One of the most comfortable, and comforting, eating places in Los Angeles closed last Sunday evening. It was the Beverly Wilshire Hotel's El Padrino--a woody, equestrian-themed hideaway, with "21" Club tablecloths and grown-up service, founded in 1962 by the hotel's self-styled padrino ("godfather"), the late Hernando Courtright.
El Padrino was never, frankly, a restaurant you went to for great food--and, like most hotel dining rooms, it charged maybe 20 or 30% more for things than comparable free-standing places would have done. But--and I say this with the experience under my belt (quite literally, alas) of several years' worth of twice- or thrice-weekly lunches there at one point in my life--the fare was always solid, honest and dependable. Salads were generous and made to order; the ceviche and gazpacho were both spicier and more authentic than anybody had the right to expect; dishes like cold roast chicken, ground sirloin steak with sauteed onions and various simple preparations of fresh fish had an attractive old-fashioned purity about them, and there was always that pumpernickel cheese toast--and that formidable Beverly Wilshire wine list (which, though it has become considerably less formidable recently, still offers some real treasures at fair prices).
Beyond all that, though, El Padrino just felt right. It was just dark and convoluted enough to offer borderline anonymity when that was required, and just noisy enough to make you feel like you were out in society. The booths opposite the bar, in design and material both, were about as good as restaurant seating gets. Walking into the place was like coming home--not your own home, perhaps, but a home in which you were genuinely welcome. El Padrino meant a lot to me: I played office politics there, and made friends and life decisions. I mention this only because I suspect that virtually everybody who frequented it has strong, and probably good, memories of their own associated with El Padrino. It was that kind of place.