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Restaurants & Bars 5

Dear John & La Buca – God Bless America (long)

Mr Grub | Apr 7, 2003 01:09 PM

Cruising down Culver Blvd on a sunny Sat, the fetching Mme. Grubbe & I decided to nip into Dear John (at Sepulveda) for a look-see. (Another of the Grubman’s many, many annoying rules: if you drive past a place 762 times, you must stop on the 763rd occasion.) After a short adjustment to the dark, we discover it’s 1963 all over again. This is a classic “supper club” w the room-length bar sharing the room w the dining tables. It’s great – button naughahyde booths, piano in the corner, & Christmas lights are still up. Life is good.

The bar is, of course, about full at 4 pm on a Sat aft. Full w people who know each other’s names. We score a couple of stools at the end, order up, & are immediately joined in conversation w a couple of seemingly regulars next to us. Then follows magically a plate of fresh fruit in a lovely acidicly sweet sauce. Another drink, & appears a plate of calimari followed shortly by o rings. Hmm.

As part of the continuing conversation on the state of the world, college basketball, grandchildren & ’56 Chevys, we discover that one of our new best friends & our benefactor is Ricardo, the estimable owner. His brother runs the kitchen (Big Night, anyone?) & serves up [allegedly, but wholeheartedly agreed upon by all stools] great steaks & specials (almost opted for the ox-tail soup on GPs).

To assist in braving the bright sun, Ricardo steels us w a serious shot from his collection of excellent rapasado tequilas. Seems he brought one of the finer parts of his culture to our shining shores. Then, capping it all off, his card w a comp appetizer for our first visit for dinner. Needless to say, the Grubs WILL return. We're no pushovers, but we can be had.

Sunday. Terrific conchinita pibil tacos from Loteria Grill & fresh fruit from a stand at Farmers Market, early movie at the splendid Grove (Pacific) Theater complex. Bend it Like Beckham – a great little Rocky-Big Fat Greek Wedding cross w/o the condescension & stereotyping of BFGW. Bonus – a dead-on Chowhound line from the Punjabi Mama.

Matinee performance – ready? another plug – at West Coast Ensemble on La Brea, Sunday in the Park with George. First rate mounting of IMHO Sondheim’s best. Great theater company El Grubos have been supporting for years.

About 6, decide to go for La Buca (that gnocchi jones) rather than our original plan for the family night special at Alta Palato. On way, realize La Buca prob won’t be open, but forge on to discover that they are open – the first Sunday ever. They’re trying Sundays for a month to see how it goes. We were their only cover by the time we left, so if you neighbors want to help keep 'em going, you could stop in or take out a pizza on Sunday.

Food is, as usual, wonderful. We order burrata & prusciutto app, gnocchi, & a special – lobster ravioli. Again, in the interest of full disclosure, at La Buca we break yet another carved-in-marble rule to never order the same thing twice until the menu has been exhausted. Each time we go, we order the burrata & the gnocchi. Burrata is just plain great – served w good prusciutto (or not, as you choose) & arugula. & the gnocchi are very small & feathery light. Absolutely melt in your mouth – none of the usual toughness one finds elsewhere.

Another La Buca benefit: no liquor license, so you can bring your own if you remember (the Grubs just happened to have a case of wine from Cost Plus in the trunk, so we could enjoy a lovely Coppola claret w our dinner) or go to the convenience store a few doors down where the proprietor has established a little cottage-shop “connoisseur’s wine corner” to tempt La Buca diners. He’s happy w a dollar or 2 more per bottle, you’re happy you’re not paying 3x retail, & La Buca’s happy.

Armando, the Italian-born owner of the little—and I do mean little—family-run storefront on Melrose just west of Wilton & his entire staff are gracious, friendly, flexible & knowledgeable. & he solidifies his place in our hearts by comping a dessert for no apparent reason. Highly recommended. In fact, this is Signora Gruba’s favorite place. Disclaimer: She said that about Pastis last week & Brasserie des Artistes the week before.

Here’s the God Bless America part. Both Dear John & La Buca (& prob a couple of thousand other LA restaurants) are owned & operated by immigrant or 1st-generation families, who can come here & are free to do what they love. They do however put themselves at risk financially, so please support your local family-run restaurant.

Sorry for the gratuitous stuff. Sometimes just can't help it.

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