If you have a daughter between the ages of 5 and 12 and you live in Los Angeles, I'm guessing you have heard of American Girl. American Girl was originally a series of books and dolls based on various historical periods. Now, it is a marketing juggernaut, selling $87 dolls and loads of accessories in catalogues and stores in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The American Girl mothership in Los Angeles is a sight to behold. Standing at the western corner of the Grove shopping center adjacent to the Third and Fairfax Farmers' Market, it is a sort of a mini-theme park, a temple to little girls and their dolls. Along with dolls for sale, there is a doll salon where you can change your doll's hairstyle, a doll hospital for injured and terminally ill dolls, a theatre with live performances and a cafe.
So on the occasion of the sixth birthday of my daughter, I found myself dining at the American Girl Cafe.
Getting reservations at the Cafe is on par with doing so at Mozza. Calling two months in advance, there were no weekend lunches, so we got a 9:30 a.m. seating for brunch. They told us to show up fifteen minutes early. We showed up and were told we would be seated at 9:30 and we could wander around the store until then. Ah, the marketing savvy, come fifteen minutes early and be our captive while we entice your already overstimulated six year old with additional merchandise.
At 9:30, they seated our party of five: myself, my wife, my mother, our daughter and her doll. Yes, each doll is greeted by name by the hostess (no small feat given that there must be 20 different dolls with a dizzying array of outfits and disguises). The doll is seated at a miniature chair which attaches to the table and is served a doll-sized teacup and saucer, very sweet.
As you walk into the pink hued dining room, there is a shelf full of dolls near the entrance. Presumably they are there to accompany diners who do not have or did not bring a doll, sort of an American Girl escort service. It was disconcerting, though, to have them all sitting there on the shelves while we ate...just watching us, not blinking, just staring...creepy.
This led me to wonder what would would happen if someone showed up with a non-American Girl doll? Would they be politely but firmly told that those type were not served in this establishment or would they be hustled to a table in the back corner where the waitstaff would try to dispense with them as quickly as possible?
I have to say, I had low expectations for the AGC food. I mean, I've never had a decent meal anywhere in the Grove (as distinguished from the excellent choices at the Farmers' Market next door), and this was not only the Grove, it was a decked out doll theme park restaurant in the Grove. I assumed the food would be overpriced slop. I have to say the food was better than I expected, it was overpriced generally good food. The meal starts with mini-cinnamon rolls for all, just an amuse to wet your appetite for the sugar rush to come. The best dish we had was probably the eggs benedict on crab cakes with fried potatoes or a green salad; not the best I've had but a fairly good effort. The various french toast and waffle type items also looked good.
Dessert (yes, dessert is part of the prix fixe at the 9:30 a.m. seating) included a perfectly good chocolate mousse served in a flower pot with plastic flower. This, of course, means that you were eating the "dirt" in the flower pot, which you would think would be something you'd more likely see at American Boy, but no one seemed to mind.
My daughter, as the birthday girl (from my observation, it appeared that approximately 100% of the patrons that morning included birthday celebrants), also got a small piece of cake and we each got a sugar cookie. A dessert trio for breakfast...not bad. We were then told we could keep the napkin holders which double as hair ribbons and the plastic flowers from the mousse flower pot, which double as plastic flowers.
All in all, AGC easily surpassed my low expectations. And as I walked out of breakfast, jolted by the morning sugar rush, and meandered through the chronic cuteness of the store, I found myself curiously drawn to the vast merchandise and thinking, yes, honey, maybe your doll does need scuba gear...