Food You Can’t Categorize

Kenji Seki, the stylish New Wave ex-manager of Chinois on Main in Santa Monica, who went on to open the Chinois-style China Grill in New York, is back in Los Angeles at work on a new project, a restaurant called Noa Noa with food that Seki calls “very hard to categorize.”

He reports that he has found a small space on Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills, and is working on designing the restaurant that will open--" must open,” Kenji says--by March. Unlike Chinois and the China Grill (and despite the Pacific Rim name), the menu will betray very few Asian influences: “Maybe just a little bit.” Instead, says Kenji, the cooking will be “very contemporary, more French than Californian, but not at all classical.” What would he compare it to? “Very hard to compare. Really, we’re inventing a new cuisine.”

HAIL CAESAR, AGAIN: More Caesar salad recommendations have recently been, er, tossed into my mail basket. For instance, Terry Bolo of Los Angeles likes the versions found at the Melting Pot, Pennyfeathers and the Moustache Cafe, all in West Hollywood, and seconds an earlier vote for the one at Nickodell in Hollywood. Bevi Whitestone of Burbank and her co-workers like the Caesar at Milano II West in Agoura so much that they drive all the way there at least once a week to sample it.

And Betty Jane York of Lake San Marcos is enamored of the Caesar at the Velvet Turtle (though she doesn’t specify which branch). Noting that the traditional Caesar recipe calls for a coddled egg, though, York asks how an egg is coddled. Coddling, in the culinary sense, means heating an egg very slowly (and briefly) in water, so that the interior begins to thicken a bit without really cooking. This is the trickiest part of the Caesar-making process.


MEANWHILE, BACK AT THE HIDDEN VALLEY RANCH: Speaking of salads, last year in this space, information was requested on the origins of that ubiquitous condiment known as ranch dressing. Based on responses from a number of knowledgeable readers, I reported a record of the dressing’s history. Later, however, I received a footnote to the story that I’ve meant to mention.

As readers may recall, ranch dressing was invented at the Hidden Valley Guest Ranch (long since disappeared) in the mountains outside Santa Barbara. The man in charge was Steve Henson, apparently a colorful cowboy type. But the footnote comes from another Hidden Valley ranch, this one run by Bruce and Matt Coe, in Cle Elum, Wash.

This Hidden Valley was started by Tom Whited in 1947, the same year that Henson started his. Like Henson, the Coes said, Whited worked as a “Hollywood cowboy"--stunt man, stagehand, wrangler, bit player, etc. And like Henson, Whited roughnecked in Alaska.

If Henson is still alive, they add, “it might be some comfort to him to know that the Hidden Valley Guest Ranch is still alive and that the pipes freeze, the horses get loose, someone else’s cattle are always in our fields, fences are always down, and the hired help is always in the local slammer for some sort of perceived indecency. . . .”

Think about that the next time you’re working the salad bar.

EVENTS: The third annual “Eat for Art” benefit dinner takes place tomorrow evening, starting at 6:30, on the Santa Monica Pier.

Among the restaurants supplying dishes will be Valentino, the West Beach Cafe, Rebecca’s, Ocean Avenue Seafood, Gilliland’s, Fennel, Mason’s, Tumbleweed, and Michael’s.

“Eat for Art” supports public art projects in Santa Monica. Tickets are $100 per person. Information: Henry Korn at (213) 458-8350. . . . And Trumps in West Hollywood celebrates its eighth anniversary next Sunday with a cocktail party and art auction to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Assn. Tickets are $50 apiece. Information: Chris Murray at (213) 387-5157.