It started with the water. When the waiter at the Mr. C restaurant in the new, fancy Mr. C hotel in Los Angeles asked me what I would like to drink, I replied “plain water, no ice.” Before I knew what was happening the bus boy was pouring water from a bottle with a label I’d never seen before. “Is that bottled water?” I asked the waiter. “Yes” he cheerfully replied. “But I didn’t ask for bottled water,” I reminded him. “Well, in that case we won’t charge you for it,” he cheerfully replied. Something about it seemed scripted.
So we moved on to the wine list. “What red do you have by the glass?” I asked. It turned out that I had a choice of three: a pinot noir (not of interest to me since I came for pasta), a cabernet sauvignon produced by the Cipriani family itself in the northern part of Italy where cabernet does not grow well, or a 2008 Montepulciano, which sounded pretty good. But when the waiter brought a 2009 vintage for my inspection, I turned it down. Then he offered me a taste. The taste came in a glass that might hold three ounces. I remarked that the glass seems a little small for a red Italian wine. “That’s one of the trademarks of the Cipriani family,” the maitre d’ told me. So I tasted the wine. It tasted a bit like perfume, instead of grapes, so I turned it down again.
I had been pretty excited about this restaurant ever since I read the review in the Huffington Post written by my friend Jay Weston. And I love authentic Italian restaurants. Furthermore, when my wife is not with me I can order pasta, one of my favorite things. So I did. In fact, I ordered one of my favorite dishes of all time, the pasta nero in black squid ink. When I’m in Venice, Italy I sometimes eat it once a day.
Now that I’ve re-read his review, I understand why Jay spent so much time writing about the hotel, and the history, rather than the food, although when he ate there he and my golfing partner Steve apparently did get a good veal dish and some pasta that they liked. But what I got was nothing like he described — and nothing like I’ve had in Italy, where I’ve been going with some regularity since 1953.
What arrived was a disgrace to the Italian restaurant community. The pasta was so overcooked that it was more like mush than pasta. There were a few pieces of squid, but the sauce was dull and tasteless. The maitre d’ came over to ask me how I liked it. “Since you asked,” I replied, “it seems quite overcooked to me.”
“Well that’s one of the trademarks of the Cipriani family” he replied.
My son Spencer had a piece of salmon ($38) that was satisfactory, and an ordinary glass of pinot grigio.
When the maitre d’ was not around, I asked one of the Italian waiters (in Italian) if the chef was really Italian. He said that yes, the chef was Italian and was trained by the Cipriani family in one of their restaurants, but that he was told what to cook and how to cook it and not allowed to deviate, which means that he cannot draw on his own creativity. And, he said, the kitchen was pretty overpowered by the demands of the hotel, such as room service.
The whole ambiance was so negative I thought I better check it out on Yelp to see if my opinion coincides with that website’s comments. The reviews, which looked independent, were really negative. I love the one that said “it looked like a Russian cafeteria,” and that the food was appropriate for a Russian cafeteria!
But none of this is so surprising. The Cipriani family runs a number of hotels and restaurants out of a Luxembourg holding company. The patriarch, Giuseppe Cipriani (1900-1980) founded Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy in 1931. Since then the family successors have been in a series of conflicts with landlords and tax authorities, and in and out of court. One of the most recent court losses (after losing a big tax case) includes the loss of the right to use the name Cipriani, which is why their restaurants now just use the name “C.” In my opinion, this is an international restaurant chain run like McDonald’s, so one shouldn’t expect it to be an authentic Italian restaurant. I don’t know what Jay was thinking.
I usually go to a restaurant three or four times before I write a review. But I’m not going back to Mr. C until Jay Weston goes with me.
If you go
Mr. C Beverly Hills
1224 Beverwil Dr.
Los Angeles, Calif.
Merv Hecht, the food and wine critic for the Santa Monica Daily Press, is a wine buyer and consultant to a number of national and international food and wine companies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.