On a recent trip to Southern California I had the opportunity to visit a seaside restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway that is a Los Angeles institution. It’s famous for fresh seafood, and while not a fish lover, I can deal with the kind of fish that doesn’t taste like fish. You know what I mean: fish with shapes in which a denizen of the deep would never naturally occur: sticks, squares, nuggets, etc., liberally blended with mashed potatoes so it tastes like a tater tot, and accompanied by vats of ketchup and tartar sauce to drown out any possible lingering fishy aroma or taste. Anyway, seeing this restaurant’s sign and remembering the 27 years I’d lived in L.A. I waxed nostalgic and pulled into the parking lot. I was dismayed to see that I had to valet park–they used to offer that only at night as I recall–but I figured with validation, no big deal.
I seated myself at the bar to watch the news and asked for a water with no ice as the bartender handed me the menu. As I just hinted, I’ve been watching my wallet like the rest of America and the world, so figured, “How much can a fish sandwich cost?” I’ll tell you how much: seventeen dollars. Yes, that’s right. And for that seventeen dollars, they only put American cheese on the sandwich (although it came with homemade chips). When it arrived, the cod tasted a tad fishy to me, and fresh out of vats of ketchup and tartar sauce, I threw caution to the financial wind and ordered a glass of Chardonnay.
The meal portion was hefty, and I had half of it packaged to go, then asked the hostess to validate my parking ticket. “Oh, no need for that,” she said. Great, I thought. Then she continued. “It’s a flat six dollar fee. You can pay at the little booth outside.” I ransomed my car and tipped the valet a couple of dollars, breathing heavily of the salty air. Once in the stream of traffic on PCH, I did a mental calculation: one sandwich and one adult beverage plus tax: 35.40; tip: 9.00 (the bartender had been chatty but not overbearing, and had offered to bring me a whole other order of potato chips–which I refused–to take home, so, flushed with an unaccustomed dose of mercury, I had overtipped); parking: 6.00; valet tip: 2.00. That brought my lunch total to a stunning 52.40.
By the way, the story line of William Friedkin’s 1985 thriller, To Live and Die in L.A. concerned a Secret Service agent bent on nailing a counterfeiter. I might be the next target, unless I change restaurants. After all, they use American cheese, too ..