Wednesday, February 27, 2008

At Hollywood's Oldest Eatery

I don't remember exactly when I became aware of Musso & Frank Grill, Hollywood's oldest eatery. It must have been after moving to L.A. in the summer of 1992. But when your age and annual salary are in the low twenties, actually eating there was beyond my means. Who knew that nearly 16 years would go by before I would ever enter Musso & Frank's doors?

Musso & Frank's sign in the back. (02/27/2008)
Musso & Frank's sign in the back. (02/27/2008)

I find it simply astonishing that this Hollywood landmark has been around longer than movies had sound. It opened in 1919, when bar and grill restaurants were a new concept. (A full-service restaurant where you can get booze — imagine that!) Back then bar and grill restaurants had a somewhat bawdy connotation — the kind of place good church-going folk avoided. But this one was a magnet for Hollywood stars.

The rear entrance to Musso & Frank Grill. (02/27/2008)
The rear entrance to Musso & Frank Grill. (02/27/2008)

Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino were said to be frequent diners. Purportedly the three of them once raced down Hollywood Boulevard on horseback, with the loser picking up the check at Musso & Frank's. Other frequent guests included Humphrey Bogart, Orson Welles, Jack Webb, Peter Lawford and all four of the original Warner brothers.

Tim inside the famous Musso & Frank Grill. (02/27/2008)
Tim inside the famous Musso & Frank Grill. (02/27/2008)

Musso & Frank Grill was also a watering hole for many literary giants who came to Hollywood for stints at screenwriting. These include F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, John O'Hara, Dashiell Hammett, even Ernest Hemingway. Legend has it that William Faulkner would mix his own mint juleps here. And from what I've read, Raymond Chandler wrote "The Big Sleep" while at Musso & Frank's.

Musso & Frank Grill's legendary stuffed celery. (02/27/2008)
Musso & Frank Grill's legendary stuffed celery. (02/27/2008)

Going inside Musso & Frank Grill is like stepping back in time. Dark mahogany panels cover the walls. The booths are upholstered with red leather. And you are served by red-jacketed waiters who look like they've been working there forever (and they probably have). Yet one of the strangest things about the place was what it didn't have: Muzak. It's amazing how we've gotten so used to background music at public places that when it's gone, it seems eerily quiet.

Tim's sanddabs sautè meunière. (02/27/2008)
Tim's sanddabs sautè meunière. (02/27/2008)

But I wasn't just fascinated with the history and ambience. The menu itself was like a study in early- and mid-century cooking (except for the prices, which actually seemed to be from the future). But where else can you find hors d'oeuvres like stuffed celery, imported sardines, or marinated herring?

James' sauerbraten, potato pancakes and applesauce. (02/27/2008)
James' sauerbraten, potato pancakes and applesauce. (02/27/2008)

Other interesting selections include a stuffed tomato salad with chicken, a smoked tongue sandwich, even a side dish of stewed tomatoes. There's even a whole section devoted to potatoes. You can get them boiled, candied, french fried, mashed, julienne, lyonnaise, cottage fried, baked, au gratin or prepared as hash browns. Talk about choices!

James outside Hollywood's Musso & Frank Grill. (02/27/2008)
James outside Hollywood's Musso & Frank Grill. (02/27/2008)

Some of the main courses would only appeal to a bon vivant with an adventuresome palette, like the oyster stew, lamb kidneys sauté, or sweetbreads jardinière. Although Tim and I didn't get too adventurous, we did end up selecting items that you don't often see on dinner menus these days. I ordered the Wednesday weekly special: Sauerbraten with potato pancakes ($22), while Tim selected the filet of sanddabs, sautè meunière ($21).

The legendary Musso & Frank Grill. (02/27/2008)
The legendary Musso & Frank Grill. (02/27/2008)

As great as the experience was up until that point, I can't say the same thing about the food unfortunately. I think Tim hit the nail on the head when he described it as "old people food." Both of our entrees were a bit bland. They were under seasoned and really lacked flair (as well as anything remotely resembling a vegetable). Conversely, our stuffed celery appetizer ($7) was so overpowered with blue cheese, I couldn't really enjoy it much.

Although the food itself wasn't great, I truly enjoyed the experience. I would go back in a heartbeat ... for drinks only!

1 comment:

beastandbean said...

Yikes! Some of that food looks like it's been there since Chaplin and company horse raced down the boulevard. And the prices...wow...they really do seem like they're from the future! Ouch!

I have always wanted to eat there, but after reading your review, well...I think I'll take your advice and meet you and Tim for drinks next time you go!

Now if only we could get Faulkner to mix us some mint juleps, we'd be all set!