Do I love The Lodge for its double-fisted Tanqueray martinis or for the thick-cut pepper bacon put out like peanuts at the bar? For the big chunks of blue cheese in the house chopped salad or for the onion rings as golden as the bangles on a Brahmin woman’s arm? For the dripping-rare New York steak or for the bone-in rib-eye as big as some models of compact car? For the sommelier, Caitlin Stansbury, who seems to purr like a cat when you order her favorite Madiran or Spanish Syrah on the wine list? When this dining room was Tiny Naylor’s, my mom used to take us here for patty melts when she didn’t feel flush enough to spring for the onion rings across the street at Ollie Hammond’s. When it was reborn as an upscale coffee shop, at least one of the waitresses used to slip punk-rock dudes warm beer in teacups after the bars closed. And now that it has been reinvented as a wood-paneled post-Googie ski lodge, I find it pretty hard to get a reservation. It must have something to do with the bacon.
The Lodge, it must be said, represents almost everything I loathe about the Los Angeles restaurant circa 2006. The designer is Dodd Mitchell, for whom the X-Box and Dungeons & Dragons must stand as primary muses, whose aesthetic of fire, wood, leather and stone seems to have been lifted whole from an early edition of Halo. (Mitchell’s influence extends to interiors many, many ZIP codes away from his sphere of impact, which is not necessarily to the good.) The owner is Adolfo Suaya, whose projects, from Gaucho Grill through Sushi Roku, Katana, Dolce and Rok Bar, have represented the dark, anti-chef wing of the local restaurant scene for almost 20 years. (I still remember ducking into corners to avoid the Weekly’s first editor when he stalked down the hall with the unmistakable “review Gaucho Grill” look in his eye.) The Lodge’s chef, nobody bothered to mention. Suffice it to say, if you crave anything they serve at Boa, Dakota or Sterling, you will probably be able to find it here too.
To get to The Lodge, you dump your Lexus off with the valet, march down a breezeway — it looks like the path to Thunder Mountain at Disneyland — and face down a maitre d’ as formidable as the frontline of the Pittsburgh Steelers, only wearing a much nicer suit. If you are on his list, you will be admitted to the bar, where you will nibble those peppery bacon strips and rosemary-toasted almonds until your name is called — usually 40 minutes or two $15 martinis after the designated time of your reservation, or until the lesser hits of Duran Duran and Earth, Wind & Fire sear themselves into your soul.
If the front desk has not forgotten you completely, you will eventually be transferred a few feet to a tiny table fashioned from a sliced log, like an expensive, matte version of the ones that Topanga hippies used to sell by the side of the road. A waitress will try to sell you a third or fourth martini. The skull of Simon Le Bon splats on your forehead and his brains trickle down your cheek like warm yolk. The $75 porterhouse-for-two starts to seem not only possible but desirable in the heat of The Lodge moment, and if you take a moment to do the math, it is one of the least costly items on the menu. The waiters push the Cajun rib-eye, but $45 per person is probably a little too much to pay for second- or thirdhand bam.
But have I mentioned that The Lodge makes me deliriously, irrationally happy, prey to whatever generational hooks or serotonin enhancers Suaya and company have managed to insinuate into the food?
Every steak house in town has a wedge-of-iceberg salad at the moment, frosted with blue cheese and bacon and a nominal vinaigrette, but The Lodge ups the ante by pairing its wedge with another wedge, which it moistens with the devil’s own version of the Thousand Island dressing you used to enjoy in first grade. The shrimp cocktail may not be the best in Los Angeles, but the slightly mealy shrimp are certainly the biggest — banana-size creatures the sight of which could empty a beach as quickly as the fin of a great white shark. It’s not just a baked potato, but a salt-baked potato, crunchy-skinned, accompanied by a salad bar’s worth of condiments, so that you can crank the vibe from Ornish all the way up to Atkins with just a few dips of the fork.
The steak comes — bone-in rib-eye, medium-rare for maximum succulence, is my call — but by that time you are already happy, inoculated against the $2 surcharge for a spoonful of steak sauce or horseradish whipped cream; liquidly blissful enough to slide into the multisauced banana split, the $5 cup of coffee and the sartori of the ride home.?
The Lodge, 14 N. La Cienega Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 854-0024. Open nightly 5 p.m.–1 a.m. AE, MC, V. Full bar. Valet parking. Dinner for two, food only, $90-$140. Recommended dishes: double-wedge salad; bone-in rib-eye; salt-baked potato; banana split.