Q & A With Peter Moruzzi: On His Book Classic Dining, Contemporary Dining Trends + Where He'd Eat His Last Meal
Peter Moruzzi is on a crusade to save fine dining. An admirer of classic, historic restaurants since his youth, Moruzzi, an L.A.-based writer, started to become alarmed in recent years over the ever more rapid disappearance of America's dining history. So he decided to write a book about it.
Sven A. Kirsten Peter Moruzzi
Classic Dining: Discovering America's Finest Mid-Century Restaurants isn't just a history textbook, but also a living guidebook to the venerable old places that are still around today. "My hope was that a book focusing on the value of classic restaurants might inspire people to locate and frequent those survivors in their areas," Moruzzi says. "It was also to debunk the notion that white tablecloth establishments were deserving of extinction in favor of trendy restaurants with their hard surfaces and minimalist interiors."
Recently we sat down in a cushy vinyl booth with Moruzzi to learn more about his project.
Squid Ink: People who don't have an appreciation for these restaurants might not want to go, either because they think the food is going to be heavy or old fashioned. What would you say to get them to give some of these classic places a try?
Peter Moruzzi: I think people should go just so they can experience what dining was like in America before they were born. It's part of appreciating American history. If people have no interest in how their parents lived or how their parents ate, they're not going to go. But if they do, this gives them an opportunity to truly experience something that is part of our culinary past.
And yes, some of the food is rich and definitely not cutting edge, and the menu is old fashioned, but to me that's part of the excitement of going to places you are unfamiliar with and you want to experience. I like to go to cutting edge restaurants for the same reason. There's plenty of room for the traditional, old-style restaurants and the new. If people are just pigeonholed into eating at upscale or trendy restaurants, I think they're missing a lot. But that's my belief about life. That's why I seek out authenticity in architecture, authenticity in culture, and food in restaurants. It's all the same type of thinking.
SI: Historically, over time, would you say, though, that's it's kind of a good thing that food has generally trended healthier and lighter than it was at that time?
PI: I don't care about contemporary trends. I just don't. Yes, I think it's great that food has changed over time, and people are eating more home grown stuff. But that's not what I'm interested in. If I had my choice, I would eat every single meal at a traditional restaurant.
SI: But you said you like to go to a few newer places too!
PM:That's, right, I do, actually. In Silver Lake, I like Blair's, and I like Barbrix, and I like Forage. And I love Korean food. But the only one I go to is the one that has a charcoal grill in the middle of the table -- I don't like gas. Soot Bull Jeep, on 8th in Koreatown, near the old Ambassador. But there, there's a link to traditional restaurants -- the charcoal grill.
SI: Why do some of these places endure, while other places become tired and people lose interest?
PM: That's a really complicated question. There's a lot of reasons. It sometimes has to do with management -- it's either good or not so good. Quality falters, and people stop going there. The ones that survive are generally the ones that have superb service, a great menu -- and everything has been maintained.
Often, the original owners just get tired, or move on, or die, and there's no one else to take over. Once those people go, then the restaurants often go too. Or they try to sell it but the person who buys it doesn't really have the same level of ability.
SI: Which of your favorite classic places in L.A. have the best something? The best waitress, the best bartender, like that?
PM: The best tableside prep is at the Dal Rae. The best lounge is The Dresden. The best traditional steakhouse would be Taylor's. The best theatrical presentation would be Lawry's. The most Hollywood would be Musso & Frank. Everybody on earth went there -- it's sort of the essence of Hollywood. Then Taix -- Taix is Taix. It's kind of quirky and fun and they've got a great bar. The French theme is not one that has survived anywhere else.
SI: At the Tam O'Shanter, I enjoyed the theme, the waitstaff, but the food was ... not great. In researching this book, do you feel like you've eaten a lot of great food?
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