A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from Richard Feldman and Michael Spear, both registered sanitarians with the South Health Center Environmental Sanitation Office in Los Angeles, regarding an item I had included in my April 24 column about New York City's recent restaurant health inspector scandal. "Ever refuse to patronize a restaurant because you've read that it is guilty of health code violations?" I had asked in the column. "Ever dine in confidence because you know a place has passed inspection?" If so, I continued, you might wish to consider the fact that 28 current and former New York City Health Department inspectors had just been charged with extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Gotham restaurants--both accepting bribes to overlook violations and condemning places unfairly if payoffs were not forthcoming.
Since, write Feldman and Spear, most of my readers presumably live in Los Angeles County and patronize local restaurants, it seemed that the integrity of our own county health inspectors was being called into question. If I possessed any evidence on which to base suspicion of local restaurant inspection policies, they quite reasonably demand, I should come forward with it. In any case, they suggest, I should refrain from "casting aspersions on an entire professional group due to the alleged malfeasance of an unrelated few."
I can assure Feldman and Spear that I have no evidence whatsoever that the health inspectors of Los Angeles County are anything but honest and able. And I certainly didn't mean to impugn their integrity. I was reporting on a restaurant-connected municipal scandal in New York City, period. I regret any broader implications that might have been read into my words. A clean bill of health in Los Angeles County restaurants is, to the best of my knowledge, a clean bill of health. I just thought that readers should be reminded that that's not necessarily true in every jurisdiction.
SALT AND PEPPER: Jean Rouard celebrates the 14th anniversary of his La Polonaise in Beverly Hills with a special $19 prix fixe dinner, with entertainment on the side. . . . Noted cookbook author and sometime restaurant consultant Marion Cunningham checks into Ma Cuisine in Newport Beach on June 25 to teach two classes--breakfast dishes (one of her great specialties) from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and bread basics (another of her great specialties, come to think of it) from 2 to 5 p.m. Classes cost $75 each. Information: (714) 759-6818. . . . Sleuth's Grill and Bar in Sherman Oaks hosts "Dial M Murder Myster" dinners every Saturday evening, beginning with cocktails at 6 p.m. and dinner at 6:30, followed by a you-solve-it mystery performance. . . . And 1000 Wilshire, at that address in Santa Monica, has launched a new Sunday champagne brunch (the "champagne" in question being the tasty Lembey Brut from Spain).
IN CLOSING: The Darwin in Santa Monica closed abruptly the night of June 4. There have been rumors that the restaurant is for sale, or has in fact already been sold, but a recording on the Darwin's phone line says, "We're closed for summer restoration work and will reopen most probably in early fall. " Anyone interested in being notified of the reopening date is invited to send in a card with his or her name and address. The recording adds the "good news" that Darwin proprietor Gary Neville has recently purchased the Georgian Hotel, also in Santa Monica, and plans to open a new restaurant there later this summer.