The sea lions are coming back. And if you have to ask which sea lions and where they're coming back to, then you're obviously not a typical old L.A. kid--one of those blessed golden youths who grew up in Southern California in the '40s and '50s and who turned strong and wise through the agency of frequent visits, whenever one could get the parents to head the Hudson up the coast a bit, to the real live sea lions who used to reside in that big fenced-in pool in the parking lot of the (what else?) Sea Lion Restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.
Anyway , the sea lions disappeared years ago, probably sometime around the end of the Eisenhower era. "They were a damned nuisance," the ex-proprietor of the restaurant once said. (Among other things, they each ate about 30 pounds of food daily.) The new owner of the property, though--Bob Morris of More Food 'n Fun (i.e., Gladstone's 4 Fish, R.J.'s the Rib Joint, etc.)--has decided that the amiable creatures deserve a return engagement. Plans are afoot to reintroduce them to the Sea Lion parking lot as soon as possible and with the cooperation and advice of Marineland of the Pacific and environmental societies.
The restaurant itself, meanwhile, has been redubbed the Breakers Sea Lion (both Morris' outfit and the Hungry Tiger/Breakers chain are under the W. R. Grace corporate umbrella), and is serving a menu similar to that at Gladstone's--until April. Then, said Morris, a "big surprise" is coming for the site--"a new shoreline concept" that he calls "the most exciting restaurant I've ever built." Watch this space for details.
Morris, incidentally, has an ancient sentimental tie to the Sea Lion (and the sea lions): When he was growing up, his family owned the Paradise Cove sportfishing pier nearby, and one of his first jobs was selling anchovies to the restaurant, as part of the flipper-equipped creatures 30 pounds per.
BLACKENED REPUTATIONS: Satire closes on Saturday night, and unfortunately this column appears on Sunday morning. I was reminded of these facts recently when I received a brace of letters commenting on a remark I had made in these pages, on Dec. 8, regarding the new Cajun-Creole restaurant in Encino called Bourbon Street.
Cataloguing a few of the dishes on the establishment's menu, I poked a bit of fun (I thought) at the presence thereon of that most ubiquitous and belabored New Orleans cliche of the mid-1980s, blackened redfish--which I called "curious-sounding" and opined was probably "an invention of the house." (The joke being, of course, that there is hardly a house today, Cajun-Creole or otherwise, in which the dish is not to be found in some guise or other.)
Well! Mrs. L.O.C. of Glendale (no full names here, in the spirit of belated holiday compassion) promptly corrected my assumption that blackened redfish was Bourbon Street's own, adding, "It is surprising that someone in your business has not long since become acquainted with this delicious fish . . . and more surprising yet that you would not check your facts before going to print!" Ms. or Mr. A.B. of Toluca Lake was harsher still, referring me to the popular cookbook by New Orleans super-chef Paul Prudhomme, who did of course invent blackened redfish (at least in its current form), and suggesting that if I were to peruse said volume, I "might have a point of reference, and not look like such an uneducated fool."
I wonder if L.O.C. and A.B. are also readers of the New Yorker. In the pages of that August periodical recently, distinguished theater critic Brendan Gill noted that he had once been so enamored of Mickey Rooney's performance in "Sugar Babies" that he had called the diminutive actor one of the three greatest men of the 20th Century--the others being Einstein and Freud. Several readers wrote in, he added, to quite seriously complain that Rooney surely wasn't really as great as those two scientists. And, of course, he wasn't. Now, Paul Prudhomme, on the other hand. . . .
NOTES AND COMMENT: Chez Melange in Redondo Beach hosts a benefit for the St. Clare's Family Care Center from 3 to 6 p.m. next Sunday. Such restaurants as the Parkway Grill, the Seventh Street Bistro, Orleans, Fiasco, Chaya Brasserie, and Abacus will contribute food, and 20 or so wineries from Acacia to Storybook Mountain will pour their wares. Call Maria at (213) 372-4634 for information. . . . The American Institute of Wine & Food stages a new Conference on Gastronomy in San Diego, Jan. 23 through 26, with such guests as Diana Kennedy, Seppi Renggli, Alice Waters and Cecilia and Philip Chiang. The event is open to the public. For details: (415) 474-0407 or 435-3571. . . .