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Restaurants | First Impressions

Madison Supper Club: Elegance Is Served in Short Order

May 06, 1999|S. IRENE VIRBILA | TIMES RESTAURANT CRITIC

More than 1,400 people showed up for the opening of the Madison, a new Long Beach supper club, our server confided, "so many, we didn't know where to put them all." Just across from L'Opera and Alegria on what is fast becoming Long Beach's premier restaurant row, the Madison occupies the historic Security Bank building at 102 N. Pine Ave. Built in the days when banks were secular cathedrals, it's a remarkable space, with soaring columns, majestic windows, an ornate painted ceiling and huge chandeliers.

The room's grandeur is offset by cozy red brocade booths and the effusive, enthusiastic service. Madison's menu of familiar chophouse fare is sure to please the Long Beach crowd. To start, order the crisply fried onion rings, calamari in a fiery tomato sauce with capers and olives or a Caesar salad made with hearts of Romaine and a spunky anchovy dressing. But the deconstructed shrimp cocktail is so undercooked one night that it is more like shrimp sashimi.

The steaks are mostly prime, and juicy. The Delmonico (like a bone-in New York steak) comes with a sauce boat of bearnaise sauce, but the Western-style rib-eye has the best flavor. The kitchen, though, seems to still be struggling with getting a true medium rare and not a medium. You can get prime rib in either a dainty 10-ounce cut or the full Madison cut (14 ounces). And of course, for the non-steak eaters there are grilled chicken, duck in orange-raspberry sauce and a handful of seafood choices. None of which sound tempting enough, to my mind, to override the steaks.

The room's elegance is undercut by the outfits sported by the all-women servers: black shorts, matching bustiers, and, in the dining room, tuxedo jackets worn with a ribbon choker. Nevertheless, our waiter wears hers with aplomb and seems thrilled to be working at Madison. "Would you like to see the kitchen?" she volunteers. "It's really state-of-the-art. You should see what they've got back there." We politely decline. Watching a waiter climb the library ladder to retrieve a bottle of wine stocked on the top shelf of the massive mahogany bar is entertainment enough. Tonight, there's also a pianist playing standards with the grand piano's top down in an effort to mute the sound. On weekend nights, break out your dancing shoes. That's when they clear a small space in the middle of the room where romantics can roll back the clock and dance as they did at supper clubs in the '30s and '40s.

BE THERE

The Madison Restaurant and Bar, 102 N. Pine Ave., Long Beach; (562) 628-8866. Open daily for dinner. Appetizers $5 to $16; main courses $18 to $31. Valet parking.

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