There's something brand-new coming to restaurants around the country, according to Leon's Restaurant Services of North Plainfield, N.J.
And just what might that something be? Why, the Friendship Table, of course. Or, to be more precise, the Friendship Table Promotional Program--complete with table tents, display posters, cocktail napkins, 100 copies monthly of the Friendly Exchange newsletter ("formatted to resemble a newspaper and a place mat"), a national annual directory listing Friendship Table members, and all sorts of other good things that you'll just have to have if you're going to participate in the Friendship Table program.
What Leon is offering restaurants is a sort of support system for the installation of a communal table or dining area of some variety--some place, that is, where single diners or lonely out-of-town couples can sit down and eat in the company of their fellow man and/or woman. The restaurant designates the seats and Leon's helps them market them--as "Not just a seating place in an eating place (but) a MEETING place . . . (an) alternative to eating in the park with birds or in front of the TV. . . ."
Now, I don't know about you, but sitting down to dinner with a bunch of people I don't know, and quite probably would never in a million years want to know, isn't my idea of a good time. It's what I call the Bed & Breakfast syndrome, because it's what always happens over the blueberry-walnut muffins in such establishments--the
ell-met-and-now-that-we've-met-let's-be-friends-and-please-pass-the-butter routine--and I say the hell with it. Never mind eating in the park with birds. I'd rather eat in a patch of poison oak with weasels.
I know full well that some people find the idea of solitary dining somehow depressing, as if it were an admission of social failure. (Whatsa matter, buddy? Can't get a dinner date?) Me, I see it the other way around: Whatsa matter? Afraid to be alone with your thoughts? Afraid you and the little lady won't have anything to talk about if it's just the two of you?
I'm serious about this: Sure, most of us--myself included--would rather sit with friends or loved ones than sit alone, but strangers? Why? Think about the advantages of eating alone: If you're the kind who likes to get dining over with fast and get on with real life, you can rudely bolt your food and nobody will care. If you're the gourmet type, you can savor what you're eating without extraneous distraction. You can read at the table, or put your elbows on it, or salt your food before tasting it, or do any other damned thing you want. You can enjoy yourself, for heaven's sake. You can be your own best friend.
WHAT'S SHAKING: Larry Mindel, former chief of Spectrum Foods (MacArthur Park, Chianti, Harry's Bar, etc.), ex-president of the Saga Corp.'s restaurant group and now head of the Italian-style II Fornaio bakery company, is--as everybody knew he would--getting back into the restaurant business: He has announced plans to open a 100-seat mid-priced place in the Marin County town of Corte Madera sometime this fall. The new establishment will be called Il Fornaio Cucina Italiana--and though Mindel has announced no plans to expand the concept, you can bet your bottom lira that this won't be the last such place we see.
Bernard's at the Biltmore Hotel downtown has been remodeled and has installed a new chef--Roger Pigozzi, former executive chef at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and at Pavan in downtown's Hyatt Regency Hotel. . . . Salvatore's, a 25-year-old family-style Italian restaurant in Orange County, is moving from its longtime Garden Grove location to new quarters on Brookhurst Street in Anaheim. . . . Ironically, now that the West L.A. neighborhood around Wilshire and Barrington has begun to be a hot restaurant area (with a branch of Angeli and the new Horny Toads among places slated to open there soon), one of the vicinity's longtime success stories, La Barbera's pizzeria, is sporting "AUCTION" signs on its lifeless windows. . . . The City Grill is new in the recently renovated L.A. Hilton Hotel downtown--occupying the former premises of the Beef Baron.
GOING FOR CROAK: Just thought you'd like to know that Brazil has no intention of being a little fish in the big pond of the international seafood market. According to a recent report from that nation, Brazil's lobster-tail exports to the United States were down 30% last year. But Brazilians have something in mind to take up the slack--a burgeoning frog-farming industry that hopes to help supply our own country (among others) with lots and lots of those pond-bound creatures' tasty legs. There are already about 500 frog farms in Brazil, and the trade is said to be, er, jumping.