Once upon a time I imagined a " nouvelle nightmare" in which there was a McDonald's that looked like Michael's and served a "Big Rac" of Sonoma spring lamb, a Shakey's with wood-burning pizza ovens and 250 kinds of California wine, and a Sizzler with a cold hors d'oeuvre selection (including sea urchin bisque and crayfish-and-veal-liver terrine) instead of a salad bar. Since that piece appeared, contemporary design and "New American" menu items have begun invading the wonderful world of fast food. And now, exceeding my wildest fantasies in this regard, comes the new Nihonmachi Denny's.
Nihonmachi is the Japanese term for "Japantown" in San Francisco, and the Nihonmachi Denny's, opened last month, stands at the corner of Post and Buchanan streets on the site of the old Kokusai Theatre. The restaurant betrays its theatrical origins with high ceilings and a lack of windows (though it is extravagantly sunlit due to a large skylight that has been installed). A golden torii gate towers over the two-level dining room, but otherwise the decor is hip and contemporary and not traditionally Japanese at all: Rose, gray, and white tones dominate; a cool, carpeted entrance-way greets diners; and walls are hung with Asian-modern prints.
Eric Chan of Lun Chan Associates, the firm responsible for the interior, describes the style as "post-modern impressionism." The menu is hardly nouvelle , but in addition to standard Denny's fare, it offers such specialties as saimin noodles (made with Portuguese-style sausage imported from Maui), "popcorn shrimp," skewered yakitori chicken, and even double-layer coffee crunch cake, invented by the late lamented Blum's restaurant/bakery chain (this version provided by the nearby Yasukochi's Sweet Stop). Denny's Emerald Ridge house wine is available by the glass or bottle, and there are both imported and domestic beers and hot or cold sake for sale as well. Sushi is not yet available, but can it be far behind?
ATTACK OF THE CORN-DOG PIZZA PEOPLE: Still more restaurant "creativity," this time in the fast-food world. This fall, the 272-unit Wienerschnitzel chain plans to introduce its customers to a new product called, yes, Corn-Dog Nuggets. If they have plans to add breaded veal cutlets to their menu, too--that being what "Wienerschnitzel" means, of course--they have not yet announced it.
ON THE SIDE: The Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, just across the street from Beverly Hills, honors its distinguished neighbor's 75th anniversary today with a nine-foot-high, 300-square-foot Diamond Jubilee birthday cake. . . .
Trattoria Angeli in West Los Angeles announces that it is now open for dinner on Sunday, and, until Labor Day, will close for Saturday lunch; meanwhile, Opera announced that it is now open for lunch. . . .
Beaurivage in Malibu celebrates both Bastille Day and its own 6th anniversary on July 14 with a gala dinner, dancing and a raffle, the grand prize being air-fare for two to Nice, France and a week's lodging at the Hotel Beaurivage. Reservations must be made in advance and are limited. . . .
REMEMBER THE MAIN: Charley Cooper of Whittier was fascinated, he writes, by a reference in the May 29 column, to a "live main lobster dinner" offered at a certain local restaurant. "Is that anything like a 'main man' or a 'main squeeze'?" he asks. "Or perhaps it comes from a main stream." Then he poses a truly thought-provoking question: "If you eat a main lobster, does that mean the tributary lobsters will dry up?" Well, he had his laugh. Mainly, it was just a typo. It should have read: Maine.
In another recent column Gerry Furth, Le St. Germain's media liaison, was misidentified as a "he." And she called to tell me so.