July is an important month in my life. July 7 is my anniversary with Mr. X. The 8th is the day I left home as a teen-ager. 14th, my half birthday. And July 27 is my anniversary with LA. Guess which one I celebrate most often? July 27th!
Here’s what I do just about every year since I first showed up here: I drive out to Malibu, so I can then drive down the coast, just as I did that first time. I listen to the song that was playing the most on the radio that day, and look at the ocean and the beach as though I’m seeing them for the first time.
Then I get on the freeway to Westwood and drive straight to 501 Gayley Ave., the first place I went to in LA. I have someone take a picture of me in front of it. (I’m telling you after the fact to avoid the paparazzi crush that would have inevitably occurred with prior knowledge.)
My boyfriend, Mr. X, has suggested an appropriate conclusion to my commemorative tour would be a stop at a mental hospital. He’s nuts about me, don’t you think?
This week, I did a modified version of my journey, due to my heavy-duty tennis schedule. (See above.) But never modified is my omni-present appreciation of LA.
On my recent trip to NY, I must have dined out at least 18 times in 2 weeks. Here are the highlights. The common theme is great service.
Café Shane is a relatively new restaurant in Brooklyn’s recently-gentrified Prospect Heights section. (I know--no one really knows what that means, but it never stops them from saying it.) My mother (from hereon known as Maybelle) and I frequent a nearby breakfast spot, and noticed a happy buzz at Café Shane.
So, being a seeker of happiness, we tried it for brunch in April and had such a good time that we returned on my July trip.
I ordered chocolate chip waffles “with tons of whipped cream,” the way I do everywhere. They had run out of the precious topping, probably because the place was so busy. I actually thought of going to the store for some.
All of a sudden, here come my waffles, just the way I like them! The charming owner, Luther, had run out and gotten whipped cream, in the middle of the brunch rush, because he knew a customer wanted it, having never even met us before. That’s the way to run a business.
And on the previous visit, when I ordered the best chocolate chip pancakes I’ve ever had (notice a theme here?), our waitress gave me the whole can! What a change from the places who give you just a dollop of whipped cream and then obnoxiously charge a fortune if you ask for any more. And skimp on the chocolate chips, too!
And, as if our time at Café Shane weren’t already special enough, they came around with a platter of delicious pastries for all to try. As you leave, everyone who works there gives you a genuine nice send-off. What a lovely, warm start to any day.
Café Shane 794 Washington Ave. Brooklyn, New York 718-399-9001 www.cafeshane.com
One of the hippest places to live in NY nowadays is Brooklyn’s Park Slope section. Heath Ledger and his girlfriend Michelle Williams live there, as do Jennifer Connelly and her husband Paul Bethany. (My friends who’ve seen Jennifer in the neighborhood tell me they’ve never seen her smile either, which is what her movie audiences can attest to. Maybe a visit to one of these restaurants would help cheer her up.)
Maybelle and I had such a success with brunch at Café Shane, that we went for that meal again, this time at Melt, in the aforementioned Park Slope. It was lovely, with a minimalist décor of rich brown and white. Though occupying a small space, it features a full bar with great lighting. We heard that a clothing designer may own the place, which would make sense.
The food was artfully presented, too. In addition to the crisply-cut fresh fruit on the main plate, each component of the meal was served in its own little differently-shaped dish. My French toast came with tiny cups of syrup, vanilla sauce, and Nutella, (the last one being my request; it’s usually in the crepes, not with the French toast), while Maybelle’s crepes came with ones of blueberries and peaches. She loved hers so much that for the first time in her life, she actually finished a meal!
Our waitress, Kerry, couldn’t have been more accommodating. One of the chefs (who’s also a drummer; LA’s not the only place with restaurant worker hyphenates!) came out and chatted with us as well, to my mother’s delight. Now, if she could only figure out why they named it Melt, we’d have the perfect success story.
Melt 440 Bergen Street Brooklyn, NY 718-230-5925 www.meltrestaurant.com
I was lucky enough to be in NY for Restaurant Week, where you can enjoy a 3-course lunch or dinner at a fabulous, high-end restaurant for a fraction of the usual cost. I had time for just one meal in Manhattan that week. My friend, Jackye Roberts, and I chose lunch at Alto, whose entire staff was lovely, even on the phone during the busiest week of the year, which I can tell you is a rarity.
It’s been open for about a year and a half and is one of the most expensive restaurants in the city. If I had paid the regular cost for this particular meal, I would have killed myself, so you wouldn‘t even be reading about it now. The story is too long for this column, but I’ll be recounting the juicy details on the next “Karen’s Restaurant Revue.” Check this column for air dates.
Though they served mediocre food at an outrageous price, I’d go back again for one reason: Matthew Van Nuys. To say he was our waiter just doesn’t seem like enough. He appeared to really care if the patrons were having a good time.
When he inquired as to how our meal had been, and I answered honestly by saying that I was underwhelmed by my chicken, he said, “We can’t have that. Please let me bring you a different entrée to take home.” When was the last time you heard those words in a restaurant?!
And the best part is…he’s not a struggling actor! He’s a college student majoring in marketing. So, Matthew is intelligent, excellent at his job, a good listener, and did I mention great-looking? I’m sure wearing a suit instead of a waiter’s uniform didn’t hurt.
I’ve always maintained that service is the most important element of a restaurant. Alto is my proof of that.
Alto 520 Madison Ave. New York, NY 212-308-1099 www.altorestaurant.com
And lastly, I recently attended an event at Michael Stars in SM, where I buy my favorite upscale tees. A few times a year, they host small receptions to showcase their latest fashions. The place is tiny, so they can’t do extravaganzas, which makes them be creative.
This function featured back and neck massages (Phyllis, who did mine, was fabulous and called us each by name, which added a personal feel), petite Evian GLASS bottles (with straws, which was a nice touch), and Sprinkles cupcakes, straight from Beverly Hills. They even provided the perfect-size boxes to take yours home in if you didn’t want to eat in the store
If the clothing business doesn't work out at some point down the line, maybe the store managers could go into party planning!
Michael Stars 1233 Montana Ave. Santa Monica 310-260-5558