In the film Pulp Fiction, a car rolls to a stop. Inside, Vincent and Mia look out at Jack Rabbit Slim's - a 50's diner.
What the f*** is this place?
This is Jackrabbit Slim's. An Elvis man should love it.
Come on, Mia, let's go get a steak.
You can get a steak here, daddy-o. Don't be a...
(Mia draws a square in the air with her fingers)
After you, kitty-cat.
The scene cuts to Vincent as he strolls through the Disney-esque establishment. Replicas of 50's screen idols wait tables amidst a dizzying display of poodle skirts, booths made out of cut-up Edsels, and thumping jukeboxes. Every single 50's stereotype is amplified tenfold.
"It's like a wax museum with a pulse," Vincent remarks.
This was, pretty much, what I was expecting when we ventured out to the city of Stanton to check out Park Ave, a new 50's themed restaurant.
But as soon as I parked the car in the restaurant's deserted lot, I knew I was in for a surprise. First of all, the location. Next door was a trailer park. Across the street; a seedy motel. One block down, there's a liquor store with steel-bar reinforced windows. This is one section of Beach Boulevard where a tourist would fear to tread. It is an unlikely, and some might say, unfortunate, place for restaurant; let alone a restaurant with a chef who used to head a swank eatery in Beverly Hills.
The restaurant's exterior beguiled me further. It had the appearance of those long-forgotten coffee shops in old San Fernando Valley that has seen better days and now has a date with a bulldozer looming.
The front facade is composed of cut stone jutting out at odd angles. Aside from this, the building looked flat and depressed, like a single-layer sheet cake. And if it weren't for the presence of the buzzing neon signs and tall tiki torches, you wouldn't think that they were open for business.
With my expectations discombobulated, we flung open the heavy, cherry wood door. Inside and straight ahead, my eyes locked on a vintage Elvis film, which was playing on the plasma screen held aloft over a handsome bar. He's on a speedboat with the sun on his face. The King is still young and sprightly; his hair greasy slick, his smile gleaming.
We are seated to the left of the entrance, in a long and sparsely lit dining room. Dark-hued woods and sumptous leather seats exude class and sophistication. There is a definite retro theme here, but it is deliberately and tastefully understated, without a touch of irony or kitsch.
The term for this type of design is "Googie" which employs "space age" motifs accenting bold angles and swooping curves. But Park Ave employs only the right amount of it, never resorting to caricature.
I am relieved that the vibe is actually more Rat Pack than Happy Days.
This is indeed a place where Frank and his cronies, Dino and Sammy, could come to unwind, lighting stogies and downing stiff martinis, all the while slapping each other on the back.
That night, the restaurant chose the perfect soundtrack. Yes, who else but Ol' Blue Eyes himself to serenade us through dinner. With his voice crooning softly through the air, we perused the menu and ordered.
The descriptions of the items on the menu harkens back to a time of meat loaf and tuna casserole. However, the chef, David Slay, is said to wisely and cleverly add a contemporary spin to these staples.
A slice of dense wheat bread and a cheese crisp shingle studded with cracked pepper was served with a plate of whipped butter piped into a floret. This butter, they inform us, was infused with chopped figs. The taste was creamy and herby-sweet, almost like cake frosting.
The "Surf n' Turf" ($15.95) intrigued me. Ordered off the "specials" menu, the filet mignon medallions were threaded through a bamboo skewer. The steak was tender, cooked perfectly to order, and tasted beefy with a slight char. The "Surf" part of the equation came in the form of still squiggly-fresh skewered shrimp glazed in a delicious herby green goo of unknown origin.
These morsels of the sea and pasture rested on chunky mashed potatoes which themselves were draped in a layer of melted cheese and a sprinkling of freshly diced green onions.
On the same plate were ribbons of light yellow spaghetti squash, faintly sweetened with a touch of honey. These tender golden wisps, I learned later, apparently comes out of the gourd naturally in these fine strands, looking like thin angel hair.
A pool of reduction with the essence of pan drippings and red wine, brought the entire dish together. I sopped up each drop by pushing the mashed potatoes around in it.
The salmon, also from the "specials" menu ($15.95) was cooked just until it seemed to collapse under its own weight. It was served over a heap of cooked brown rice and wilted spinach. The fish, rubbed in spices and lacquered in sort of a sweet teriyaki glaze came with a bracingly hot counterpoint in the form of a mustard sauce dripped around the periphery of the plate.
Another dish from the specials menu, chicken and pork sausage with mashed potato ($11.95) was comfort food, pure and simple. Eventhough it is an obvious twist on the British pub staple, "bangers and mash," this rendition was far from humble bar food.
The homemade smoky pork sausage was redolent of caraway seeds, while jewels of fat bursts with flavor. The chicken sausage was thicker but lighter in flavor and color. Oil wilted leaf lettuce, celery, and piquant olives completed this rustic and hearty meal.
Dessert was quaintly named the "Lil' Pot of Heaven" ($4.95). It's a ramekin filled to the brim with a dense, dark chocolate pudding, topped with sliced bruleed bananas. Funny how something with the word "Heaven" in it could taste so sinful.
The standout for our sweet tooth, however, was a dessert from the "specials" menu; bread pudding with homemade ice cream and caramel sauce ($5.95). This was pure decadence in a bowl. A generous serving of mushy-warm bread pudding and flavor-packed pie crust crumbles was crowned with scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzling of caramel. It's not overly sugary and wholly soothing; a dish I can see myself ordering again, and again.
Would these dishes have enticed Sinatra and his boys to Stanton? Yes, I think so!
Park Ave - Simply Dining
11200 Beach Blvd.
Stanton, CA 90680