Flashing back to 1975, it was the year that "Jaws" was released, Billy Martin (remember him?) became manager of my favorite team, the N.Y. Yankees, and it was the first time I heard Bruce Springsteen sing "Born to Run." And on October 25th I went to the opening of a restaurant called THE PALM at 9101 Santa Monica Boulevard. There I met one of the owners, a genial fellow named Wally Ganzi, and reunited with my friend Gigi Del Maestro, the manager. I still remember that I was awestruck by the cost of the meal: a prime-aged N.Y. steak was $14.00, and the jumbo lobsters were $12. per pound. All of this came to mind at lunch there today with a fellow named Bruce Bozzi, Jr., the great grandson of Pio Bozzi who, with John Ganzi, co-founded The Palm in 1926 in midtown Manhattan. I asked how the name came about and Bruce laughed as he explained that when Pio and John went to the city clerk to register the name of their restaurant, Parma (after the village in Italy where they originated), the clerk mistook their thick accent and wrote it as 'The Palm' and they didn't want to go to the trouble of getting a new license, thus The Palm
I told him of my early days in the '50s and '60s, when I was the publicist for Danny's Hideaway, a restaurant down the street from their Palm One, which is the oldest restaurant in New York still owned by the same family in the same location. Both of our places were hangouts for newspaper guys, politicians, Hollywood and music celebrities, and just plain folks who loved good steaks and strong drinks. Danny Stradella has gone to a better place but The Palm in its many locations (26 in all, including two in Mexico City) happily still caters to the same eclectic crowd. He said they were celebrating their 88th year of business in New York! Bruce explained how the caricatures came about: the King Features cartoon syndicate was down the street and all their guys came for meals, but when an artist was 'short,' they would let him do a sketch on the wall as payment. I remember Wally telling me how Fred Astaire danced on the bar after they put up his caricature. When I was dating Dinah Shore prior to her sudden death, she always had Wally Ganzi on her TV show as guest host demonstrating how to cook steak. It was President George H.W. Bush who convinced his friend Wally to open their second restaurant in Washington, D.C., complaining that there was a scarcity of good American food there. I love the story of how the two original Italian chefs would run down to a Second Avenue butcher shop if a diner ordered a steak, which was not on the original menu. In the '40s they added a two-pound lobster to the menu, popularizing the 'turf and surf' concept. In 2002 they opened their second L.A. location downtown.
We were here to discuss his exciting news: The Palm was closing at this location on September 30th and a brand new PALM will be opening in November in the heart of Beverly Hills, at 267 N. Canon Drive, right next to Bouchon and the Montage. (I had dinner last night with Spago's Wolfgang Puck and he graciously offered up the comment: "The more competition on the street the more exciting the neighborhood becomes. We welcome them here.")
Why the move? Not the usual reason of rents being raised but as Bruce explained, rather the building was coming down to be replaced by a tall tower. "The Palm has been here for almost 40 years, and while we are sad to leave our location, we are excited to be opening a new Palm just a few minutes away." I mentioned that I knew Wally Ganzi and he laughed: "He was here last week and asked to be remembered to you. It's been four generations that we've followed a simple recipe for success....just focus on making our guests feel that they belong at The Palm. We look forward to continuing that tradition at the new place."
He asked me what I wanted to eat for lunch and nodded when I asked for a Gigi Salad, in memory of my old friend. It is a remarkable combination of ingredients: string beans, pimientos, eggs, shrimp, avocado, tomato, onion, roasted pepper, egg and torn iceburg lettuce....with a garlic vinaigrette dressing. I asked about the caricatures of celebrity customers and entertainment industry power players on the walls of all its branches, and mentioned that I had written a Huffington Post about the sketch of my mentor, Bernie Brillstein, facing me above the table. Bruce said that they had made the decision to start afresh. "Anyone who is pictured on the wall can come on the first week of October and we will give them their sketch." I said that I would email Carrie Brillstein about that. My friend Jerry Edelstein is also there somewhere and I promised to get it for him, and Lorna Berle has asked me to get her Milton's sketch. Bruce told me that they will open the new 6,000 sq ft. restaurant in early November, it will seat 185, and of course feature a private dining room. "We'll have a picture wall in the new place, and I think you will be surprised as we start a new tradition." We were joined by the charming G.M. here, Tayna Hodge, who will continue in that capacity in the new place. (Her husband runs a 40-acre 'fishing lake' in Orange Country where people can go to fish for big trout and such. You will be reading more about that here on Huffington.)
When nothing will do for dinner but one of their huge crustaceans, I will come here and order a female three pounder (because it will have the roe) and have it steamed, then put under the broiler for a moment. There is little in the world to top this simple dish. The lobsters start at $25 a pound for three pounders and up. I asked where they come from and he told me Nova Scotia. You can always add a half-lobster to any steak order at half the lobster price. They serve corn-fed 35-day aged prime beef, and I noted that all steaks are served with a dollop of parsley butter. The most popular dish by far is the Prime Bone-In Ribeye, 24 ounces for $56. The Prime New York Strip is $47 for 14 ounces and $51 for 18 ounces. If you are coming with a party, consider the Prime Double-Cut NY Strip for two or three, $99 for 36 succulent ounces sliced tableside. I always get a laugh when I read this menu and see a Bone-in Filet Mignon of 16 ounces for $59.50....a filet by nature does not have a bone, but go figure. There are a half-dozen classic Italian dishes, from Veal Marsala ($33) to Parmigiana ($35)....but stop when you see the Linguini and Clam Sauce ($25), it is a wonder. My readers know that I have reservations about charging for steak sauces, here $1.50 for any one of five choices, but I understand the decision.(Try the chimichuro for a change.)
In the early days there were no menus, and the gruff waiter would recite the available items....but few people went past the steak and lobster. In '92 they finally produced printed menus and added new items to the list, but we will usually stick to the basics One of them is my passion, Steak Stone, a Prime New York which has been sliced and served on a bed of sautéed onions and pimientos. My lovely companions inevitably order the grilled fish... Atlantic Salmon ($37), Chilean Sea Bass ($40), Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes ($39) or Swordfish ($39). Oh, yes, Shrimp Bruno ($17), order one for the table...the tangy batter-fried shrimp are delectable. The vegetables are all perfection ($12 for family style, $8 for individual): platters of green beans or spinach (creamed or leaf), Brussels sprouts, wild mushrooms and some incredible hash browns or half & half (cottage fries and fried onions). I have written extensively of their remarkable, price-conscious lunch menu, with five bountiful burgers for $15 each. There is a three-course Power Lunch for $26 which offers a Filet Steak Stone as one of its choices. Their desserts begin and end with the NY Cheese Cake and the Flourless Chocolate Cake, but then again I do love the Key Lime Pie.
I asked how the menu of the new place will change and they both said it will basically remain the same, but there will be some exciting new salads and a "Consumer's Beef of Choice" dish with grass-fed beef. "We will be sourcing from the L.A. Farmer's Market and serving lots of farm-fresh food and more local beef." So may I suggest you make a last visit to the original PALM and bid it a fond farewell, knowing that come November you will be greeted by Bruce and Tanya at the brand-new Beverly Hills location.
Remember the French saying: "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose".....The more things change, the more they stay the same. In the case of The Palm, thank god for that.
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