All through the dog days of August, I've been getting phone calls and missives from friends who are happily--or not-so-happily--spending part of the summer on the East Coast. Record heat and humidity haven't kept them from reveling in swordfish, lobster and softshell crabs. They call up to torture me with tales of clambake feasts for the price of a couple of burgers. I was feeling left out--till the Grill in Beverly Hills decided to open for dinner on Sundays featuring the regular menu--and a Sunday night clambake.
I enlisted two just-returned vacationers to come along. It looked like a real family night. Small boys in baseball caps turned backward wolfed burgers while their parents and grandparents dug into serious seafood. When our waiter proposed a clambake, my Rhode Island-born friend questioned him closely. "Corn on the cob, clams, lobster (just one for two, or if you order the clambake for one, you get an entire lobster to yourself), king crab legs . . . ," he recited. "What kind of clams?" she countered. "Not Ipswich? Oh. Is the lobster, at least, live?" Yes, ma'am. She nodded, indicating we could order.
At the next table, a toddler in suspenders screams when a waiter whips off the lid of a large fish poacher with a flourish: Bright yellow corn, clams in the shell and a mean-looking lobster at the top of the heap. We duly inspect the contents of our own clambake laid out on a white-glazed platter. The waiter passes out silly plastic bibs, lobster crackers, sauce boats of drawn butter, retro garlic bread nubbly with cheese.
Corn on the cob is starchy, a shame when such great sweet corn is available at the Sunday morning farmers' market around the corner. Do we really care that the littlenecks are rubbery? Not when we're having such a good time eating this mess of seafood. The smallish lobster is nicely cooked, though. Ms. Rhode Island winces. "If I hadn't just come back from the East Coast, I probably wouldn't notice it so much. The lobster just doesn't have that much taste. But then they never do here."
All right, it wasn't perfect, but I got my clambake after all.
\o7 * The Grill, 9560 Dayton Way, Beverly Hills; (310) 276-0615. Sunday night supper 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday Night Clambake $55 for two; $35 for one. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking.\f7