Could life have been this innocent in the 80s?
I spent over twenty years working in restaurant kitchens where the swearing and sweating in the back of the house creates the illusion of ease and elegance in the front of the house. Most professional cooks don’t cook at home—one of my line cook friends lived in his Los Angeles apartment for three years without turning on the stove. I, on the other hand, seldom sat on the nicer side of the swinging doors. Sweetie and I still prefer to eat at home: restaurants are usually too expensive, too unreliable, too much drama. I do, however, love going to the production as a member of the audience; here is one of my favorites.
In 1983, the two Bobs and I went to Wolfgang Puck’s second restaurant, Chinois. Mr. Puck and his team were the first in American to create a menu featuring “fusion” cuisine, with Pacific Rim dishes made from California ingredients, using French culinary techniques. The manager at City Restaurant (where I worked) called his friend (the maître d’ at Chinois) and asked him to treat us like VIPs. I felt like a VIP: I was clean, I didn’t smell like food, and I wore jewelry and makeup.
The maître d’ greeted us at the door, led us to our table which was set with a bottle of Champagne and three flutes, and said, “If you approve, the kitchen will choose a menu for you.” Of course, we approved. A troupe of runners brought us carefully timed small plates of Chinois Chinese chicken salad, roasted duck with Cantonese pancakes, grilled foie gras with pineapple (now I understood what the fuss was about), salmon with black and gold noodles, Shanghai lobster with crispy spinach, and catfish with ginger and ponzu sauce. That was years before I’d ever thought about writing a blog (not sure there was such a thing then) but I did take notes. Only wish I’d taken pictures. But in 1983, no one took pictures of their food.
Thanks to the blog, “Go Greg Go” for the lobster picture.
We looked like VIPs, we were treated like VIPs, and we paid like everyone else. Having the kitchen decide our menu sounded sooo special, but aside from a few “on the house” plates, we paid retail for everything. When we took a look at the $400.00+ check the server discretely placed in the middle of the table, we all did the eyes-wide-open, eyebrows-raised, comic, Dick Salem double take. Those were 1983 four hundred dollar bills! Who knows how much it would cost today.
Chinois chicken salad with Chinese mustard vinaigrette
Chinese Mustard Vinaigrette:
- 4 teaspoons dry Chinese or English (Coleman’s) mustard
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons sesame oil
- 4 tablespoons salad oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- One 3 pound roasted chicken
- 1 small head Napa cabbage
- 1/2 head romaine lettuce
- 1 head radicchio
- Shredded carrots
- Chopped roasted peanuts
- Chopped cilantro and cilantro sprigs
- Lime wedges