Waiting for me to arrive for lunch, giddy as schoolgirls playing hooky, my mother and her friends were having a grand time in the bar of the Ritz. Not the posh hotel, but the newly expanded Newport Beach restaurant, the glitzy spot that has welcomed a veritable Who's Who of Orange County swells.
At the entrance, smartly dressed valets whisk away your fully loaded Land Rover or Land Cruiser. And when I approach the maitre d's podium to see if our table might be ready early, she tells me sternly, "It will be ready at 1 o'clock." I should have known better than to ask. The Ritz prides itself on running like clockwork.
At 1 sharp, we trail a waiter toward the restaurant's new garden room, through the bar and a dark dining room lined with the kind of paintings that used to grace bordellos, i.e., reclining naked ladies painted vaguely in the style of various masters. Classy.
Though owner Hans Prager has reportedly spent half a million dollars on this outdoor terrace, it's hard, at least for a layperson, to see where all the money went. The floor is poured concrete. So are the garden's walls, which don't do much to disguise the fact that we're eating on the outskirts of a shopping mall. Once the plants grow in and trumpet vines twine on the trellises high above, replacing the industrial-looking structure that shades the space now, it may look more romantic. But those green plastic garden chairs with faux-cane inserts certainly don't help.