The author J.D. Salinger, who died in 2010, is very much in the news this week. A new book, Salinger, by David Shields and Shane Salerno, which is being published this week, reveals that several new works by the reclusive writer will be unveiled in the next few years. And a startling film documentary from the Weinstein company, also called Salinger, will be in theatre soon and shown on PBS's American Masters. It takes a piercing look at the author's life and romances. In my humble opinion, I have a literary bent....I am widely read and read widely. And I can't think of any book which has had a more powerful influence on my life and writing style than J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. The novel was published in 1951, when I was recently out of college and just entering the New York publicity world. I remember reading it in one weekend and carrying around a marked-up copy for months, extolling its virtues to anyone who would listen. I later carried that same battered copy in my backpack when I went off to Korea to fight in that unmentionable war. Something about the lead character Holden Caulfield's rebellious nature appealed to my free spirit. Later, as a studio executive and then independent film producer, I tried many, many times to option the film rights to the book...to no avail. When I produced Billy Wilder's last film, Buddy, Buddy, Billy told me of his desire to direct it: "Wonderful book, I love it." We tried again with Salinger's agent, Phyllis Westberg of the Harold Ober agency, to no avail. She told me that Salinger said that he would not allow a film version 'while he was alive." When he died, I again made my run on it, to no avail. But with all of the current hullabaloo about Salinger, he is very much in the news...and I can only hope that one day soon the estate will relent and let me do it....so stay tuned for a possible movie of Catcher In The Rye.
Caulfield's Writer's Wall, with Salinger at the top.
Naturally I was attracted to and stunned last year to find a new restaurant had opened at the Thompson Hotel in Beverly Hills called CAULFIELD'S BAR & DINING ROOM (9360 Wilshire Blvd, on the south side at Crescent Drive, valet parking in the narrow courtyard, (310) 388-6860.) I never expected to find one of the most interesting, casually elegant dining rooms in the city. Last night once again I settled into a back booth behind the buzzy, dark mahogany bar and I was facing the mural which covers the back wall. It depicts an assemblage of famous writers, Salinger of course, as well as many members of the infamous Hollywood Ten. (Surprised not to see Waldo Salt included; he wrote my first crack at Ernest Hemingway's biofilm, one of my other abiding passions.) I remarked to my companion that it reminded me of the famous Round Table mural at Manhattan's Algonquin Hotel, the one with Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker (she is also in this one.) That hotel was my New York hangout in days of yore, when Matilda the cat roamed the lobby and nuzzled the guests. (Never dreaming that one day I would become a 'cat person' and have an animal, Pyewacket, who also nuzzles the world.)
The owners of the restaurant, a beautiful woman named Laurie Mulstay and a charming guy named Ron Marino, were there recently and we got to talking. They have Hollywood's The Bar and Magnolia and Santa Monica's Bar Chloe. Cooking in the kitchen is Executive Chef Stephan Kalt, whom I met this past weekend at the L.A. Food & Wine Festival. Kalt is a veteran chef with interests in two Atlantic City restaurants, which he visits once a month He was one of the opening chefs of the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas. His menu is not overwhelming, a smart bar/bistro one. One starter dish which excited me was Avocado Tempura ($7), with miso and lime. Just thick chunks of creamy avocado which have been coated and flash-fried. I couldn't believe it was something I had never tasted before. I remembered the House Smoked Trout Toast ($8) from an earlier menu, still delicious. Fried Squash Blossoms ($9) with Sonoma goat cheese, a Wagyu Beef Reuben ($8) and Fried Potatoes a la bravas ($7) are others. There are several smart pizzas, including one superb choice...a White Truffle Oil and Mushroom Duxelle pie ($15) which will delight you. At the food festival, Stephan had sampled one signature dish from his menu, and it is a real winner. Think Wagyu Beef Belly Hash ($14), with grilled chicory, then topped with a sunnyside egg. Pierce the egg and mix the creamy result into the hash for a sublime morsel. A half-dozen smart salads I have yet to taste, but a dozen main courses which will warm your heart. Last night the chef recommended a Spaghetti ($25) with spring peas, chanterelle mushrooms and pecorino cream. Worth going off my gluten-free diet for the night. There's a Fettuccini ($24) with a six-hour beef short rib, Soft Shell Crabs ($29), and Grilled Skirt Steak ($24). Never omit his Duck Fried Rice ($18) from your selections; it is sautéed rice with roasted Maple Leaf duck breast and ..cherries. It works beautifully. I sipped a bowl of his Tortilla Soup ($18) to compare it to others ...it won.
Caulfield's Exec Chef Stanley Kalt.
This is basic American cooking at its highest level. Open for breakfast and lunch as well as dinner, the dining room features bourbon maple syrup on their early-morning brioche French toast as well as rosemary-smoked salmon and a hefty, juicy burger ($14) for lunch and dinner.. Yes, this is superb food. Desserts ($9) are all homemade and surprisingly well-done, especially the luscious Key Lime Pie. Of course, they have a whole menu of hand-crafted cocktails and craft beers, as does every other new place in town. I still judge a bar by the way they make a classic martini, from the quality of the gin to the chill of the glass. Pay tribute to the book by catching a tumbler of rye. The 110-seat three room restaurant is comfortable without being ostentatious, and the owners tell me that their rooftop dining room is a huge success. I attended a party there for the Ferrari dealership next door and was enchanted by the food and the view. There is a smart private room in the front, and last evening we watched a dinner party for forty being served there.
Avocado Tempura was a sensational surprise.
Any place which celebrates its literary side is going to be applauded by me, but to discover a warm, inviting tavern (yes, that's what it is) in the heart of Beverly Hills serving nostalgic American food is an unexpected bonus. And that literary mural is an amazing tribute to writers and freedom fighters long gone but not forgotten. J.D. Salinger, thank you. And when you leave, walk next door and see the new Maserati four-door sedan....one of the most stunning cars ever made. Holden Caulfield would really dig it.
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