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A Birthday Party for the Ages... Mine, at Mr. C!

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With a lovely offer to have a small birthday dinner anywhere in L.A. for my 80+th celebration extended by my ex and her husband, the choice of a restaurant was paramount. Because I wanted it to be at an easy central location, I had to override my first inclination, which was Wolfgang Puck's extraordinary WP 24, which I consider the best upscale Chinese restaurant in America... unfortunately, in a downtown hotel which makes for difficult traffic access on a Friday night. My other choice was surprising to them, since it repeated an occasion when we had dinner together some six months before, leading to a Huffington Post review and a cover story in my Jay Weston's Restaurant Newsletter. But as I explained to all, there were several dishes which we had at that first dinner which have remained vividly in my memory ever since. And the location was convenient to all, at the outskirts of Beverly Hills, easily accessible. So dinner was planned for Friday evening at Mr. C, the elegant, sophisticated Cipriani restaurant nestled in the Mr. C Hotel (1224 Beverwil Drive, LA, (310) 226-6245, the hostelry managed by Sam Jagger on Pico Blvd. and Beverwil) just yards from the Beverly Hills border.

Exec Chef David Perez

Executive Chef David Perez of Cipriani's MR C Restaurant

When I called Exec Chef David Perez to tell him that eight of us would be dining there that evening, he offered to provide a tasting menu including several new dishes he wanted me to try. "As long as the birthday boy can have the beef carpaccio and steak tartare," I replied. He laughed and promised that they would be there for me. I knew that one of my guests was a semi-vegetarian and another didn't eat veal, but knew there would be enough variety to meet all tastes. Yes, David exceeded himself with a birthday dinner which was truly memorable even in this long and eventful life of mine.

two salt-encrusted baked branzino

Two salt-encrusted branzino were baaked in a hot oven for 25 minutes.

branzino desalted

The branzino after the salt crust has been carefully removed.

fileting the fish

The captain carefully filleted the whole fish and portioned out the delicate white flesh.

My brother Stan was in from his home in the south of France at St. Jean Cap Ferrat and joined us. My two steadfast friends and reviewing partners, Penny McTaggart and David Rapoport, joined my best friend Jerry Edelstein and his lovely Australian actress wife Antoinette Byron. Penny and I have been celebrating a joint birthday for more than 17 years, and we look forward to many more together. Of course, Annabelle and Steve Shulman, our hosts. After drinking one of the legendary Bellinis in a small Murano glass, we drank carafes of their excellent house red and white (pinot grigio). Coincidentally, two old acquaintances were seated at the next table, Betsy Bloomingdale (Nancy Reagan's best friend) and her beau, Burt Boyar, whom I have known since we were youths in the New York of the '50s, him writing a biography of my publicity client Sammy Davis, Jr. (I didn't remind her that her husband. Alfred Bloomingdale, hired me at the same time to publicize the very first credit card, Diner's Club.) We walked across the avenue from my office to Tavern on the Green to test the card, which the restaurant finally accepted... the first such transaction.)


The beautiful beef carpaccio is one of may favorite dishes here.

amuse bouche of wild salmon & caviar

The opening amuse bouche of wild Alaskan King salmon (line caught) with caviar.

Chef David began our repast with a delish amuse bouche of House Marinated Alaskan King Salmon, line-caught in Sitka, Alaska, and Caviar. I noted that a report from the government today said that the salmon catch in the Pacific Northwest would be bountiful this year, which meant that prices for wild king and coho salmon would be somewhat lower. I must note that of late I -- and many of my more discerning readers -- have been much preoccupied with the sourcing of the food we are eating, and my restaurant reviews have reflected that preoccupation. The sourcing zeal of this brilliant Cipriani executive chef, David Perez, even exceeds my drive, as you will see. Two salads followed, one was the Artichoke and Avocado Salad previously reported, with a topping of parmesan reggiano, but I was intrigued by a new salad offered this evening, Baby Beets with Asparagus, Goat Cheese & Orange, a breathtaking original combination, the tangy citrus working its magic against the saltiness of the goat cheese and the earthy taste of the beetroot. Chef had indicated that he was introducing a new scallop dish this evening, and I was reminded how we often we neglect this piscatorial delight. Diver Scallops are those lovely morsels collected by hand from the deep of the sea, usually off the east coast in Maine. Here, he served them with fried baby artichokes done with rice flour and petite arugula.

diver scallops

Diver scallops from Maine are gently seared and served with a delicious salad.

One of my favorite dishes of the night was an unexpected addition: Blue Prawns from New Caledonia served with chickpeas, cucumber and mint. A breathtaking new menu dish. Imagine, these crustaceans came from a lagoon in the French islands of the Southwest Pacific some 930 miles from Australia... Antoinette, the beautiful Aussie lass sitting next to me, could not believe the coincidence. (Later, Chef Perez told me that he sourced all of his seafood from the amazing Ray Watanabe of International Marine, who can get rare items from any place in the world. Our branzino this night came yesterday from Corfu in the Mediterranean, and he showed me a package of the rare Atlantic cod, Stoccafisso, which would be on the menu next week.)

jay and antoinette byron edelstein

Jay with Antoinette Byron Edelstein, the lovely Australian actress wife of Jerry.

roast duck

The Roasted Duck, from a small farm in Northern California.

His mastery of pasta is unrivalled by many in this city of Italian eateries, and the two such dishes had our table in awe. I scarfed up the small dish of Pappardelle with Oxtail Ragu, the broad egg noodles merely napped by the beefy crumbles of the ragu, topped with a whisper of parmesan. Annabelle on my right was kvelling about the Cinderella Pumpkin Ravioli with toasted Amoretti, the dough whisper-thin and the filling with a touch of... cinnamon. At which point one of the two main entrees of the evening was presented for the edification of our guests... Branzino in Salt with Rosemary and Lemon. The chef had covered the fresh Mediterranean fish with a salt mix (egg white, sea salt, rosemary and black pepper) and baked it for some 25 minutes in a hot oven. After the showing, the chef's aide deftly removed all of the salt and portioned out the soft, quivering white flesh, with a few tender little boiled potatoes accompanying it. My lovely friend on the right murmured to me, "This is absolutely the best branzino I have ever had in my life." And I had to agree, although I was doing my faux Chinese-heritage thing of eating the head of the fish, plucking the cheek tidbits out. The final entrée was almost superfluous, a Roast Duck with Dried Figs, Endive, and Pearl Onions... but I noted that all eagerly finished the fowl once they tasted the succulent flesh. (I didn't inquire as to the source of the ducks, but I know that Premier Meat company is one of his protein suppliers, so I later learned they came from a small farm, Mary's, in Northern California. A chocolate birthday cake with one candle appeared at my place, and I made a wish as I blew it out. (No, I won't tell you what I desired... that is my deep secret, but it was more sensual than material.) The captain flamed the Crepes alla Crème with vanilla ice cream, some of us had tiny cups of strong espresso... and all pushed away from the table with a sense of deep satisfaction, delight and gratitude at the bounty of the Mr. C kitchen and the enormous talent of Chef David Perez. I fell asleep thankful for my dear friends..and wondering how the chef would prepare that rare cod dish next week.

Perhaps I'll stop by for a taste.

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