When I lie in bed at night, I wonder who reads my stories. Outside my circle of friends, who text and email and call to heap too-generous praise, I wonder who reads until the end. I wonder how the stories make them feel. Maybe hungry, maybe happy, maybe a little bit sad; I hope they feel something. I wonder about my grammar, unchecked by subs, if it is (was?! were?!) correct. I wonder if they’d tell a friend or come back next week to read again.
“WE WERE IN LOVE! We were so in love I was terrified. He was my best friend; it was this, like, soul mate connection. I can’t explain it.” The tipsy girl mines her emotion memory and details the inexplicable to three rapt friends and everyone else within yelling distance. “Are you gonna go to the earlier acting class? Cause if you go to the earlier class I’ll go to $5 yoga.” With the slumped posture of the dejected, two thespians discuss the motivation for their busy day ahead, in the chipper tones of the blindly optimistic.
As a girl, whenever I visited my Nan she’d prepare my favourite crispy fried chicken on the countertop in her electric frying pan. And every time, as I washed it down with a plastic cup of milk, I’d beg her to tell me how she made it so yummy. In reply, and ruse, Nan confided that she knew The Colonel’s famous, top-secret Original Recipe. After my parents split up, my dad used to dish up white rice, butter and soy sauce for my brother and I, describing the intricacies of the meal in his pitch-perfect mimic of Grover from Sesame Street. It was love, not food, which made a simple meal, and a sad one, sentimental. At the age when everyone’s parents were separating, the thrill of tasting another mum’s weekly dinner rotation was dulled by that mum’s resentment at preparing those same meals week in, week out. Plates were dropped heavily in front of us; the normally raucous dinner table chatter muted. No one poured me a second glass of Fanta, and the apathetic mums and dads no longer made the generous offer of seconds when they saw what a ‘good eater’ I was. Cumulus Inc is one of those joints people call an institution; it’s been open more than three years, is still jammed Thursday – Sunday nights and regulars recommend it to interlopers with smug pride. It’s Saturday, and after forgetting Melbourne is the ‘foodie capital’ and being turned away from my first choice, we get lost in the laneways of the ‘laneway capital’, before arriving at our trusted fallback. We’re offered an hour-long wait and accept; the cold, the laneways and the over-population of restaurants in the vicinity have stymied our spirit. So we drink some. A dirty (filthy) martini for the gentleman, and a tiny-bit-too-sweet rhubarb-and-something-or-other mocktail for me. Within half an hour the maitre d’ has seated us at the bar in front of the open kitchen. We order Rangers Valley flank steak with wilted greens, panisse and Ortiz anchovy ($38), cracked wheat and freekah salad with preserved lemon and barberries ($12) and shaved cabbage salad with cumin yoghurt, dill and apple ($12), all to share. But just as resentment ruined another mum’s Bolognese, an open kitchen seething with the same sentiment spoiled Cumulus Inc. Where my Nan’s devoted preparation of flour, salt and pepper made her fried chicken killer, watching a chef repeatedly hurl food in a bin and bark orders to ‘start again’ made my flank steak chewy. Morale in the kitchen bottomed-out and was reflected both in the sombre mood of the diners at the bar and uncharacteristic neglect by the wait-staff. After waiting twenty-five minutes for a dessert menu that never came, and reluctant to wait the same again for our bill, we slipped unnoticed off our stools, slipped on our coats and paid at the door. Everyone has an off day, Cumulus Inc, but I wish you wouldn’t fight in front of the kids.
This one time at a restaurant I thought I saw Chloe Sevigny and I was like, woah! But then I looked again and it was just an anaemic girl wearing socks with her sandals. Then this other time I thought I saw Jon Hamm but then I was like, nope, nu-uh, that’s just a dude with powerful thighs. The moral of this story is that you should eat dinner at Little Dom’s, ‘cause both Chloe and Jon have. On the corner of a couple more same-same streets in LA (in Los Feliz) Little Dom’s is that great Italian place you go to all the time, where you pretend to read the menu but always order the same thing, talk shit for hours, gesticulating wildly, drink wine ‘til your gums are stained plum, and numb, then stumble home. Basically, you started going to Little Dom’s cause it was near your house. We go on a Wednesday and it’s busy, jammed with Angelinos (Los Felicianos?) who look you up and down – not in a Mean Girls way, more a ‘nice selvedge jeans’ kind of way. The main dining room is both full and fully booked – obvs, I am told – and we are invited to take seven steps to the right for our forty-minute (approx) wait. Stuck now between the bar and booths, I feel like the uncool kid at a party, chemical-sweating in a corner, swaying to New Order. A party where everyone is especially cool and called Tad or Dree. And Tad or Dree are working on a screenplay that touches on domestic violence, but at its heart is a romantic comedy. One Blue Monday later, we’re at the bar and order a bracing Mint Julep (like ‘vicious heaven’, apparently) and a Virgin Margarita (tastes a tiny bit like egg white. Or maybe just a dirty glass?) As the ‘tails take the edge off, Tad and Dree’s earnest discussion of their ill-conceived screenplay becomes endearing; they’re just folks going about their business. And like the dining experience back home at Fratelli Paradiso, the people watching at Little Dom’s is half the fun. Especially when you look across the bar and see Orlando Bloom! Which didn’t actually happen that night. We are offered a table outside, under the plastic awning, and accept; it’s a mild LA evening and the subtle hint of egg white has teased my already aggravated appetite into tantrum. I choose the New York steak ($41), medium rare, and we start with a salad of raw baby kale ($11). As revolting as those three words, in that particular order sound, this salad is not. The kale tingles with the peppery heat of raw greens; sweet strips of roasted Red Kuri and Kabocha squash are tangled within, all soft and caramelised. A simple Balsamic vinaigrette later and… OMG. I’m pretty sure we’re sitting next to Jason Segal. Oh, huh? No? Shame.
The Dresden Room in Los Feliz, Los Angeles, is a time warp. Not in a cool, ‘have you been watching Mad Men?’ or ‘I just ADORE mid-century furniture’ kind of way. It’s more like how your grandma used to always wear gloves while driving and set her hair in rollers every night and sometimes let you smoke with her because she never got the memo it would end up killing us all. A splendid piece of the past perched smack-bang in the middle of the nicotine-stained present. On a Wednesday night, 8pm, it’s museum-quiet in the restaurant. Fitting, as the room appears to be carefully preserved; pristine white leather banquettes and ceramic vases to prove Jonathan Adler a fraud, 60s wooden-slatted room dividers and burgundy walls – even the pot plants look exhausted by age, but nonetheless MIB. The menu holds everything I imagine my grandparents would eat on a night out: French Onion Soup, Chicken Cordon Bleu and Peach Melba. If that doesn’t make you smile you have no heart. Or, you have suffered a stroke and should seek urgent medical attention. I choose the New York Steak ($25), with fries, the ‘famous garlic bread’ and a salad to start, with Italian dressing. Nothing is excellent; my medium-rare steak is pretty well cooked-through and the salad is dressed not for eating but for preserving. Regardless, it’s a delight and I clean the plate before ordering a Peach Melba ($5). Every dessert in the world should contain jam and that’s all I have to say about that. If the restaurant itself was all The Dresden had on offer, it could lean toward the melancholy. Like your grandma trying to keep up as the times move too quickly around her, charming youth morphing into burdensome old age. But hold your horses there cowboy, wipe away the sympathy tears, take one last look around and head next door to The Lounge, ‘cause your mind is about to be blown. It’s a bar, yep, a bar with all the local cools hanging out, sure. Strange pictures cover the walls of another immaculate throwback; there’re the requisite chairs, tables, beards, etcetera – the same stuff you’ll find in bars across the world. But hold up, what’s that sound? Are you hearing right? Yeah you are. The Lounge at The Dresden is home to Marty and Elayne; Tuesday through Saturday, 9pm-1:15am. Get on the google now cause I promise, there are no words for the magic of Marty and Elayne. Tip well and tip often. It’s fair to say the food ain’t highfalutin’ – I paid much less for much better food, many times over in LA – yet I had no better meal than at The Dresden. And there’s gorgeous, priceless Marty, with a dead badger on his head.