The first thing you see when you walk into the World Famous Malibu Sea Lion U.S.A. Restaurant (assuming you'd go to a place with a name like that) is a slab of chocolate cake on display, museum style, under a bell jar on a pedestal. The piece of cake is big. Big as a telephone book. Big as a portable typewriter.
"Awesome," says one visitor.
"Gross," says his girlfriend.
"This is a piece of cake," says a plaque on the pedestal.
The next thing you see is another pedestal displaying the cake itself, in its entirety, a chocolate edifice three cakes high.
The menu explains the philosophy behind all this: "The Captain believes that America is the Breadbasket of the World and that the Malibu Sea Lion is where it's at. Our overabundant portions are HUGE." The Captain, it develops, is the Sea Lion's new owner, Robert Morris of R.J.'s the Rib Joint and Gladstone's 4 Fish, who apparently has in mind more of that brand of move-'em-in, fill-'em-up, move-'em-out volume business. With two-tiered seating, everyone gets a view of the cemented-together coastal rocks and the ocean beyond, and no one gets a view of the sunset that, since Malibu faces south, always happens out of sight around a cliff somewhere.
Well, you can't have everything, but think of all you can have here if you've got the stomach for it--potato skins oozing this and that (chili, cheese, BBQ beef); steak;great platters of ribs; chicken and fish; an all-you-can-eat Grande Buffet extravaganza;potato nachos--just like regular nachos only instead of tortilla chips, potato chips that are soggy from having been heated to melt the cheese (back to the drawing board with that one, fellas).
And to wash it all down, how about one of those giant fun drinks with cute names: a Screaming Clam (clam and tomato juice, tequila, horseradish, tabasco)or something with ice cream, perhaps--say, a Root Beer Float with Galliano or a Ramos Ice Cream Gin Fizz.
"I had one of those," says our eager-beaver young hostess. "It was really good but I got really sick. I don't know if it was that or the duck. Maybe it was the wrong combination."
Losing your appetite? I hope not because there's still an awful lot MOR (that's how the menu spells it) to eat, particularly if you don't mind waiting in line at the salad bar. It's got to be the world's biggest--100 items, says the menu--marinated veggies and pickled peppers (seven kinds), pickled cukes and broccoli, corn relish, sauerkraut, olives, pickles, onion, hard boiled eggs, corn nuts and soy nuts, crisp Chinese noodles, crayfish, salami, prunes, dried apricots, sprouts, trail mix, dates, raisins. . . .
No more room on your plate? Eat up and go back for more. There's still watercress, lima beans, black-eyed peas, green beans, garbanzos, kidney beans, hearts of palm, pickled beets, herring, mushrooms, cottage cheese, baby corn, guacamole, carrot salad, chicken salad, tuna salad, potato salad, pasta salad (three kinds), fruit salad, radishes, croutons, baby shrimp, scallops, crab, and, of course, lettuce and spinach. Eat! You want to get your money's worth, don't you? ($3.95 with dinner; $6.95 without.)
But wait. You don't want to miss the Giant Clay-baked Potato gimmick ("It's a Meal!" the menu declares). There's a Special Clay-baked Potato waitress serving one at the table next to ours now. She's wrapped it in a white napkin, then whacked it with a hammer to break the clay away and, voila, it's a potato all right. A big one. Big as a football. She slices it open and glops on the special ingredients the customer asks for--American Golden caviar, shrimp, grated orange cheese, bacon, salsa, sour cream, chives, butter, guacamole. (He's skipped chili, gravy, chopped peppers, blue cheese.)He's mashing the thing together and, what with the guacamole, the whole vast thing's taken on a pale green hue. Mmmmmm. Look at him dig in, one big green mushy bite after another.
What's that?You want to take a break, watch the ocean rise and fall, rise and fall? No time. Here come our entrees. Too bad you're not hungry any more, because this is the best part, really--grilled salmon that's nice and fresh and plain;shrimp scampi, grilled, with deliciously garlicky drawn butter;and tender, meaty boiled lobster, a tasty little fellow. A shame you stuffed yourself with bargain salad and nachos. But you're not the only one. Many people leaving are toting leftovers in the shape of gold foil swans and party baskets.
Now, of course, it's time for a slab of that chocolate cake, a triumph of quantity over quality, it turns out. No better than what you'd buy in a grocery store--it and the lemon meringue pie, apple pie, the Malibu Sea Lion Chocolate Chip Cookie Experience ("a GIGANTIC cookie topped with mounds of ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream")--but served in such embarrassing excess that it awakens the greedy 5-year-old within, the one who forgets about the unpleasant bloated feeling, or worse, to follow, and keeps shoveling it in, not because it's good, but because it's there, like the ocean outside, rising and falling, rising and falling. Dramamine anyone?
Malibu Sea Lion, U.S.A., 21150 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. (213)456-2810. Open seven days, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.. Valet parking. Full bar. All major credit cards. Dinner for two, food only, $20-$50.