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Rangoon Racquet Club Still Offers Fine Food and Service

Times Staff Writer

It was nice to be back at the Rangoon Racquet Club after all these years. Nothing much has changed, except for the service. It’s better, if that is possible.

The Rangoon Racquet Club came on the Los Angeles scene 14 years ago and has been going strong ever since, mostly due to the extraordinary efforts of its diligent host, Dutch-born Emmanuel (Manny) Zwaaf. Zwaaf, a veteran member of the Princess Irene Brigade during World War II’s Burmese campaign, re-created in Beverly Hills the Rangoon Racquet Club of Burma.

In Burma, the social lives of British officers in Service to her Majesty Queen Victoria, centered around the “colonial stateliness” of the Rangoon Racquet Club. In Beverly Hills, social lives of the clubby celebrity and singles crowd center around RRC’s welcoming bar, as well as tables beyond.

In the ‘70s, I remember sitting at one of those tables covered with immaculate, crisply starched white cloths, having to talk over the din wafting like a quavering drum beat from the bar. Today, the noise level and electricity drawn by a singles crowd of that vibrant period, seems to have been sedated. By what? Time? Wisdom? Worry? The bar is crowded still, but the dining room, in any case, is quieter than I remembered.

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The same British Empire chicken curry that I remembered fondly came to the table, and it’s still terrific. I probably love the condiments more than the curry itself, but no complaints. It’s all good if you like British curry at its best.

In fact, I like British curry at its best better than authentic Indian curry at its best because the British interpretation, with its satellites of exotic condiments, is presented with more aplomb. More pomp and circumstance, you know. And more: You get more than you would at most Indian restaurants.

I’m still stewing over the doll-size portion of dishes served at many Indian restaurants, traditional or not. The appetizer portions make sense when they are part of a banquet of dozens of other dishes, as is customary in India. But not when only one of the dishes is your entire meal. As appetizers, they should be priced at half the amount actually charged, not the sums usually commanded for entrees. (A pet peeve that’s hard to let go.)

But not at Rangoon Racquet Club. There you will get a handy portion hard to put away in a single sitting. So bravo, Rangoon Racquet Club. Maybe some of the local Indian restaurateurs will take heed of your presentation and learn portion decontrol from you.

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Zwaaf’s presence is so strong you cannot lose sight of him darting here and there like a firefly from table to table, section to section, guest to guest. He has changed his menu a tad to meet the demands of the times and particular taste of his Beverly Hills customers, because there is no doubt that RRC is a neighborhood spot, a social meeting ground for people who live and work in the area.

There are now a few Northern Italian things, such as cappelli d’angelo prima vera, mache and arugula salad and an Italian sausage plate served with pasta. There are also a few Beverly Hills Jewish things, which I crave passionately every now and then--the boiled chicken or beef in a pot, in particular.

By and large, however, the menu is Continental-American classical, a typical sampling of what people in Beverly Hills--perhaps even America, in general--really like to eat.

It is so classical, in fact, that the menu makes delightful reading for old-timers who remember the dishes with longing. Can you hear Basil Rathbone reciting them?: Escalope of veal; sauteed calves liver, fried with sauteed onions; grilled chicken Dijonnaise; New York minute steak with French fried potatoes; breaded pork-chop Milanese with mashed potatoes; sauteed chicken with mushrooms and dry vermouth sauce.

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There is a chicken hash 21 Club that has survived the 21 Club, thanks to Zwaaf who once worked there, and a chili dish honoring Woody’s championship chili, whose fame has obscured the story--or significance--of its origination or originator, Woody da Silva, a perpetual contestant of chili contests. There is the classic steak tartare, the Nicoise salad, baked escargot and baked clams Bourguignonne, as well as caviar by the 1 1/2 ounces, serving the “OOO” grade Beluga and Sevruga malassol .

But don’t worry, you won’t get lost. Although far too large for today’s streamlined menu mentality, the menu is divided into specific categories, which allows you to mull carefully over a roster of appetizers, soups, cold buffet and salad items, sandwiches and eggs and entrees without becoming totally confused.

For instance, if I were in the mood for sandwiches or eggs, I would have a perfectly glorious time turning to the egg “chapter” (where the prices are more benevolent--about $12, compared to $18 to $24 for entrees at dinner and about $16 at lunch) in the menu to decide whether I should order poached eggs Mimi, which have the poached eggs on artichoke bottoms served with creamed chicken, tomato and hollandaise, or the Benedict. Or should it be the telur berlada, which is Indonesian for RRC’s celebrity chili topped with fried eggs.

But then, the burgers look great, too: a Holstein beef burger made with fried egg and anchovy; blue cheese and Bermuda onion, curry with chutney and sweet hot sauce, which Zwaaf imports from England, among others. The omelets also are teasers: Tai omelet is made with shrimp, scallops, papaya and mushrooms; a Portuguese omelet is made with spicy sausage, potato, cheese and ham. There is also a curried chicken hash omelet that I wouldn’t mind trying for lunch sometime--and will.

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I enjoyed a group of appetizers that would make any South Asian restaurant green with envy, particularly the crab and shrimp lumpia and the satay . They were excellent. Crisp and fresh. There were also fillet of Nova Scotia herring, served with Dutch potato and cucumber salad in the typical Dutch manner, and good, old Scotch eggs for which RRC has been famous for years. They are among the best of their kind.

If you love salad lunches, you’ll find a bunch of excellent, full-meal salads hard to duplicate at home within a reasonable price-range--about $12.75 . There is a giant platter of chicken, salmon and tuna salads with avocado called love 40 salad; a breast of chicken and turkey salad with apple, pineapple and roasted almonds; a center court salad made with ham, cheese, chicken and shrimp; a spinach and mushroom salad with eggs; a seafood and pasta salad; cracked crab with mustard mayonnaise, and the classic Nicoise, among many others.

The food, which I tested with a hardened eye and even harder nose and palate, came through 100%--or close. So did the service, which I found even more professional and courteous, without being obsequious, than I’d remembered long ago. Zwaaf has, you can tell, trained his service people well.

Now about the classical desserts. You’ll want them all: strawberries with sour cream and brown sugar, caramel custard chantilly, meringue chocolate mousse torte, Romanoff fruit, English trifle with ice cream, coupe dame blanche (chocolate covered vanilla ice cream) and sorbet. You also get European Rombouts cafe filter, double espresso (decaffeinated too), plus favorite British Empire teas: Earl Grey, Darjeeling and mint. But if none pleases you and you are stuck in a British Empire mode, try Stilton cheese with a platter of fruit and a glass of Port for dessert. That should transport you to Burma, Britain or wherever you wish.

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Rangoon Racquet Club, 9474 Little Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (213) 274-8926. Open Monday through Saturday for Lunch 11:30 to 2:30 and dinner from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Reservations recommended. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking available. Liquor, beer and wine. Average dinner $33; average lunch $20. Full bar.


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