Caesar’s, Tijuana, Mexico

I finally made it to Caesar’s in Tijuana, which my friend Peter Moruzzi (author of Classic Dining and other books) reported on in 2012 after it was reopened by Tijuana star chef & restaurateur Javier Plascencia. The original Caesar’s, where the Caesar salad may have been invented, was opened in Tijuana by Caesar Cardini in the 1920s.

 

Caesar Cardini

 

Caesar Cardini, 1935 - image by San Diego History Center

Caesar Cardini, 1935 – image by San Diego History Center

 

 

Born in Italy in 1896 as Cesare Cardini, he immigrated to the US with his brothers Alex (Alessandro), Nereo, and Caudencio. He opened a restaurant in Sacramento before moving to San Diego and opening his first Tijuana restaurant with Alex and Guadencio’s involvement.

 

 

 

 

Original Caesar's Place restaurant, c. 1930 - image by The Kitchen Project

Original Caesar’s Place restaurant in the Hotel Comercial, 2nd & Revolución, Tijuana, c. 1930 – image by The Kitchen Project

 

Original Caesar’s Place was opened by Cesar Cardini in Tijuana about 1924 in the Hotel Comercial at 2nd and Revolución, next door to the Mexicali Bar, the “World’s Longest Bar” (demolished for a Woolworth’s, but the Hotel Comercial building still stands – enter “Av Revolución 804” in Google Street View to see it).

 

Hotel Caesar's Place, Tijuana, 1920s - image by The Kitchen Project

Hotel Caesar’s Place, 5th & Revolución, Tijuana, 1920s – image by The Kitchen Project

 

He also opened a restaurant at the Hotel Caesar’s Place in 1927 at Revolución and 5th Street. There is a plaque on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to Caesar’s today, which is still in the Hotel Caesar. I assume Caesar Cardini owned the hotel that bore his name but I haven’t been able to confirm this.

 

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Caesar’s restaurants became very popular in Tijuana in the 1920s and 1930s with Americans and Hollywood celebrities who were flocking in droves to Tijuana to drink (America was still in Prohibition), dine, and gamble.

 

Original Caesar's Place at Hotel Comercial, 2nd & Revolución, c. 1935 - image by Peter Morruzi

Original Caesar’s Place at Hotel Comercial, 2nd & Revolución, c. 1935 – image by Peter Morruzi

 

But after Nevada legalized gambling in 1931, Prohibition ended in 1933, and Mexico made gambling illegal in 1935 business dropped off.

 

Hotel Comercial, Avenida Revolución & 2nd, Tijuana, 1940s

Hotel Comercial, Avenida Revolución & 2nd, Tijuana, 1940s

 

According to the Reno Evening Gazette in July, 1936, Caesar Cardini closed his café, which was probably the Original Caesar’s location in the Hotel Comercial because by the 1940s the space had a club called Tropics (the pink front with the neon “Tropics” sign that can be seen in the postcard above; and next door to the hotel can be seen the long Mexicali beer hall).

 

Caesar Cardini's Cafe, opening night, 1936 - image by San Diego History Center

Caesar Cardini Cafe, San Diego, opening night, 1936 – image by San Diego History Center

 

He left the restaurant business in Tijuana and opened the Caesar Cardini Cafe in downtown San Diego at Front and B Streets, but due to pressure by rival nightclubs partly owned by mobsters who made threats to Cardini’s musicians, among other strong-arm tactics, it closed in six months. Afterwards he became a partner in two local restaurants, the Tavern Hacienda at 47th St. and University Ave. and the Beacon Inn in Cardiff. He even opened his Chula Vista home to diners as the Caesar Cardini Villa, serving 50 cent meals. In 1938 he moved with his family to Los Angeles and opened a liquor store in Montclair. In 1950 he started bottling his salad dressing and eventually he opened Caesar Cardini Foods store on La Cienega, which was very popular as by then the Caesar salad had become the new fad (more on that later). Caesar Cardini passed away in 1954. His daughter Rose trademarked his salad dressing’s name in 1983 and developed a large salad dressing business (the dressing is bow made by T. Marzetti company).

San Diego note: Caesar Cardini never owned Caesar’s at 535 University Ave. in Hillcrest. It was owned by Caesar Pastore and his family from 1928 until 1972, then it became Cavalieri’s (1972-1978), The Summer Place (1978-84), the beloved (and frequented by yours truly) City Deli (1984-2013), and Harvey Milk’s American Diner (2013-2014). Nor did Cardini own Caesar’s in Mission Valley and Grossmont Center, or Little Caesar’s in Point Loma (all owned by the Pastore family and all closed).

 

Hotel Caesar's and Caesar's Cafe, 1940s - postcard image by Peter Moruzzi

Hotel Caesar’s and Caesar’s Cafe, 1940s – postcard image by Peter Moruzzi

 

Meanwhile, Hotel Caesar’s in Tijuana was enlarged during the 1940s and 1950s. Original Caesar’s Place at the hotel stayed open but was renamed Caesar’s Cafe, then just Caesar’s. Note in the above postcard view the new tower, while the building to the right of the tower is clearly the original hotel, as seen in the 1920s photo earlier in this post.

 

Hotel Caesar, 1950s postcard

Hotel Caesar, 1950s postcard

 

By the 1950s the hotel had grown to three stories and its exterior looked much as it does today, except for the signage.

 

 

There also was a Caesar’s Palace at one time at 4th and Revolución, on the second floor above a drug store (it had an outdoor patio for alfresco dining as well).

 

The Caesar Salad

The exact origins of the Caesar salad are unknown, but there are at least four origin stories:

  1. The oldest story (reported the Zanesville Times Recorder in 1947) is that Caesar Cardini invented the Caesar salad at his eponymous Tijuana restaurant in the 1920s. His daughter Rosa was more exact. In Better Homes and Gardens in 1960 she claimed he invented it on the 4th of July, 1924, when they were running low on food, out of Romaine lettuce, a one-minute coddled egg, garlic croutons, Parmesan or Romano cheese, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, whole pepper, pear vinegar and olive oil (no anchovies), and served as a main course of dressed whole Romaine leaves that were eaten with the fingers.
  2. The book “Dining Out in Hollywood and Los Angeles” by Craig Davidson, published in 1949, stated that a former partner with Caesar and Alex, Paul Maggiora, invented the salad in 1927 in San Diego for some pilots and called it the Aviator’s Salad, but Alex Cardini renamed it the Caesar salad after his brother. Paul later opened the famous restaurant Paul’s Duck Press in downtown Los Angeles, where he served the Caesar salad he claimed to have invented (as whole Romaine leaves).
  3. In 1968 Caesar’s brother Alex Cardini claimed he invented the salad in 1926 in his Mexico City restaurant and named it after his brother. Alex’s granddaughter Carla Cardini has said that Alex actually invented the salad at Caesar’s in Tijuana when he was a partner in his brother’s restaurant, naming it the Aviator’s Salad because he made it for a group of airmen from San Diego. Later he served the salad in his Mexico City restaurant as “the original Alex Cardini Caesar salad”.
  4. In 1988 it was reported by Barbara Hansen in the Los Angeles Times that in 1918 in Austria an Italian named Beatriz Santini created a salad of Romaine lettuce, oil & vinegar, parmesan cheese, and soft-boiled eggs. Her son Livio Santini emigrated to Tijuana, worked for Caesar Cardini, and made Caesar his mother’s salad around 1925, which was a hit with Caesar’s customers.

 

Ensaladero Guillermo Carreño Olsen, who would later open his own restaurant in Tijuana called El Bodegon de Guillermo (destroyed by fire in 1978) - image by Carrolyn Carreño

Ensaladero Guillermo Carreño Olsen, who would later open his own restaurant in Tijuana called El Bodegon de Guillermo (destroyed by fire in 1978) – image by Carrolyn Carreño

 

Whichever story you believe, here are some interesting tidbits about the Caesar salad:

  • Julia Child (the famous chef) ate with her parents at Caesar’s in Tijuana in the 1920s and was served a Caesar salad, prepared tableside by Caesar Cardini himself, that was served as whole leaves of Romaine. Whether he invented it or what it was named at the time she couldn’t recall.
  • Sometime in the 1930s the salad was introduced in Los Angeles, but it didn’t become popular in Southern California until after WWII. In 1945 Sunset magazine published a recipe for a “Romaine salad” which was being served at La Avenida restaurant in Coronado, CA (near San Diego), which was a Caesar salad, if not by name, by ingredients (but without anchovies).
  • In 1948, Lucius Beebe in Gourmet magazine said it was “the gastronomic highlight of the current moment” in Los Angeles as it was being served at Chasen’s, Romanoff’s, Hansen’s Scandia, Perino’s, the Town House, and the Brown Derby on Hollywood and Vine. But, curiously, a 1948 Brown Derby menu shows no Caesar salad listed.
  • In 1949 the Caesar salad became a nationwide fad and started appearing on menus across the country (“Fads of 1949” in the Britannica Book of the Year, 1950).
  • The original Caesar salad had no anchovies, but in a 1950 cookbook (Love and Dishes by Niccolo de Quattrochiocchi) a recipe was published from the Pump Room in Chicago which called for six anchovies to be chopped and added to the salad dressing. By 1957 Sunset magazine’s published recipe also called for anchovies.

 

Caesar’s restaurant today

 

Caesar Cardini portrait at Caesar's today - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

Caesar Cardini portrait at Caesar’s – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

In the 1980s as a young man I went to Tijuana with friends to party and shop for shoes but I was soured by the atmosphere in the late 80s. Too many American college yahoos and sailors would fill the town on weekends, drinking until they got sick, yelling and carrying on. Every bar it seemed tried to shove cheap tequila down your throat whether you wanted it or not. So I stopped going there. My last visit was around 1989, though I went to Rosarito and Ensenada a few times in the early 90s. In 2012 I returned to Ensenada and I couldn’t believe how much it had changed for the better (as far as I’m concerned). American tourists mostly stopped going during the drug cartel violence of the 2000s. Now it’s mostly Mexican tourists (with a few adventurous American tourists) who don’t go just to get wasted on tequila, but go for the excellent food and the wine & beer. The cocktails are better, too. In the 80s I didn’t care if my margarita was made with a mix, but now I do.

 

Caesar's bar - image by Dean Curtis, 2016

Caesar’s bar – image by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

Going to Caesar’s today is a wonderful experience. The place was packed with people, many who dressed up for a night out. Perhaps not in suits like in this vintage postcard, but in nice clothes (no jeans and t’s).

 

Old postcard of Caesar's Bar and Lounge

Old postcard of Caesar’s Bar and Lounge

 

The first room at Caesar’s is long, with a bar on one side about a third of the way down the room. The ceilings are coffered wood and the floors are in a black & white checkerboard pattern. The walls are covered with dozens of old photographs and memorabilia of Tijuana.

 

Back of first dining room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

Front dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

The menu is Continental. Some of their specialties (besides the Caesar salad) are beef Wellington, duckling a la orange, escargot, French onion soup, and ensalada Victor, invented in the 1940s at Victor’s restaurant in Tijuana, a salad of Cotija cheese, olive oil, egg, mayonnaise, and wine vinegar. But you can also get Mexican food, steaks, seafood, chicken dishes, and pasta.

 

Second dining room - photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

Back dining room – photo by Dean Curtis, 2016

 

My friend and I shared a Caesar salad, which was made tableside by Armando, an ensaladero at Caesar’s for over 30 years! I also had a beef tongue appetizer, which was excellent, and beef Wellington, but I didn’t know that it would be cooked medium. It was very tender but a bit overdone for my liking. When you go, if you order steak, here are the Mexican-Spanish translations (from Quora):
Rare = Casi cruda
Medium-rare = Medio cruda
Medium = Término medio
Medium-well = Tres cuartos
Well-done = Bien cocida

 

caesars

The Jab watching Armando prepare the Caesar salad at Caesar’s in Tijuana – photo by D. A. Kolodenko, 2016

 

Caesar’s
Av. Revolución 1059, Zona Centro, 22000 Tijuana, B.C., Mexico
Phone: +52 664 685 1927
Open Sun-Wed 10:00am-10:00pm, Thu-Sat 12:00pm-12:00am

 

 

Hugo’s Cellar, Las Vegas, Nevada

If you’re looking for a true Continental restaurant in Las Vegas, there is only one: Hugo’s Cellar. It’s a great pick if you want gracious table-side service, flambé dishes, and an old-fashioned (i.e. old school) dining experience.

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

dining room

 

Hugo’s Cellar’s is located (you guessed it) beneath street level, under the main casino at the Four Queens in downtown. Enter the noisy casino from hectic Fremont Street, look for the restaurant’s staircase in the back of the casino, and descend into a more peaceful and genteel world. There is a small bar and cocktail lounge in the front, and the maître d’hôtel‘s stand, where you will be greeted and the ladies presented with a long-stemmed rose. The dining room is decorated with brick, thick wooden beams on the ceiling, green lanterns and Tiffany lamps. It has an elegant old-fashioned feel that seems older than its origin in 1973 as Hugo’s Rotisserie (when the hotel was owned by Hyatt Hotels). The Four Queens has changed hands a couple of times since then but Hugo’s has remained (it was renamed Hugo’s Cellar about 30 years ago). The most recent owner of the hotel vowed never to change Hugo’s – bravo!

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

the martini came with a refill!

 

The tuxedoed waiters are all highly professional, some with decades of service at Hugo’s. Waiter Victor Hutchings has been with the restaurant for 39 years and sommelier Jon Simmons for 32 years (when he started in 1984 he was one of only three sommeliers in Las Vegas restaurants). Service was very attentive and gracious, with multiple staff attending to our table of three.

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

waiter preparing table-side duckling anise flambé

 

The menu is truly Continental, featuring such classics as duckling anise flambé, veal Oscar, chicken champignon, and beef Wellington. But it’s also a fine steakhouse with char-broiled steaks aged 28 days, as well as prime rib and seafood entrees. All entrees include a salad prepared table-side how you like it from a rolling cart, vegetables, potatoes or rice, delicious homemade bread and cheese-toasted lavosh, dessert of chocolate dipped strawberries and fruit, and bottled water. Service was impeccable, with multiple waiters attending to our every need.

 

Hugo's Cellar Las Vegas

duckling anise flambé

 

After-dinner fruit is included with your meal but you should definitely try one the flaming table-side desserts like bananas Foster or cherries jubilee!

 

The next time you are in Las Vegas, you should check out downtown. There are lots of hotels (I like Main Street Station), the fascinating Mob Museum, a few good cocktail bars, a shopping/food/entertainment center called Container Park, and some great classic restaurants like Hugo’s Cellar and Binion’s Ranch Steakhouse (now called Top of Binion’s but I prefer the older name), which I didn’t visit this trip but I have dined at before. On my last three visits to Las Vegas I mostly avoided the Strip and I didn’t miss it at all.

 

Hugo’s Cellar
202 Fremont St, Las Vegas, NV 89101
702-385-4011
Open 5:00pm – 10:00pm daily

 

Chalet Suzanne, Lake Wales, Florida – Closing Soon – GO NOW!

Today I heard some very sad news. One of the oldest and most original and charming restaurants in Florida, Chalet Suzanne, is closing after 83 years in business on August 4th, 2014. Le Continental is more about celebrating places that are still in operation than being a bearer of bad news, but I’m hoping some of my readers who may be in the Orlando or Tampa areas in the next month or so can visit one of the last old Florida landmarks before it closes.

 

photo by Leonard J. DeFrancisci (Wikimedia Commons)

photo by Leonard J. DeFrancisci (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Chalet Suzanne, which now includes a restaurant, 30 room inn, soup cannery, public airstrip, gift shop, vineyard, and citrus groves on a 100-acre property, originally started out in a golf and tennis resort community called the Carleton Club, owned by cheese king James Kraft with Carl and Bertha Hinshaw. When Carl died in 1931, Bertha Hinshaw opened her home to guests as Suzanne’s Tavern (named after her daughter), which developed into an inn and restaurant serving Continental cuisine on her collection of fine china. Duncan Hines was an early fan and promoted the restaurant through his dining lists sent to friends and later in his popular dining guide Adventures in Good Eating.

 

Postcard photo of Chalet Suzanne from between 1931 and 1940, when it was mailed - image by State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/259144

Postcard photo of Chalet Suzanne from between 1931 and 1940, when it was mailed – image by State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory site

 

The original Chalet was destroyed by fire in 1943, but Bertha’s son Carl Hinshaw Jr., just back from duty in the Pacific in WWII, rebuilt the inn and restaurant using what he could salvage from the buildings that remained on the grounds. He created a charming, 14-level palace with gables and turrets that survives as the Chalet Suzanne, still owned by the Hinshaw family. In 1990 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Sites.

 

Chalet Suzanne, 1967 - photo by State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory site

Chalet Suzanne, 1967 – photo by State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory site

 

Carl Jr. and his wife, Vita, developed the restaurant’s menu into one of critical acclaim for its five course prix-fixe dinner, signature appetizer of broiled, glazed grapefruit topped with chicken liver, and Romaine® spinach and mushroom soup, which even went to the moon on Apollo 15 and 16! The prix-fixe dinner is still on the menu today, as well as an ala carte menu including such classic dishes as Lobster Newburg, a filet of beef with Béarnaise sauce, and chicken Suzanne in a velouté sauce.

 

The little Swedish bar - photo by http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com

The little Swedish bar – photo by http://thedailysouth.southernliving.com

 

If you can make it there before it closes, don’t miss the little Swedish bar, with its festive colored stripes and cozy atmosphere, for an apéritif or after dinner drink.

 

photo by http://studiohourglass.blogspot.com

photo by http://studiohourglass.blogspot.com

 

There are five dining rooms at Chalet Suzanne…

 

one of five dining rooms - photo by scottyjas on TripAdvisor.com

one of five dining rooms – photo by scottyjas on TripAdvisor.com

 

And a country inn.

 

photo by http://studiohourglass.blogspot.com

photo by http://studiohourglass.blogspot.com

 

"Orange Juice and Coffee Served in your Room before Breakfast" - historic photo by State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory site

“Orange Juice and Coffee Served in your Room before Breakfast” – historic photo by State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory site

 

Old places like this, which were (and are still) the primary appeal of the state for me, are disappearing all the time in Florida. It really bothers me that I was so close (Orlando in 2003 and Tampa in 2006) but didn’t visit Chalet Suzanne, simply because I wasn’t aware it existed (in those days I didn’t have my vintage AAA and Duncan Hines guides to search through so relied on travel books, magazines, web sites, and friends). I’m hoping that someone will buy and preserve this old Florida treasure. It is so close to the Disney empire where swarms of tourists eat in boring chain restaurants that are the same as the ones back home. Perhaps with the renewal of more old-fashioned tourism Chalet Suzanne could again be a destination in the central Florida area, along with the historic Bok Tower and Weeki Wachee Springs. I suggest skipping Disneybland, thus saving a ton of money, and instead visit these classic places on your next vacation to Florida.

A message from the Hinshaw family:

“If you would like to have the opportunity to have one last experience, or if you’ve always wanted to come but never quite made it, this is your chance, your last chance, to experience the Chalet Suzanne and it’s glorious history. You will be welcomed to stop by after that date, but you may end up having dinner with us at home. Oh, by the way, we usually eat a late supper.”

 

 

Chalet Suzanne
319 Star Ave, Lake Wales, FL 33859
800-433-6011, 863-676-6011
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Tue-Sun (check here for hours and call first since this is their last month in operation)

 

Palm Springs Weekend

I’m going to try something different this time and post on the go, in Palm Springs! This may give the reader an impression of my typical weekend excursion.

[Tech notes: I started this post on Sunday morning on my iPad using WordPress mobile (prone to frequent crashes) but since I was taking photos on my Samsung Galaxy Nexus Android I switched to WordPress mobile on that device (which was more stable). But writing text isn’t as easy on that device’s small touch keyboard so after adding photos I switched back to the iPad app. I got tired of switching apps so I didn’t finish the post until I returned home where I could work with a keyboard and full web browser. But I did write all of Saturday’s and part of Sunday’s sections on the mobile apps. On returning I discovered the photos I uploaded from my phone were too small so I had to re-upload larger ones.]

 

Saturday

4:30pm – checked in to the Horizon Hotel, built in 1952 by William Cody in the modernist post and beam style with his flair of using oblique angles. The hotel was commissioned by movie producer Jack Wrather and his wife, actress Bonita Granville as a private retreat for them and their guests, and was restored into a hotel in 2004 using original plans and historic photographs. I love this adults-only hotel but prefer its original name, L’Horizon. Of course!

William Cody aka “Wild Bill” designed many other important buildings in Palm Springs, including residences for Walt Disney and Frank Sinatra and commercial buildings such as the Del Marcos Hotel (still open, and highly recommended) and the Huddle Springs Restaurant (sadly demolished in 1991 for a proposed hotel that wasn’t even built).

 

huddles

Huddle Springs Restaurant, William Cody, 1957 – photo by Palm Springs Preservation Foundation

 

 

Lord Fletcher's - image by The Jab

Lord Fletcher’s – image by The Jab

 

6:00pm – dinner at Lord Fletcher’s (sometimes called Lord Fletcher Inn) in Rancho Mirage. Opened in 1966, it was the first restaurant on what is now called Restaurant Row on California highway 111. The restaurant is filled with antiques, art, bric-à-brac, and artifacts in the Olde English style, all collected by Ron Fletcher in England. The restaurant is still in the same family, now run by Mike Fletcher, Ron’s son.

 

image

image by The Jab

 

There are three rooms: the pub, with a fireplace and a large collection of Toby character mugs, the main dining room, which shares the fireplace with the pub, and the Shakespearean dining room that is decorated with dozens of 200-year-old etchings depicting scenes from Shakespeare’s works. The restaurant is jammed full of things to look at, in the best way possible, and there is nothing new or tacky to distract the eye (apart from a small TV behind the bar). No mini white lights – thank goodness!; all the lighting appears to date back to the 1960s.

 

main dining room, Lord Fletcher's - image by The Jab

main dining room, Lord Fletcher’s – image by The Jab

 

Shakespearean room, Lord Fletcher's - image by The Jab

Shakespearean room, Lord Fletcher’s – image by The Jab

 

The menu is what you would expect from an Olde English restaurant – meat and fish dishes prepared in the classic way. Their specialty is prime rib of beef, which comes in two ways: the Lord’s Cut without a bone (about one pound of meat!) and the King’s Cut, served with the bone. For serving the dishes come out with covers and are placed on folding trays and served – a nice touch that you don’t see in restaurants very often anymore. Entrees come with homemade soup or salad, tossed tableside.

 

image

Lord’s cut of prime rib w/Yorkshire pudding, spinach and creamed horseradish – image by The Jab

 

The sand dabs Queen Anne sounded enticing, but I had to try the prime rib, which was excellent. The spinach was not creamed style so it was a bit dry, but I mixed in a little creamed horseradish and voilà! The potato leek soup I had was very delicious and served piping hot. Also excellent was the house made bread served with a large ramekin filled with butter. The service was very good. I asked for more au jus and was promptly served a large sauce-boat of it. They have several Fuller English ales available in the bottle. Perfect accompaniment to prime rib. Try to save room for the rice pudding, made in-house daily.

 

fireplace, Lord Fletcher's - image by The Jab

fireplace, Lord Fletcher’s – image by The Jab

 

 

 Sunday

 

view from my patio at Horizon Hotel - image by The Jab

view from my patio at Horizon Hotel – image by The Jab

 

9:00am – complementary continental breakfast (Le Continental breakfast, if you please!) on patio outside room (pic above is the view from the patio).

1:00pm – brunch at The Tropicale, a newish restaurant that has been decorated in a great swanky 1950s tropical style. And it has terrific food to boot. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo would have felt right at home here!

5:00pm – Martinis poolside by the fire pit at the Horizon Hotel!

7:00pm – pre-dinner cocktail at Lyons English Grille. This Olde English restaurant was opened in 1945 by the Lyons family. David Lyons is owner, and to my knowledge has been since the opening! Jeff Lyons is the manager. Previous co-owner Arthur Lyons, a successful writer of crime novels and nonfiction, member of the Palm Springs City Council, and co-founder of the Palms Springs Film Noir Festival, passed away in 2008.

UPDATE – Lyons English Grill closed in 2014 and was gutted of its Old English decor (except for in the foyer), reopening as Mr. Lyons in 2015.

entrance to Lyons - image by The Jab

entrance to Lyons – image by The Jab

 

Similar to Lord Fletcher’s in decor, but perhaps a bit more “over the top”, and I mean that in a good way. Coats of arms, heraldic flags, suits of armor, large stained glass portraits and scenes, art, Toby mugs, and much bric-à-brac. Much of the decor was collected by David Lyons, who is originally from England.

 

main dining room at Lyons - image by The Jab

main dining room at Lyons – image by The Jab

 

There is the main dining room of large vinyl booths and tables, and the piano bar dining room with wonderful sparkly red vinyl high-backed chairs and red vinyl booths. Tuxedo-jacketed, bow-tied waiters will be at your service in either room.

 

Bar dining room at Lyons - image by The Jab

Bar dining room at Lyons – image by The Jab

 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to dine there this time. The menu is mainly hearty English fare prepared classically, such as prime rib and steak that are aged on the premises. The prices are less expensive than Lord Fletcher’s, so it’s a good choice if you are on a budget (they offer early bird specials nightly) or if Lord Fletcher’s is closed (Sundays and Mondays). But you should try to visit both, as they are equally wonderful in atmosphere. If I had time I would have tried the aged New York Steak at Lyons since I had prime rib at Lord Fletcher’s.

 

Sir Winston Churchill - image by The Jab

Sir Winston Churchill – image by The Jab

 

8:00pm – My favorite restaurant and bar in Palm Springs is Melvyn’s, a place I dined at on my second visit to Palm Springs in 2000. Melvyn’s originally opened in 1975 at the Ingleside Inn, which was built as a private estate in the 1920s and later became a small inn that catered to an exclusive clientele of movie stars, politicians, and prominent businesspeople. Melvyn Haber, a businessman from New York, purchased the Ingleside Inn in 1975, restoring it and opening Melvyn’s restaurant and the Casablanca lounge and piano bar. Since that time the inn has again hosted celebrities and politicians.

 

image by David Lansing (davidlansing.com)

 

Melvyn’s is a fine dining restaurant with elegant decor and atmosphere. It is dark and soothing – the perfect amount of light, day or night, as there are no windows in the dining room I was seated in. There are four dining rooms: the Ruth Hardy Room, the Garden Room, the Carrie Birge Room, and the Renaissance Room, where Sinatra used to dine, and where I dined on this visit. I didn’t want to bother other diners with a flash so my picture is pretty dark.

 

Renaissance Room - image by The Jab

Renaissance Room – image by The Jab

 

The menu at Melvyn’s is true Continental, and quite extensive. They offer several dishes that are prepared tableside, some that are flambéed (steak Diane, steak au poivre, bananas flambé, cherries jubilee, and crepes Suzette). Steak Diane was Sinatra’s favorite, and it has long been a favorite of mine, since my mom made it for our family back in the 1960s. The classic version: thin beef tenderloin medallions, sautéed in butter, with a simple pan sauce of shallots, mustard, and a demi-glace, flambéed with brandy. Melvyn’s also adds Worcestershire sauce and garlic, which is fine with me. No mushrooms, thank you very much.

 

image

steak Diane tableside – image by The Jab

The service was wonderful. Attentive, gracious, and friendly. It was easy to strike up a conversation with my veteran waiter. He notified me that in Palm Springs it is impossible to open a new restaurant with flambéed dishes these days as it is illegal to do so! Only old places like Melvyn’s can continue to serve flaming food. Such a shame! It makes me appreciate such places all the more. I think the Iron Gate in Belmont is the last restaurant left in the Bay Area that serves flambéed dishes (since Buena Vista closed)!

After your dinner at Melvyn’s be sure and visit the famous piano bar the Casablanca Lounge for after dinner drinks and dancing.

One final tip: people eat early in Palm Springs (at least in the older restaurants), so plan accordingly. Lyons English Grille offers early bird specials nightly except Tuesdays from 4:30-6:30pm.

Lord Fletcher’s
70385 California 111, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
(760) 328-1161
Open Tues-Sat 4:30pm-8:30pm, closed Sun-Mon

Lyons English Grille
233 E Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264
(760) 327-1551
Open Mon-Sun 4:30pm-10:00pm, closed Tuesday

Melvyn’s
200 W Ramon Rd, Palm Springs, CA 92264
(760) 325-2323
Open Mon-Fri – lunch 11:30am-3:00pm, dinner 6:00pm-11:00pm
Sat-Sun – brunch 9:00am-3:00pm, dinner 6:00pm-11:00pm

Bay Area restaurant Bella Vista closes after an almost 70 year run

It is with much sadness that Le Continental announces the closure on August 10th, 2013, of the Bella Vista restaurant in Woodside, CA, operating since at least 1945 as the Bella Vista (in a roadhouse that dates back to 1927). One of Le Continental’s readers notified me a couple of days ago and the news was announced in the Almanac yesterday.

Here is an ad for the restaurant from the San Mateo Times, August 8, 1945:

BellaVista-SanMateoTimes08-08-45

 

As far as I know, the only remaining classic Continental restaurant in the greater Bay Area is the Iron Gate in Belmont.