Desperate to find a satisfying restaurant in LA, I have reverted to exploring the golden age of resaurans before the foodie revolution. I have a fascination for 1950s retro restaurants, even though I never had the chance to patronize them in their day. There aren't many left - Musso and Frank's has consistently disappointed me (yes, I know there is a devoted following on this board); Dresden (on Vermont near Los Feliz) last month was just too low key, Bernard's is long gone; for all their modernity, Aroyo Chophouse and Saddle Peak Lodge are really, IMHO, retro places that do a good job but without any real retro traction.
Reading the reviews over the years, Dal Rae and the Derby (in Arcadia) seemed to be the last of the real thing. Derby last month was ok, but no sink-in red leather and just ho hum food.
Dal Rae - a few blocks west of the 605 on Washington in Pico Rivera seemed the last bet - have been trying to get a designated driver to go there for the past several months and finally made it.
Drove an hour through the rain. Lined up for the valet in true 1950s Beverly Hills, or even Perino's style. Jammed place; brightly lit, crammed in tables. A few black leather, but mostly cloth booths and lots of tables - no red leather.
Hectic service - no elegance here. Lots of alcohol flowing and resultant frequent shrieks of laughter - general air of inebriated merriment.
Ordered a Martini - twice the size of Musso and Frank's - not saying this is a good thing.
Bread baskets - multiple - appeared. Then more bread and garlic bread and garlic cheese toast (no charge). And what, of all things, a classic relish tray - lots of raw veggies on a bed of ice.
Escargots, Oysters (raw as well as Rockefeller), iceberg wedge with huge blue cheese chunks, Caesar with raw egg and all - truly righteous classics.
Mains were all pretty expensive but real classics. The big surprise was piping hot beautifully old school doctored fish - parmesan crusted sea bass; macadamia nut crusted halibut; herb crusted swordfish. Hard to taste the fish, but the textures and crusts were first rate. $35 for Lobster Thermador (come on, have you ever actually had it?). LOTS of lobster tail (don't think it was fresh) drenched in cream, hollandaise, mushrooms, onions - onions seem a speciality of this place - and parmesan - not a lobster purist' dream but met the criteria for classic 1950s haute. Passed on the $90 22 oz lobster tail
Meats were also tarted up - lots of pepper and herbs on the filet and New York, but good quality meat (for $35 a piece it should be). Roast beef was uneven - several adjoining tables had beautiful chunks, though ours seemed a little more anemic and fatty.
Decadent desserts with deep chocolate concotions and good quality ice creams.
Wines are very agreeably priced - Husch Chard 2001 for $44; Steele wines are featured - the whites are good though the reds are still waiting for prime time. The wines seemed closer to 2x retail than the usual 3x.
Overall, reminiscent of a Chicago steakhouse with huge noise, close tables, and stretched service. But this is old school at its best - good, honest portions, competently (if not elegantly) prepared with obviously first rate ingredients.
If you're nostalgic for the pre-foodie old tyme days of good restaurants this is better than most. Bring $$ - almost as expensive as Arnie Morton's and Ruth's though much more interesting.