By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Off the Menu is not so much a history (there is, for instance, no mention of the restaurant's main investor and unsilent partner, New Yorker founder Harold Ross) as an end-of-history, recording the death not only of a restaurant but of a generation, a way of life and a style of consumption. (The bistro's signature dish, Hobo Steak, was cooked wrapped in fat and sitting in half a cup of melted butter.) Chasen's fame devolved almost entirely from that of its clientele; if its chili was not the world's best - not while there's still a Texas - it was nevertheless the chili that Elizabeth Taylor had flown by the bucketful to Rome while she filmed Cleopatra. (What that added to the film's studio-crippling bottom line would be interesting, in the loosest possible interpretation of the word "interesting," to know.) But in the end, an end one could not call untimely, the famous moved on - or rather, the senior famous died off and the junior famous didn't come, and all that was left were antiquities: the old serving the old, superannuating together, inseparable even unto death.
There are, of course, celebrities at the wake - the likes of Fay Wray ("I felt that dozens of red carpets had been pulled out from under me"), Jack Lemmon, Ed McMahon, Robert Wagner and Tom Snyder, along with some younger talent caught (by secret camera, it appears) at the restaurant's final, private, Oscar-night party. But the focus is on the restaurant's longtime staffers, who, perhaps through long association with actors, seem themselves to have arrived straight from Central Casting: Ronnie, Tommy, Raymond, Pepe ("the most important Hispanic in Southern California," says one patron), each embodies his post, each has devoted huge tracts of time to serving the rich and famous, and gladly. Had the revolution come, it would have foundered here.
It is a shame that Chasen's is gone, just as it's a shame that the Brown Derby has disappeared (thrice over), and the Garden Court Apartments lie buried under a building my sensibilities are too delicate to describe, and the Parisian Room is a post office, and the Ambassador Hotel is decaying, and the hot fudge runs at C.C. Brown's no more, and that we every one of us in our turn must make way for newer models. It is true of every age that things are not what they used to be, and it is a pleasure still, after all, to sit in Musso & Frank, say, eating overpriced, underwhelming, old-fashioned food amid the dark wood, fading wallpaper and fading waiters, in a room patinated by eight decades of Hollywood blather. But time marches on: Tomorrow's trend is the quaint historical curiosity of the day after, and before long there will be not a soul alive who remembers eating at Chasen's - or can tell the real Dan Eldon from whatever actor will have been hired to play him on the screen. Only the movies, not even the memories, will remain.
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