HOBNOBBING AT THE GRILL ON THE ALLEY

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May 1, 2018 · Posted in Commentary 

Photos by Barry Stein

By BOB VICKREY

When it was suggested that our monthly lunch club try The Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills, I had to admit that I had never heard of it.

But after learning The Grill was a favorite haunt for show business executives, I understood why I had completely missed this industry hideaway that some refer to as “The Commissary.” Having called L.A. my home for almost 40 years now, I have been living with the shame and humiliation of never having once produced a major movie or successful television series. And what’s worse, I never even tried.

In times past, Los Angeles was recognized for having such celebrated restaurants as The Brown Derby, Chasen’s and Morton’s. And these days, many fans of The Grill have compared it favorably to those classic bistros of bygone years. A few old-timers have even compared it to the venerable Musso & Frank’s Grill in Hollywood, (which officially turns 100 next year).

The Grill can’t yet boast the long history of those illustrious institutions, but after 30-plus years, it has established a sterling reputation for its extraordinary service and is known for its flexibility in catering to its customers’ special off-menu requests.

Steve Oliver, a longtime server there, once said “For any request, the answer is ‘yes’—now, what’s the question?” One regular customer spoke about the restaurant’s professional service: “At The Grill, the actors are in the seats—not serving you.”

Our special guest this trip was our longtime friend Craig Natvig, a third-generation Palisadian who has specialized in residential real estate for almost two decades and is a top producing agent with Coldwell Banker. He attended Palisades High and received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Colorado.

Prior to his real estate career, Craig founded and managed the Pacific Athletic Clubs in the Palisades and Palos Verdes for 15 years. The local club is where we first met him as members of PAC (now the Bay Club), located at the foot of Sunset Boulevard near PCH. His athletic background and passion for adventure sports had led him into the world of fitness training and the creation of the PAC workout facility.

 

Our special guest Craig Natvig with The Grill’s longtime server Patricia.

Craig was a world-class skier and internationally certified instructor, and even made an appearance in Warren Miller’s renowned ski film “Steep and Deep.” He was also an A-rated beach volleyball player and competed in more than 150 triathlons throughout the world—including the Hawaii Ironman World Championships.

After arriving at The Grill and remembering Craig’s impressive athletic achievements, I considered shortening the ordering process and simply informing our waiter, “I’ll have whatever he’s having.

But instead, I spotted the liver-and-onions on the menu and decided to go “rogue-primitive” and order this rather politically incorrect dish that doesn’t generally rank high on most people’s list of favorite foods. In fact, I asked my fellow tablemates if they would need to find seating elsewhere if I ordered the liver. By most healthful standards, I was also likely abandoning those long-held dreams of winning my own ironman competition.

Craig ordered the Kobe burger with French fries and coleslaw, so I felt better knowing “Mr. Ironman” occasionally lets his hair down and doesn’t always have Kale salad for lunch.

Arnie ordered the Caesar salad with blackened salmon and Barry chose one of the Grill’s most famous dishes—the chicken pot pie, which was roughly the estimated tonnage of an intimidating banana cream pie from Marie Callendar’s. He said little about his mammoth, blimp-like dish, but when he scarfed it down in such short order, we assumed it signaled a big thumbs-up.

We topped our memorable luncheon off with a big slice of Key Lime pie and four sharp-edged forks—which are always handy in the inevitable duel that ensues when any dessert hits the table. We’ve learned in our outings that the dessert course generally qualifies as a contact sport that each of us takes very seriously.

After the mid-day rush, we chatted with our server Patricia who has been working at The Grill for 22 years, and we briefed her about our monthly lunch club outings at famous restaurants throughout Southern California. She told us that Clint Eastwood was probably her favorite celebrity customer because of his friendliness toward fellow diners who often stop by the table to greet him.

We informed her that we had also been available to chat with fellow diners during our extended lunch there, but not one person took advantage of our friendliness and availability. At first I assumed it was simply because Mr. Eastwood had been given a better table, but when I caught Patricia glancing down at my plate of rather unappealing liver-and-onions leftovers, I think I figured out our problem.

 

Bob Vickrey is writer whose columns appear in several newspapers including the Houston Chronicle and the Waco Tribune-Herald. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California.

 

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