If you check your notes from last week’s column, you’ll remember that I’m an avid tennis fan, and have covered the Countrywide Classic Tournament at UCLA for the past several years. The 81st annual one takes place this week, and I was happy to be included in last Friday’s pre-event activities.
The tournament kicked off with a garden luncheon at the Intercontinental Century City. It looked beautiful and peaceful, and the servers could not have been more accommodating. More on the actual meal later.
I, shockingly, had never even known of this hotel’s existence! And it’s lovely and totally non-intimidating, as opposed to most luxury hotels in this town. Even the valet parking is easy!
The star of this year’s Countrywide Classic is undoubtedly America’s James Blake, and he stopped by for a brief Q & A. I had never seen him up-close and personal, (just playing at this event, but from the stands), and he’s thinner and better-looking than on TV. Same old monotone voice, though.
And he looked down the entire time he was speaking and never looked any of us in the eye. Disappointing behavior from such an intelligent guy. But he’s here to play tennis, not be charming, so I’ll give him a break. And he hasn’t had the easiest life, so that makes me cut him some slack, too.
We had a group reporters sesh with James, and everyone asked the same old questions. I had expected it to be one-on-one, so I couldn’t ask mine because, of course, they were humorous and I didn’t want to incur the wrath of the other journalists. Shame. But James seemed at peace with the knowledge that he’ll probably never win a major as long as the great Roger Federer is playing. Now maybe my little mother can stop feeling bad for him.
Eighty-six-year-old Jack Kramer was in attendance, too, and has the bluest eyes I’ve ever encountered. Mine literally paled in comparison. Sitting next to him, I knew what brown-eyed people feel like.
Pam Shriver, Jack Kramer, James Blake
Pam Shriver was there with her adorable three-year-old son. I just realized that this group had the widest age-range imaginable. I love stuff like that. More on Pam later on in this column.
Now to the actual luncheon. I loved this food! I think the whole assemblage was impressed with it. We started with a simple salad that had the best balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The individually-served warm rolls were good, as well.
The main course was chicken, which seems to be de rigueur at this type of function, but it was really delicious and came with two great side dishes. One was a generous portion of perfectly-cooked asparagus spears, which is unusually generous for a press repast.
The other was the star of the show: mushroom ravioli. They could have served just this and we all would have been totally content. Some of us were still talking about it when we re-convened at dinner.
I got my wish for dessert--something chocolate. It was a round, light cake on the outside, but molten inside, garnished with fresh raspberries, whipped cream, and a crunchy chocolate stick. It was delicious, but I never got its official title. To top it all off, the wait staff was kind enough to come up with a glass of cold milk for me. Perfection.
We all participated in randomly picking the players’ names out of a bowl for the draw of the tournament. It was really interesting to see it take shape. I’m embarrassed to say I never really knew how it was done. I finally have a full appreciation for the expression “luck of the draw.” I hope we brought some to a deserving player this week. Let the games begin!
Intercontinental Hotel 2151 Avenue of the Stars Century City 310-284-6500 www.ichotelsgroup.comCountrywide Classic July 16-22, 2007 UCLA 310-825-2101 or 877-LA-TENNIS www.countrywideclassic.com
I was so tired and sated from the luncheon that I almost passed on the Southern California Tennis Association Hall of Fame Dinner just a few hours later. But then I came to my senses and rallied.
First of all, I was grateful to be included, and second, several of my friends seem to think that the Four Seasons is all the rage. Somehow, this hotel does nothing for me, but I never mind giving it another try. And it does always feel special just walking in there.
I’m glad I got that second wind because it turned out to be a lovely event. I was impressed by the fact that everyone was dressed-up. It was a predominantly older crowd, and I think that that generation takes “black tie” seriously, as was intended. The attire alone adds an air of elegance. It’s what I imagine old Hollywood looked like, and I love conjuring up that feeling.
We had cocktails and passed hors d’oevres in the lounge outside the ballroom for the first hour, amidst pictures of great tennis stars of the past. My friends especially loved the mini lamb chops, while I filled-up on the bite-size bruschettas.
Our petal-strewn table featuring Karen's age.
Then we moved into the rose-filled ballroom for dinner and the induction ceremony. It’s amazing to me how simple decorations of roses enclosed in tall glass cylinders atop petal- strewn cloths looked so classy and beautiful.
There was a nice camaraderie in the room and the pacing of the evening was perfect. We heard a couple of greetings from the podium, and then were allowed to enjoy our meals without interruption. As the desserts showed-up, the short presentations commenced.
The whole event was over while we were all still awake, which is a rarity. No one even attempted to slip out early. And I especially loved that their gorgeous programs had no advertising, simply the necessary information. Kudos to the organizers for that!
The 2007 inductees into the SCTA Hall of Fame are: the late Ted Schroeder, Dennis Ralston, Charles Pasarell, Darlene Hard, Gussy Moran, and Pam Shriver, whose speech was the most entertaining of the evening. It was great to see archival footage as the introduction to the speakers. The tennis community seems to be very close-knit, which is an admirable thing.
Okay, now to the most important part to me--the food! It was all very delicious, but I must say, not as much so as that of the luncheon. It was almost the same menu, and I’m surprised myself that the Intercontinental beat the Four Seasons! But by just a smidge.
There were many different types of breads, which was great. The salad was outstanding, with toasted walnuts and the most delicious, perfect-consistency shaved pears. We had chicken again (there’s a shock), this time with haricots vert (green beans, to you non-foodies) and wild mushroom risotto, as opposed to the mushroom ravioli of the afternoon. It was all quite yummy.
The dessert was another warm chocolate cake, this time a pudding one, and served with pistachio ice cream, which is my favorite food pairing, crème anglaise, a chocolate spiral and almond tuile. (It helps when you get a written menu at your place setting.) And they accommodated me with a glass of milk, as well.
The most surprising stat about the day is that all these people in an athletic field such as tennis, can eat like this! At both festivities, I was expecting diet food. I’m so glad that I was wrong. And that I’m not the one who has to play the sport after consuming these meals. Actually, maybe I ought to look into it!
Four Seasons Hotel 400 S. Doheny Drive BH 310-273-2222 www.fourseasons.com
Southern California Tennis Association 420 Charles Young Drive West LA