Yesterday the LA Weekly featured a story on the 90’s Los Angeles hot spot The Monkey Room where Gordon Naccarato was Executive Chef.
Gordon says ” Gordon says “was a crazy time! Every night insanity”
The food wasn’t shoddy either, boasting a fusion menu from the “global table” that Reichl mused was the “90s on a plate.” Head Chef Gordon Naccarato had cut his teeth at Michael’s in Santa Monica, before opening the celebrity mecca Gordon’s in Aspen with Bruce Paltrow and Blythe Danner. “Naccarato cooks as someone who loves ethnic food,” food writer Laurie Ochoa wrote. “If we’re lucky, this is the direction high-end ethnic cooking is going- food inspired not by cookbooks, but by direct experience.” She particularly liked Monkey Bar’s Puerto Nuevo-style lobster tacos, while Jonathan Gold loved the chili noodles.
Monkey Bar’s food even had the approval of Julia Phillips, producing powerhouse and author of the scandalous 1991 Hollywood expose “You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again.” “The roast chicken stuffed with mushrooms and dressing and garlic mashed potatoes from Monkey Bar” was her favorite meal in L.A., she told the Los Angeles Times. “That place is such an absolute scene right now, if someone had it sent to my home I’d be happy. And except for the mashed potatoes it is really low-cal.”
What Monkey Bar really served up was sleazy-chic star-power. It was particularly popular with beefy male hotties from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s on the prowl. Nicholson was, of course, a constant presence. Don Henley, Mickey Rourke and Kiefer Sutherland were all regulars. Shannon Doherty made it one of her party stops, while more refined stars like Glenn Close and Nick Nolte dined with James Brooks in a secluded booth. There were many industry soirees: at a Grammy party for the Atlantic Group, Nicholson partied with David Crosby, Mr. Big (no, not that Mr. Big) and First Brother Roger Clinton. When Nicholson received the Life Achievement Award from AFI, he unsurprisingly held the after-party at Monkey Bar.
From its opening, Monkey Bar was also the favorite hang-out of Heidi Fleiss, ‘90s “madam-to-the-stars” and current macaw breeder.
Read More about the wild times at The Monkey Bar here
She always made hers with Wheat Chex cereal and Cheerios, and added lots of salty Worcestershire and of course real butter, and real garlic (no garlic powder in her musty smelling cupboard), but yes to dried oregano, and lots of skinny pretzels and peanuts, and those big brazil nuts that we kids did not like at all (well really does anyone like those bitter nuts?)–but without (most) of those ingredients it just doesn’t taste right to me.
My good friend Brock insists one has to have Cheetos in your Party Mix and my sister Gayle loves lots of Rice Chex in her’s (I always swapped the extra rice Chex in my handful for the extra Wheat Chex in her’s and always thought I got the better end of the deal…our Bartender Paul swears that his recipe is the best and recently he made a batch that had spaghetti sauce and sun-dried tomatoes that I actually thought pretty tasty!
A chef friend of mine, the late great Billy Pflug even used to put Duck cracklin’s in his gourmet version. Last year, here at PG we deep fried garbanzo beans and julienne salami & pistachio nuts and dubbed it “Chef’s Mix” to great acclaim.
How about yours? Does your family have a secret heirloom recipe?
What indispensable ingredient has to be in your Party Mix for the Holidays?
By the way, also during this month of celebration we are serving two great Champagnes by the glass: Dom Pérignon & Veuve Clicquot at a great price. So get your Merry on! and get down here for some Nuts & Bolts and a glass of Dom or Veuve and let’s celebrate the season—oh and don’t forget to share your secret ingredients with me for your best Party Mix cause I want your recipe to put on my holiday menu next year!
Or, maybe, Naccarato simply has a golden touch. He’s the son of Stan “Mr. Tacoma” Naccarato – the influential, longstanding fan of Destiny City sports, business and community spirit.
Between our lunch closing at 2pm and guests arriving at 5–we have to totally clear-out our dining room of all furniture to make room for all the auction goodies–transforming our dining room into an auction paradise–of beautifully displayed donated items up for grabs.
Pacific Grill does our part by closing for dinner and donating our dining room every year to this worthy event.
As if you didn’t already know–Bates is the oldest & largest technical college in the state of Washington, with more than 53 technical career-education programs.
Banff & Lake Louise Canada Vacation Package ($4000);
Handmade Chess Board sold for ($200);
Autographed photo of LPGA Golf Superstar Lorena Ochoa ($281).
My brother, Steven the “Brohamster”recently celebrated his 52nd birthday at the new Harmon Hub. About 20 people gathered for pizza, wine and beer. Carol Holder one of the Harmon’s partners joined in the party and sent over several delicious pizzas.
Steve’s son Nick and his mom– the famous pianist Elizabeth Naccarato, joined the party. My sister Gayle Luhtala and her husband “His Looseness” Gravel, stopped by with his newly released CD. My Dad, Tacoma legend, Stan Naccarato showed up with wife Jeanne.
Shirley & Lyle DeVerna, brought their friends Karen & Jeff White [also of Canterwood].
Our original bartender from Pacific Grill, Larry Blume stayed the course. Roxanne Murphy showed up and managed to wrestle my Dad’s 2 World Series rings off his fingers for a major photo-op: World Series Finger smack-down.
Carol was very proud that she had managed to have made some spicy chili infused oil for the pizzas, after my initial “blog review”. It is delicious, and available on all the tables now I noticed.
One thing I didn’t care for however, was when I attempted to get a cold beer. The beautiful bartender, when informed that the beer was warm told me:
I told her: “the glass must have just come out of the dishwasher, the beer is so warm. “
She said no.
I asked for my money back but told her to keep her tip for her trouble. She returned my money [and my tip].
Later, I asked a server to get me a cold beer on tap but to leave some ice in the glass a while to chill the beer, and it was perfect. I tipped her an extra $2.
After Doyle’s, we said goodbye to Lyle & Shirley, and we decided to go check out Tempest. It was Karaoke night –my least favorite thing on earth [probably because I cannot carry a tune]. Unfortunately for us, no one else that night could either.
I grabbed some of the costumes and made everyone try them on.
It gradually became apparent to everyone at our table that somewhere between Doyle’s and Tempest, aliens had abducted the Brohamster and replaced him with a strange Kid Rock hybrid.
The swanky-looking invitation arrived on my desk from total restaurant-pro Troy Christian, to attend “the restaurant VIP event of the year” [quoting the invite]…a cocktail reception Friday at Maxwell’s Speakeasy + Lounge in the Historic Walker Building, 6th Ave & St. Helen’s.
A few phone calls later we had put a group together and decided we would meet-up first for a drink at Pacific Grill: dear friend Trish Hosea, daughter of Tom Hosea, in town from Washington DC to attend her Grandfather’s funeral [Trish used to manage my restaurant the Beach House]; also Kathy Davis-Hayfield, who manages the iconic Tides Tavern; and the fabulous Karen– arriving looking tan in a very short dress with handsome husband Jeff White in tow. Karen knew half the other gorgeous women seated in the Pacific Grill bar.
Jeff ordered a glass of white wine– I suggested a Viognier [the 2006 Dusted Valley Viognier, a Walla Walla winery] “an ugly bottle but a beautiful wine as we like to say around here,” I told everyone.
“mmmmm….delicious fruit”, said Trish.
According to the winemakers, it “tastes like a fabulous fruit salad in a glass”, we all agreed.
We headed off to the party and after dropping our cars with the valet, and walking down the red carpet, we all felt like celebs arriving at Tacoma’s version of the Oscars—but instead of dodging paparazzi we were dodging snowflakes as it began to snow!
Inside was a mob scene: lots of booze, tray-passed apps and cleavage.
The attractive high-ceiling room has an open kitchen to the far right as you enter. I could see Chef Matt Colony’s shaved head bobbing up & down as he was orchestrating the first-night madness. My stomach knotted up—sympathetic anxiety pains of the opening night jitters—I’ve been down this same path a million times before.
It is never easy opening night. No one knows what the hell they are doing. The servers don’t. You don’t– the equipment is brand new—no one knows where anything is—you never have enough time to practice, at some point you just pull the trigger and dive in. It’s crazy, but you slug your way through it somehow believing it’ll get better each day. Or praying.
I’ll go over to say hello in a minute, I think, but first let’s get over to the bar and grab something to drink.
The bar is located behind the Host stand and to the back of the restaurant to the left. You kind of snake your way through the booths to get to it. In fact, most of the seating seems to be booths, but it was hard to tell given how many of Tacoma’s beautiful people were packed into the space: I see Mike Combs, Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, Peter Stanley, and Ron Swarner of the Weekly Volcano; a Lady in Red [falling out of her Dress]– and Men Falling down trying to stand next to her; there’s Jim Higgins of Puget Sound Pizza; Roxanne Murphy & her fab red boots !!!
…..and lots of nodding, shaking hands and shouted greetings across the room. But it’s hard to be heard over the din.
We finally make our way to the bar and got a glass of red wine.
I see Troy looking dapper in his suit and walk over to offer my congratulations. “Don’t look too closely at anything,” Troy apologizes, “we were working on everything up until the last second.”
“It’s all fine”, I reassure. It looks great. Thanks for inviting us.”
The truth is I always hate when the pressures to open outweigh taking your time. That 24 hour around the clock push to get open. The only person I ever knew that could afford to do it right was Peter Morton of the Hard Rock Cafe Chain, and Morton’s in LA, and the HARD ROCK HOTEL in VEGAS, who had the money to do practice dinners on his wealthy friends for a full month before opening to the public. God knows I’ve never had that luxury… it is just too expensive…you’ve got to get open and start making some money to get that cash flow going…
I grab Trish & drag her over to the kitchen and position her so that the next time Matt moves his head he is going to be looking right at us. Matt worked for me at The Beach House for 5 years. He was my opening Chef at Pacific Grill. Great Guy. Great Chef. He is like another brother to me, even though I am old enough to be his Dad. My nickname for him is “Movie-star Matt Colony” because his name sounds like one of those made-up matinee movie star names they used give an actor in the early 60’s.
Matt is all smiles when he finally sees us. He walks off the line and gives us both big hugs. We congratulate him on his Big Opening.
“We didn’t even have the booths installed until yesterday at 3pm” he says!
“The damn food didn’t even arrive until 3pm today”!
He is obviously stressed, but we tell him the truth: that the food is good– and we also tell him that the waitress didn’t even know what she was serving us. [see below]
The waitress exchange went like this:
“You seemed to really enjoy the beef shoulder sir, would you like another”?
From his tray I greedily took him up on his kind offer and devoured another, once again savoring the beefiness, and how good that extra-pepper played-off the beefy richness.
Later it was pointed out to me that this pro “server” was instead–Maxwell’s General Manager Tewfik Boulenouar, who previously held the same position at restaurant Coupage in Seattle, and also once worked as a captain at Waterfront Grill.
In any case, we were still starving, so we decided to see if we could get into Asado and snag a table and see if Joel Mertens [Asado’s new Chef recently from Shenanigans] has done anything new with the menu, but the wait was an hour…looking around I saw several people from the VIP party—who had beat us there… so we walked across the street to Il Fiasco for dinner [which was nearly empty].
What a party! Wine, booze, champagne– Delicious Apps!
She had been staying with family for a few months, persuaded to come to Tacoma to help care for an ailing grandparent, and to take a few months off from school [majoring in advertising—minoring in breaking hearts I’m guessing] and from traveling non-stop all over the world.
Her decision to move back to South Beach seemed the perfect excuse for our own version of a modified “White Party” [meaning no red wine allowed because the carpets are white]. I presumed the party would go late– since it wouldn’t get going until we got off work Saturday night, and we restaurant animals are notorious creatures of the night—our rhythms peak with the restaurant’s– and not unlike working the ER—every night’s an adrenaline rush, and getting-off an “un-winding” with its own rhythm and an entirely different set of rules.
[Sous Chef Jason to right helped make the fab apps]
At all staff parties this means Aaron Valimont gets on the dance floor and begins doing the wild Aaron dance—arms begin flailing, hips begin to gyrate, and all eyes in the room want to watch Aaron.
Jessica’s mother Cindy arrived with sister Joan Froud [who is about to begin her psychology practice] and Jessica’s sister and big Pacific Grill fan Angela, brought her roommate Brian.
…as the hour grew late [or is that early?] a smattering of unidentified party-crashers showed up… which always keeps things interesting. Although most of the people had left the party by 6:30am, a few wisely spent the night.