the culinary specialties of Venice (the Italian one; no tacos al pastor or cotton candy here ), as prepared by Antonio Tommasi--late of Rex, Boh!, Excelsior, and Il Giardino. . . . Badish news for barbecue-lovers in the Marina, though: The otherwise superlative Benny's on Lincoln Boulevard (which is as good as any similar establishment in the city and better than most, despite its unlikely location) has taken to serving their sandwiches on French rolls instead of white bread--white bread being what barbecue sandwiches belong on (and barbecue sandwiches being, it has been said, the only legitimate use for white bread).
NORTHERN DELIGHTS: William Tomicki, editor and publisher of the breezy, attractive Entree newsletter ("An insider's look at hotels, restaurants & travel around the world"), has kindly dispatched the following restaurant tips from his home base in Santa Barbara: The Palace Cafe is brand new on Cota Street, serving Cajun-Creole food in unpretentious surroundings . . . the popular Norbert's has relocated to an attractive old house on De La Vina Street . . . actor John Ireland, who ran a restaurant for some years in Montecito until the late 1970s, plans to open a pasta bar in the same community in the near future . . . and scheduled for a June debut, again in Montecito, is a large wine bar under the auspices of the Wine Cask--a popular wine shop, wine bar, and restaurant in Santa Barbara itself.
INSTITUTIONAL CHANGES: There was a bit of a buzz in local gastronomic circles a few weeks ago when it was announced that George Trescher, president of the American Institute of Wine and Food, was moving to New York. Since the institute is quite pointedly based in California (in San Francisco for now, and eventually in Santa Barbara), the obvious question was: Has Trescher given up his post? No way, Escoffier. "I keep an office in New York anyway," says the culinary Mr. T, "and the institute is planning to open an office there, too. I'll be flying back and forth a lot. I'll be bicoastal."