La Tour d’Argent is one of the most famous restaurants in the world. Located on the left bank in Paris, across from the cathedral of Notre Dame, it’s also one of the oldest surviving restaurants, and one of the first places in the world to have served chocolate. And if you order the specialty of the house, pressed duck, your name is inscribed in a special ledger for all future customers to see. I hope they spelled my name correctly.
In 1972 the owner’s nephew, Patrick Terrail, opened Ma Maison in Hollywood. His chef was Wolfgang Puck. The restaurant was so popular with the Hollywood crowd that the telephone number was unlisted! After all, who would want unknown people to eat there?
And so began an era, no longer with us, of exclusive restaurants. I was reminded of these good old days when I ate at the Buffalo Club recently. The chef and part owner Patrick Healy is one of the best trained French chefs in Los Angeles. The location is in a slightly seedy part of Olympic Boulevard along the north side of the Santa Monica Freeway. The building is not well maintained, and the sign looks like something from the 1930s. The Web site has expired, and I’ve never seen an ad for the restaurant. At least the telephone number is listed, although they don’t always answer.
But inside the building it’s really nice. What’s a special surprise is an umbrella covered outdoor patio with a bar, that’s just right for summer afternoons. It’s not noisy, and not overcrowded, and it’s open for lunch. That alone makes it worth the trip.
The menu is pretty upscale French, but with some specialties of the chef. Caviar is $95, but a Caesar salad is only $13. There is a soft shell crab starter, and seafood dumplings Chinese style. The dozen or so main courses include the usual suspects, but usually with a feature. So the pork chop is marinated in apple juice. The prime New York steak has blue cheese sauce and creamed spinach. And where else can you find jidori chicken pot pie with Oregon morels in a biscuit crust?
There is a full bar menu, and a trendy wine list with some nice selections on it, but not much for under $45 a bottle. We had some wine by the glass which was fresh and excellent, and normally priced.
The Buffalo Club has a dedicated following of local foodies to support it, as well as a number of special events. It gets a bad rap on the Internet for arrogant — even rude — service, but in my experience the staff is polite and efficient. I think it’s a find!
1520 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, 90404.
Telephone: (310) 450-8600.
Monday — Thursday noon to 2:30 p.m. lunch, and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. dinner; Friday and Saturday dinner until 2 a.m.
Two or three courses about $50-$60, but there is an excellent bistro menu for lunch at $35 per person.
A short time ago I wrote about going to the Whole Foods store at Lincoln Boulevard and Rose Avenue and getting filled up on free samples. At that time I wrote, humorously I (optimistically) thought, that after all these free samples I thought they should have provided a free cup of coffee to top off lunch.
Well, I was there recently with my extended family to do some shopping for a BBQ, and guess what? Right in front of the door they were serving free cups of coffee! I sampled two of the three offerings and found the French roast very much to my liking. Now there’s a company that’s responsive to the press!
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 email@example.com