Poor Cat. She wants to get together for lunch so I tell her to pick the restaurant, someplace convenient for her, and she says, "How about the Ritz?" and I say, "Sure, fine, I'll just meet you in the lobby around noon," and then she waits and waits and waits, sitting all dressed up on a very warm day in her tailored suit and white nylons in the little lobby of The Ritz restaurant while I sit waiting and waiting and waiting, all dressed up in a black linen jacket and crisp white collarless shirt, in the expansive lobby of the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point.
This is what happens, I suppose, when someone says, let's have lunch at the Ritz. The person should be more specific, spell it out. How am I supposed to know which Ritz she's talking about?
No, wait. I'm not being fair to Cat. When we spoke, she mentioned Hans Prager. I'm sure of it. And everyone knows Hans and the Ritz go together like Shaq and the Lakers, so how could I be so stupid as to drive an hour south to a hotel instead of 10 minutes away to Fashion Island?
Sigh. Well, it was just one of those things. It happens. Or so Cat assures me over the phone when she finally reaches me in Dana Point, which is quite clever on her part, I think. I am sitting in one of those big, stuffed, leather chairs in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton, thinking of all the witty, sarcastic things I am going to say to Cat if she ever shows up, when a tall young woman in a black blazer begins whispering to no one in particular, "Mr. Lansing? Mr. David Lansing?"
"I'm David Lansing," I whisper back.
"There's a call for you at the concierge desk," she says, smiling. And then she disappears.
It is Cat. I'm thinking I should really tell her off for keeping me waiting, but first I'll listen to her lame excuse.
"I'm calling from the Ritz," she says sweetly. "The Ritz restaurant. You know, in Newport Beach? Where we were going to meet for lunch about half an hour ago?"
Ah, geez, Wally. Don't tell Mom and Dad about this, will ya?
OK, Beav, but you're going to owe me big time for this.
Sure, Wally. Anything.
An hour and 15 minutes late for our reservation, I finally arrive. We pass quickly through the bar, where Hans, the owner, is down at the end, entertaining some of the Ritz Brothers, the local group Hans has organized for various fund-raising activities. Hans waves at Cat and she smiles back.
"He's a lovely man," she says. "Do you want to meet him?"
"Maybe another time," I say, taking her arm and guiding her back to the Gallery Room, with its black-leather booths and old-fashioned portraits of reclining women.
"I thought the nudes were gone?" I say as we slide into our booth.
Cat shrugs. "They're like the tides. They come and go."
"I like having a nude woman hover over me while eating," I tell her.
Cat tries not to act too annoyed. She sighs and gives me one of those half-smiles, like TV news anchor women flash at the camera, and orders a glass of chardonnay from the waitress. I think what she really wants is a martini. But she is being good.
Cat used to be a TV anchor woman, actually. Or writer-producer, as she calls it. She has that dispassionate look, that Mona Lisa smile that makes you wonder what she's really thinking.
She's the type of person who somehow gets you to tell her a long story about some dopey little thing you're doing, like taking a French cooking class at Orange Coast College so you can learn how to make an omelet, and all the while she's going, "Oh, that sounds so wonderful" like it's something she could only imagine in her dreams. And then, after you've made a fool of yourself over nothing, she casually mentions the week she spent hanging around with Claude Terrail, the owner of Tour d'Argent, the famous Paris restaurant overlooking the Seine, or the month in Provence staying in a villa with Jerry DiVecchio, the renowned food editor for Sunset magazine, learning how to buy truffles from the locals. But she's not bragging. She shrugs off the whole thing as just something in her past hardly worth mentioning.
Cat has stories--lots of stories--but she's not eager to share them, at least not today. When I ask her what she's doing this summer, she says, "Oh, I don't know. I might study with this little chocolatier in Tain L'Hermitage. But tell me what you're doing? Are you still planning on going camping with the kids? That sounds like so much fun!"
Only Cat can make sleeping with teenagers in an Army-surplus tent in a crowded campground sound more magical than hanging out with chocolate chefs from Valrhona in Southern France.
But back to the Ritz.
It has been four or five years since I've dined here, and I'm disappointed. The waitresses no longer wear black hot pants with black nylons. But the food is the same--ostentatious, artery-clogging, fantastic. How to pick between calf's liver with applewood-smoked bacon and poached salmon with a capered Dijon sauce? Since Cat knows more about food than I ever will, I defer to her.