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Baby Chickens and Rigatoni Napoli : Menu Takes the Cake at Ronald Reagan's Bistro Garden Birthday Party

February 16, 1989|ROSE DOSTI | Times Staff Writer

"Ronnie Reagan is having his birthday at the Bistro Garden and I wouldn't miss being there for the world. Want to join me?" asked my friend Jill, who seems to have a link to a who's who in world-class restaurant reservations.

Well, I did vote for him by default. And Feb. 6 is also my birthday. Besides, I could use an evening away from the house and kids.

"OK," I said. "I'll join you."

"Good," said Jill. "Let's make it at 7:30. It's probably going to be an early night. Ronnie likes to go to bed early, I hear."

I wondered what I should wear. I wondered what Nancy would wear. Red, no doubt. Something charming, borrowed or bought . . . who cared? Maybe a beaded bodice too. That's the latest thing from New York and Paris. Beads, beads, beads.

But Would He Notice?

I decided to wear the warm and woolly, forest green Donna Karan I picked up on sale at the Cooper Building, with my cozy muskrat Swing coat. They're nice, but not necessarily presidential material. Ronald Reagan would probably never notice, anyway. Nor would Nancy. Who cared?

From a block away I could spot the horde of plainclothes security officers, groupies and media people clustered around the Bistro Garden's entrance like early birds at a Circuit City two-hour sale. I detoured to the back entrance. I despise bulldozing my way through restaurant groupies. Immediate rejection of my non-celebrity status is hard to take before dinner. Or after, for that matter.

Jill was already at our table wedged into the corner of a corner table, facing the main dining room. The chairs on either side of the table faced a wall. I sat at her left facing a pretty wallpaper print.

"Where's Ronnie?"I asked, contorting my torso into a Yoga cobra twist.

"In the other room with 90 invited guests," Jill whispered.

"I thought he was dining with us," I said facetiously.

She reeled off the names of the creme de la creme in world affairs and show biz she'd recognized. A mixed, unlikely bag: former Secretary of State George and Helena Shultz; William and Betty Wilson; Walter and Lee Annenberg; Armand and Harriet Deutsch; Lew and Edie Wasserman; Tony Martin and Cyd Charisse; Betsy Bloomingdale and Ed Cox; Eva Gabor; Merv Griffin; Bob and Dolores Hope, and Mary Martin.

"Eva Gabor? What's she doing here?" I asked, not without envy.

"Looks great. So does Shultz. Brown as a berry and really cute."

"And Ronnie?"

"Relieved."

"Who wouldn't be?"

"Nancy is in red again, looking very thin."

"With beads, I bet.

"How did you know? Everybody's in beads and black. Black, black, black."

"So, what's for dinner?"

"Anything you want, dearie. Dinner's on me."

"No, I mean at Ronnie's birthday party."

"I'm not sure, but I'll find out. You just sit tight."

I sat facing the wallpaper print, listening to the clitter-clatter of dishes and din of conversation behind me while Jill was on her reconnaissance mission.

Moments later I felt Jill's strong hands grab my shoulders from behind. "Guess what?" she asked. "Ronnie just spilled his drink all over Marion Jorgensen's gorgeous black gown. She's out in the kitchen drying up."

"How awful. Did he apologize?"

"With a joke."

Then she quoted or paraphrased, I'm not sure which.

Three Things That Failed

"There are three things failing me in my old age," Reagan had said. "The first is my eyes. The second . . . er . . . I forgot what the other two things were."

"Do you suppose they'll serve the same menu to us?" I asked, interrupting Jill's cackle.

"You really want to eat BABY chickens?" Jill asked aghast. "That's what they're having--baby chickens and lemon birthday cake.

"Oh, come on," I said. Baby chickens have been "in" for years now.

"Are they really BABY chickens?"

"Sure," I said. "Three week-old chickens."

"Ugh."

Baby chickens marketed today are sold chiefly to restaurants as poussin, the French name for spring or unfledged chicken, I explained to Jill. Poussin , not to be confused with squab, which are young pigeons, have been used over the centuries by Italian and French chefs, who have served the small birds en cocotte (small casseroles) or grilled, because of their extra tenderness.

Game bird producers both in New York state and Northern California have, within the last decade, produced naturally-fed 14- to 16-ounce baby chickens, as more and more French and Italian chefs have made professional inroads in the United States, according to Bob Shiply of Squab Producers of California, the largest producers of squab in the United States.

Impressive Fare

You can also find poussin at gourmet food stores. Cost (about $3.25 apiece) is high, compared with $1.50 for regular supermarket broiler-fryers. But they're worth the price, if you want to impress.

The Bistro menu actually began with Scottish salmon on toast. The second course: rigatoni Napoli made with ham, salami, green olives and mushrooms. A slightly odd pairing of dishes, but the rigatoni could carry it off if it was good. It was.

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