George Christy Talks About European Visitors, Wolfgang Puck, Trader Vic’s, LA Opera And More!
European friends arrived from the East Coast with a culinary itinerary in hand for a long weekend. First stop: Spago, where they met Laurent Steunou, the loyal assistant general manager for over a decade. After tasting Laurent’s dinner suggestions, from the smoked salmon pizza to the fresh fish and those delicate vegetables from Chino Farms, hosannas filled the air.
Any way to say hello to Wolfgang Puck? Not on the schedule. Out of the blue, Wolfgang appears. Any chance of a snapshot with Wolf for their family in Europe? Wolf never disappoints.
As it was, they hit the jackpot, with Spago designer and partner Barbara Lazaroff entertaining guests in a nearby booth. Greetings all around, and another happy photo. Who pops out of the kitchen but Spago’s pastry queen Sherry Yard. Hot damn, and one more photo to grace the family album. Plus a box from Sherry with chocolate chip cookies and macaroons to take to their Luxe Hotel on Rodeo Drive for the front desk manager Lynn Noble.
More hosannas are sung for the Luxe’s service and housekeeping. Considering its location in the heart of Rodeo Drive, which designer Valentino believes is “the most important shopping street in the world,” the Luxe is a best kept secret with its reasonable rates.
Next night: Trader Vic’s at the Beverly Hilton. The charming and friendly manager, Chai Rojana, recommended pupus and the infamous lamb cooked in the Chinese ovens accompanied with that irresistible peanut butter sauce (mixed with coconut cream).
Well, the Europeans were put away, as they were with the exotic Mai Tais, a first in their drinks lexicon. The Mai Tai was introduced in 1944 at Vic’s saloon, Hinky Dink’s in Oakland. That led to the Trader Vic empire after Vic Bergeron’s discovery of Polynesian food and drink in Tahiti. Mai Tai, in Tahitian (“maita roa al”) translates as “very good, out of this world.”
Craving other taste sensations, Malibu beckoned with its siren song of the sea. Any better Greek cuisine in California than Taverna Tony’s on Civic Center Way? James Cameron christened it his commissary, power players Ron Meyer, Barry Diller, Calvin Klein, David Geffen meet for lunch on weekends. Night or day you’ll find Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber, Fergie, Linda and Jerry Bruckheimer, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. Welcoming the Europeans was Tony Danza, with whom we reminisced about his standout Broadway performance in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.
Tony Koursaris, also known as Tony Corfu, is a hands-on restaurateur, and toils at the Taverna from morning till midnight, overseeing specialties from the freshly whipped dips to his menu of Greek island favorites. Moussaka; spanokotiropita (spinach cheese pie); the stuffed grape leaves; roast lamb that Mitzi Gaynor pronounces “the most tender I’ve every tasted;” fresh fish flown in from the Mediterranean and the cold Boston waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Bright Greek music is played nightly by bouzouki king Dimitris Vamvakas and keyboardist Sotirios Sakellariou (the bouzouki’s a long-handled string instrument similar to the lute). Bellydancing every weekend. And spontaneous boogie-ing by Cesar Jiminez, who hails from Guadalajara and has been a tireless bus boy since the Taverna’s 1994 opening. Cesar’s dance partner is beauty Renette Johnson, whose figure every model envies – she’s the Friday-Saturday bartender from New Kensington, PA. Two fabulous talents! Television scouts, where are you?
Patricia Racette is sought after by major opera houses around the world. A New Hampshire-born soprano, she beguiles critics. Audiences from Milan’s La Scala to the Met Opera thrill to her glowing repertoires, and how fortunate we are that she likes our L.A. Opera.
“Gripping,” declared our favorite opera booster, the eminent Beverly Hills cardiologist Dr. Harold Karpman. He was elated with Patricia’s rapturous performance as the Governess in Benjamin Britten’s opera, The Turn of the Screw. Based on the Henry James short story of a ghost-haunted family, the L.A. Opera production continues at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion through this weekend.
Directed by Francesca Gilpin, the cast is impeccable, and the production design by Paul Brown is unique. Boy soprano Michael Kepler Meo, the 12-year-old pianist prodigy, is amazing as Miles and not likely to be forgotten (nor will his onstage bathtub scene). Michael’s performed the role with the Houston Grand Opera and Portland Opera (his home), where, again, he was singled out by the critics.
A chilling tale with supernatural shadings, The Turn of the Screw evolves around the “drowning” of “the ceremony of innocence,” with spooky theatrics. “Unnerving,” as L.A. Opera director of communications Gary Murphy assesses, and the score by Benjamin Britten, whose centennial falls on 2013, remains a favorite of musicologists. Conducting the 13-chamber orchestra, L.A. Opera’s James Conlon finds “the text, drama and intangible musical substance are in perfect balance.”
The opera is two hours long with a 25-minute intermission, allowing time to stop by later at L.A.Live for a late-night supper at the Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill. Count on young chef John Lechleidner to deliver very good and satisfying food.
L.A. Live’s emerged as our downtown playground, with music and saloons and young crowds everywhere.
Envisioned by AEG’s Tim Leiweke, the sports and cinema complex includes WP 24 at the Ritz Carlton. Another success in the Puck empire with its pan-Asian menu, overseen by Wolfgang’s brother Klaus. A few weeks ago at WP24 we greeted Al Gore. We’d become acquainted with him during a San Francisco holiday dinner hosted by author Danielle Steel (her bestsellers have sold more than 500 million copies). “How I wish,” he beamed, after enjoying his martini and Sara Johannes’ Asian-centric cuisine, “that I could have this food in my native Tennessee!”