No doubt you've seen Orange County's newest landmark, the incandescent globe towering over South Coast Plaza Village. Yo! Welcome to "A Clockwork Orange--The Restaurant."
It marks the site of Planet Hollywood, of course--a place that some would say is a spin-off of the Hard Rock Cafe franchises, one of which just arrived in Fashion Island. But even if the Hard Rock's owners think their concept has been borrowed, who cares? Originality-wise, the idea of combining pop culture and pop food isn't exactly the patent for superconductivity.
Besides, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone are partners in Planet Hollywood, so originality can't be that big of an issue. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is still the No. 1 rule in marketing, and just get a load of these crowds. This place must be the hottest thing to hit Orange County since the Santa Ana Freeway.
Inside, the restaurant is a Minotaur's maze of artificially lit rooms in spasms of soft, sound-stage colors. One wall is a three-dimensional \o7 trompe l'oeil\f7 rendering of the Los Angeles basin as seen from the top of Mulholland Drive. Other walls showcase various props from smash movies in clear Lucite boxes: Rocky's shorts, Hook's hook, Rambo's knife.
Tables are strewn with multicolored Hollywood Babylon paper place mats embossed with a collage of dead movie stars. And, talk about a post-production manager's dream--there is even a souvenir shop, right next to the ever-jammed bar.
It's loud in here too. I screamed "SHUUUTTTT UUUUUUPPPP!" at the top of my lungs, just the way Arnold did in "Kindergarten Cop." Not one head turned.
It's so loud, in fact, that the restaurant seems more in sync when a squad of movie screens is lowered (this happens periodically) and film clips are run. Some of the clips contain great moments in movie violence. Others are pure nostalgia, like the one where Elvis sings "Jailhouse Rock." Too bad you can barely hear it.
The food? Well, it's sort of beside the point. The menu here is actually quite large, filled with appetizers like deep-fried chicken strips coated with Cap'n Crunch cereal (yechhh) and tasteless fried pot stickers with a ketchup-like hoisin dipping sauce. There are doughy pizzas served on cool stone slabs with hip toppings like blackened shrimp and andouille sausage, a plethora of sandwiches and salads, a few grilled meats.
The sandwiches are huge, served on platters with good hand-cut fries, a tangy apple cole slaw and fat, half-sour pickles. The meaty burgers get about a B+, but don't even bother asking for one rare. Blackened chicken breast is one reasonable effort and the tangy baby back ribs are another. Nothing comes close to scoring a knockout.
Food for the gods? Hardly. I asked the waiter if Arnold actually ate any of this stuff. "Oh yes," came his enthusiastic shout. "Some of the dishes are his recipes."
Sure. \o7 Hasta la vista, \f7 baby. I won't be back.
Planet Hollywood is moderately priced. Dinner for two should cost between $30 and $50.
* PLANET HOLLYWOOD
1641 W. Sunflower St., Santa Ana.
Open daily, 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.
American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted.
In contrast, Hard Rock Cafe over in Fashion Island seems almost staid. The giant blue Fender Stratocaster that marks the restaurant looks rather forlorn amid all the Beemers and Audis parked here; an anachronism, a relic.
Nonetheless, the crowds are here too, albeit of a slightly different sort. The first two people I saw were two Newport Beach ladies, one dressed in a red jump suit, the other in gold lame. They couldn't have looked more out of place at a meeting of tribal elders in Fiji.
Since the Hard Rock is more firmly entrenched than Planet Hollywood--Peter Morton's group, to which the Newport franchise belongs, has more than a dozen locations from Sydney to Chicago--this place has its marketing shoes on just right. Here, the souvenir shop is right by the entrance, so they get you on the way in.
If you don't know how a Hard Rock Cafe looks, here's a brief rundown. The first thing you see inside is an enormous Woodie--a wood-paneled Cadillac literally mounted on top of the bar. The walls are filled with guitars, gold records and rock memorabilia. They've stuck an enormous traditional Christmas tree in the center of the restaurant, and frankly, it clashes. That's Tom Petty's "Learning to Fly" we are listening to on the sound system, not "O Tannenbaum."
But at least you can hear it, because the noise level in here, I'm glad to say, is not quite deafening. And you can breathe a little, too, because tables are sufficiently far from each other so you have a bit of elbow room.