With their success at Border Grill and beyond, it's difficult to think of chefs and restaurateurs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger as ever being scrappy young things, just starting out, with a kitchen so tiny it spilled over into their back alley. But they were, back in 1981 when they opened City Cafe on Melrose. And on Feb. 29, as they've done every Leap Year since 2000, they'll commemorate that time by serving a menu highlighting the flavors that launched their careers.
City Cafe was a tiny nub of a place, but the chefs made the best of it.
"1981 was a wild time in L.A.!" Feniger told us via email. (So wild, in fact, ABC recently announced it's working on a sitcom based on the two chefs in their early days.)
Still, Milliken and Feniger managed to crank out delicious food and build a fan base, eventually outgrowing the space and opening CITY Restaurant on La Brea four years later.
"Imagine just returning from a year in France at a 3-star restaurant, then opening City Cafe with two hibachis in the parking lot and a hot plate!" Feniger wrote. "Then jumping from 11 tables to CITY, a restaurant five times as big as the cafe, with a tandoori oven. And now 30 years later, still having a blast, living and loving food from around the world with four restaurants, two gourmet food trucks and five cookbooks with a sixth on the way. And Mary Sue and I still are business partners and loving life!"
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Milliken agrees: "Hard to believe it's been 30 years since those magical days of nonstop cooking at CITY restaurant," she writes. "That's when Susan and I bonded with die-hard customers and lifelong friends who come back every four years on Feb. 29 to relive the '80s with stuffed rigatoni, CITY cupcakes, Chinese sausage salad, etc. Why? It's the only time our staff lets us sing along with the Eurythmics, The Police and Madonna in the kitchen -- and they need about four years to recover."
CITY featured cuisine from Thailand, India, Greece, Italy, France and beyond. Though the menu for the upcoming dinner has yet to be announced, no doubt it will be a culinary world tour.
Follow Ali Trachta on Facebook and Twitter @MySo_CalLife.