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Ordering In The Court

July 06, 1986|RUTH REICHL

During closing arguments the plaintiffs' lawyer turned to the jury and said, "I've enjoyed sharing the last 10 days with you. It's been very intense." The entire jury nodded; it sounded corny, but it was true.

The case at first seemed incredibly dull. As best I remember, it went like this. Two children were suing an insurance company for their father's death benefits. I envisioned endless talk of actuarial tables. But as the days wore on, forgery, murder, and bigamy all entered the courtroom. As we heard increasingly interesting testimony, the jury, a group of total strangers, became friends. Admonished not to talk about the case, we spent lunchtime talking about the lawyers looks and whispering about the judge's clothes. We learned an awful lot about each other, and at the end of two weeks I had discovered two things: The judicial system may not be efficient, but it works remarkably well. And if you have an hour and a half to eat lunch near the Civic Center, there are a lot of wonderful places in which to do it.

DAY ONE

The plaintiffs's lawyer has a penetrating stare and a minister's voice. He is fascinating to watch. During jury selection he asks me if I am able to recognize a lie. Everybody else has answered yes; I answer, truthfully, that I'm not sure. The defense counsel asks me very few questions, but he does inquire about the identity of the Reluctant Gourmet. Taken aback by his familiarity with my writing, I answer. After all, I'm under oath.

Given this line of questioning, it is not surprising that most of the jurors think I'm the perfect person to tell them where to eat. Not knowing their tastes, I take the easy way out and recommend the Court Cafeteria in Crocker Center. The food isn't fabulous, but it looks appetizing and the selection is good (there is a Deli counter, a Far East counter, a salad bar, a grill and La Salsa for Mexican food). But the attractive surroundings make this more than an ordinary cafeteria. The room is clean and open, there are seats out in the lobby's airy atrium, and there is even a glass-enclosed patio with a fine view. And it is a mere 5-minute walk from the County Courthouse.

My choice is popular: the airline clerk has sweet and sour pork with fried rice, the admissions counselor has some rather sticky clam chowder and I opt for a hamburger. As we eat, we discuss the judge; the airline clerk says, with perfect accuracy, that he looks like a cross between Fred MacMurray and Richard Nixon.

The Court Cafeteria, 330 S. Hope (in the Crocker Center), L.A. (213) 617-7074. Lunch for one, $2-$6.

DAY TWO

The case immediately gets complicated. The kids, it seems, were not named on the insurance policy. A business partner was-- as well as another woman who Dad apparently married without bothering to divorce Mom. Then Dad and the other woman were murdered. Who killed them? We aren't told. All we have to decide is whether or not one of the insurance documents was forged.

All this is so titillating that it is hard not to discuss it. I decide that an equally interesting lunch is in order, so I suggest Restaurant Plaza in Little Tokyo. This is one of the more diverting restaurants in town.

It is the custom in Japan for restaurants to specialize in a single item. Thus you go to a sushi restaurant for raw fish, a tempura restaurant for fried dishes. In a nation of specialists, this makes sense. It makes less sense in a nation of generalists, so a group of small restaurants have banded together--each serves its specialties, but in one large dining room. Thus the menu has many pages, and the waitress will get your noodles from the noodle stand and your friend's salmon teriyaki from another of the little kitchens clustered around the dining room.

In our group, one person has an appetizer of iced tofu with soy sauce and ginger, followed by a sushi assortment. Another has the fat white udon oodles in broth, topped with chicken, while a third has the beautifully arranged Japanese bento box, filled with pickles and cold broiled fish and sesame-sprinkled rice. All the food is tasty and reasonably priced and the service is speedy. Most of us spend about $5, and during the 15 minutes it takes to walk back to the courtroom I realize that lunch has taken my mind off the alleged forgery.

Restaurant Plaza, 356 East 1st St., (2nd floor), L.A. (213) 628-0697

DAY THREE

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