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Lois Dwan, 91; Veteran L.A. Times Restaurant Critic

March 19, 2005|Jon Thurber | Times Staff Writer

Lois Dwan, a restaurant columnist whose writing career for the Los Angeles Times spanned three decades, has died. She was 91.

Dwan died Wednesday of congestive heart failure at her home in Santa Monica, according to her daughter, Judy Dwan Hallett.

"Restaurateurs in the city all loved her," said Robert Lawrence Balzer, who served as wine editor of the Los Angeles Times Home magazine for 32 years. "She had a benign style and her reviews were generally positive. She wrote without rancor or bitterness."

Dwan was born Lois Smith in Baker, Ore., on Dec. 27, 1913. She majored in English at Dominican College in San Rafael and met her future husband, Robert Dwan, while doing graduate work at Stanford University. They married in 1940.

Toward the end of World War II, Robert Dwan joined the writing staff of Art Linkletter's "People Are Funny." By then, the couple had relocated to Los Angeles, where Lois Dwan spent much of her time raising the couple's five children.

In the 1960s, as her children grew older, she began making a career of covering the local restaurant scene, first for Los Angeles magazine, where she was a writer and later a columnist, and then for the Los Angeles Times. She freelanced for The Times from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s before being named the paper's restaurant critic and columnist in 1972. Her column, called Roundabout, appeared in the Calendar section on Sundays.

Piero Selvaggio, the owner of Valentino, one of the city's finest restaurants, said Dwan was "instrumental in Los Angeles becoming a city of great dining."

"She was fair in her criticism, critical but encouraging of those who had a talent for the business," Selvaggio said.

He recalled the influence she had in putting Valentino on the dining map in Los Angeles.

"We dreamed of her reviewing the restaurant, and on Christmas Eve of 1972, the review appeared in the Calendar section of The Times. She told the readers that our restaurant was 'a Christmas present'.... We went from serving four dinners on Saturday night to 100 dinners the next night. We were not at all prepared for the impact."

Over the years, Dwan published several guidebooks covering the Southern California restaurant scene. She also wrote "How to Entertain Out of Doors," part of a series of books under the Amy Vanderbilt Success Program for Women.

In the preface to an unpublished manuscript, Dwan explained her fascination with restaurants.

"I love restaurants. I have loved them since I sat on telephone books with my ruffles spread around me.... I love the order of restaurants, the crisp tablecloths, the shining crystal, the precisely laid silver, the candles, the flowers.... They were my stage before they were my assignment."

Besides her daughter Judy, she is survived by her sons Alan, Rob and James; daughter Katie Huet; and seven grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church, 11967 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.

Instead of flowers, donations may be made to the American Institute of Wine and Food, Lois Dwan Scholarship, c/o Robert Terragawa, 2015 N. Hobart Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027-1617.

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