Timeless Classics

Times Staff Writer

There is a choice group of dishes from restaurants that have left an indelible mark on the Los Angeles culinary scene.

They are dishes you would drop a date with a best friend to taste. They are dishes with an illustrious past and bright future. They possess a bold character and unmistakable charm--along, of course, with exceptional flavor. They have survived the test of time.

They are, in fact, a class unto themselves, defying description. Each dish stands on its own, as proud of having originated in a diner as in a chi-chi bistro.


Shall we name a few? Maestro, please:

The Brown Derby’s Cobb Salad and Grapefruit Cake, Chasen’s chili, Scandia’s Gravad Lax or Pumpernickel Toast, La Scala’s Chopped Salad, Madame Wu’s Garden Chicken Salad, Musso and Frank Grill’s Chicken Pot Pie and Flannel Cakes, Smokey Joe’s Garlic Toast, the Original Pantry’s Coleslaw, Marie Callender’s Corn Bread. There are dozens more in all categories of cuisine, but in the interest of space, we shall confine our interest to a handful.

How did we obtain the recipes for these local restaurant specialties? Readers have requested their favorite restaurant recipes over a period of three decades in columns written by The Times Food staff. We, in turn, asked restaurants to share these recipes, and most of the restaurants approached have complied graciously. We have reprinted many of these recipes repeatedly because of popular demand.

Some restaurant recipes, however, could not be obtained. For those we developed similar recipes, reconstructing the recipe in The Times’ Test Kitchen to appear and taste as close to the original as possible.

While the copied recipes cannot actually be named after the restaurant, some, such as the chili from Chasen’s that was renamed Chasing Chili, are identifiable. The chili, as one can imagine, is typical of the California variety made with chunks of meat and pinto beans in a rather thick, tomato sauce. It’s hot with chile taste but not as hot as you might find chili in the Southwest or Texas. Chasen’s chili, although not on the menu, is served as a side dish from a copper saucepan warming on a brazier at the table. Crackers, cheese and sour cream are add-ons.

The development of these copies has a diverse history. Some were simply reconstructed by one of The Times’ Food staff and tested in The Times’ Test Kitchen, while others were sent to us by readers.

The chili is such an example. Numerous readers sent us copies of recipes that credited Chasen’s. Each time, Chasen’s denied having shared the recipe with anyone. We picked the best of those submitted, tested a bit and adapted a bit. We now feel we have a most reasonable copy of the real thing.


Most of the recipes from restaurants come directly from the restaurant chefs or owners themselves upon request. Jean Leon, owner of La Scala Boutique, Beverly Hills, has graciously shared recipes from his restaurant, including the salad nibbled on by movie stars stopping at the boutique for lunch.

The chopped salad contains Italian-style ingredients, such as salami and mozzarella cheese. The dressing has a French touch with the addition of dry mustard to a basic vinaigrette.

Sylvia Wu also graciously shared her prized recipe for Chinese chicken salad, which, says Wu, was fashioned, with assistance from her chef, after a similar but more complex Chinese cold dish. Hundreds of restaurants nationwide--Chinese and otherwise--now serve similar chicken salads. The Madame Wu’s Garden, Santa Monica, version is outstanding.

The Cobb Salad, which originated at the Brown Derby, also has become a generic favorite nationwide. It was Bob Cobb, one of the original operators of the Brown Derby, who created the legendary salad made with lettuce topped with strips of chopped avocado, tomatoes, bacon, chicken and cheese. Cobb salad has become a generic dish found on just about every American salad menu nationwide.

Satisfied Cobb salad fans, who frequented the Brown Derby since its beginnings in 1926 when patrons such as Mary Pickford, Louella Parsons and Loretta Young dined there, have spawned an huge Cobb salad-eating population.

The Grapefruit Cake, also served at the Brown Derby, has been a long-time favorite of Los Angeles Times readers. It still is served in its original form--with grapefruit segments glistening on top of a cream cheese frosting. It’s a beautiful cake to serve for special occasions or on an especially festive coffee or tea table.

Scandia, a Los Angeles’ landmark restaurant since 1946, has delighted diners with numerous favorites, particularly Scandinavian Gravad Lax (cured salmon) served paper-thin sprinkled with French-fried tidbits of salmon skin and a superb mustard dill sauce on the side.

Scandia also was among the first restaurants, according to Raymond L. MacCurtin, executive chef, to serve Pumpernickel Cheese Toast, which has since made the rounds of bad and good restaurants nationwide. The toast should be served crisp and hot from the oven, never soggy or soft. If you want to reheat pumpernickel toast, use a conventional oven, not the microwave, which produces a soggy, soft toast--unless, of course, you prefer soft toast.

Musso and Frank Grill, touted as the oldest restaurant in Hollywood, has, according to long-time maitre d’ Philip Cano, served the same menu since its opening in 1919. The Flannel Cakes are a daily breakfast favorite developed by Jean La Rue, former chef, as an Americanized version of the oversized French crepe. Today, Bob Wootten, grill chef, turns out the Flannel Cakes at Musso and Frank Grill, dousing them with melted butter and syrup as they are served.

Chicken Pot Pie is a Thursday special at Musso and Frank Grill. The pie, chock-full of large nuggets of chicken, potatoes, carrots and peas, is covered with a flaky pastry and baked to a golden tinge. The pie comes to the table already dished up but we suggest allowing dinner guests to have a view of this American classic in the baking dish before it is served. We give a similarly reconstructed recipe.

Reader requests for a recipe from another old landmark restaurant in the downtown area of Los Angeles--the Original Pantry Coleslaw--keep coming, making the recipe an annual favorite of The Times’ Culinary SOS column. The slaw is a simple, creamy type made with mayonnaise and seasoned with garlic, onion and mustard powders. A touch of sugar adds a sweet note.

The Tony Roma restaurant chain cannot share their recipe for the onion rings, but a close facsimile was developed by Donna Deane, home economist, in The Times’ Test Kitchen. Tony Roma’s staff did, however, offer a tip: Pack the onions loosely, not firmly, in the loaf pan so they will not become soggy.

Marie Callender’s restaurant officials could not part with their secret corn bread recipe either, but readers persisted. Taking a tip from a reader who suggested we combine yellow cake mix and corn bread mix, we decided to test its merits. The result of combining a yellow cake mix with a corn bread batter works just fine, and the recipe has been printed as a reasonable substitute ever since. It’s a rather sweet corn bread that is particularly favored by diners in Los Angeles.


3 chicken thighs

Oil for frying

8 (3 1/2-inch) square won ton noodles, cut into 1/8-inch strips

3 ounces rice sticks

2 teaspoons dry mustard

2 teaspoons water

1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1/2 head iceberg lettuce, shredded

1/3 cup chopped toasted almonds

1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions, white stem only

Chopped sweet red pepper

Cook chicken in water to cover until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towel.

Heat oil in deep-fat fryer to 400 degrees. Fry chicken until crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels and cool. Bone and cut chicken into strips with or without skin. There should be about 2 cups chicken.

Fry won ton noodles in oil until golden brown. Remove immediately and drain on paper towels. Divide rice sticks into 3 portions to deep-fry separately. Drop portion of sticks into hot oil, fry 30 seconds or until puffed. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Combine mustard and water and let stand 15 to 20 minutes. Add spice powder, salt, soy sauce and sesame oil, stirring until smooth.

Spread shredded lettuce on serving plate or platter. Toss together chicken, won tons, rice sticks, mustard mixture and almonds. Pile over lettuce, but do not toss. Garnish with green onions sweet red pepper. Makes 4 to 6 servings.


1 head iceberg lettuce, finely chopped

1 head Romaine, finely chopped

1/4 pound Italian salami, cut julienne

1/4 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 (15 1/2-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained

Leon Dressing

Combine iceberg lettuce, Romaine, salami, cheese and beans in serving bowl. Toss with Leon Dressing. Makes 6 servings.

Leon Dressing

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Combine oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and cheese. Makes about 1/2 cup.


1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup oil

3 eggs, separated

3 tablespoons grapefruit juice

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 grapefruit, peeled and sectioned or 1 (1-pound) can grapefruit sections

Cream Cheese Frosting

Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into bowl. Make well in center and add water, oil, egg yolks, grapefruit juice and lemon zest. Beat until very smooth. Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until stiff but not dry. Gradually pour egg yolk mixture over egg whites and fold in gently until just blended. Do not stir.

Turn batter into ungreased 9-inch springform pan and bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes, or until top springs back when touched lightly with finger. Invert onto rack and cool thoroughly. Loosen edges of cake carefully and remove cake from pan. With serrated knife cut cake crosswise to make 2 layers.

Reserve few grapefruit sections for garnish. Fill center with part of cream Cheese Frosting and grapefruit sections. Spread top and sides of cake with remaining frosting and decorate with remaining fruit sections. Makes 12 to 16 servings.

Cream Cheese Frosting

2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar

6 to 8 drops yellow food color, optional

2 teaspoons grapefruit juice

Soften cream cheese at room temperature. Beat until fluffy. Add lemon juice and zest. Gradually blend in sugar and beat until well blended. Stir in food color. Blend in grapefruit juice.


1 (2 pound) piece salmon

3 tablespoons salt

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon crushed peppercorns

1/2 bunch dill

Mustard-Dill Sauce

Thaw salmon, if frozen. Cut salmon in halves lengthwise. Remove bones. Combine salt, sugar and peppercorns. Rub half of mixture over 1 salmon half and place fish, skin side down, in baking dish. Spread dill over.

Rub other half of salmon with remaining spice mixture and place, skin side up, on first salmon half. Cover with foil. Place plate on top of fish and weight on top of plate. Refrigerate 48 hours. Turn fish over every 12 hours, separating fillets slightly to baste with pan liquid.

When ready to serve, scrape away dill and seasonings. Place fillets, skin side down on cutting board. Cut salmon diagonally in thin slices away from skin. Serve cold with Mustard-Dill Sauce. Makes 24 servings.

Note: At Scandia, once flesh is sliced from salmon skin, skin is cut in narrow strips and dropped into very hot deep oil to cook until crisp. Piece of crisped skin is served with each serving of gravad lax.

Mustard-Dill Sauce

1/4 cup Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1/3 cup oil

3 tablespoons chopped dill

Combine mustard, sugar, vinegar and dry mustard. Slowly beat in oil until thick. Stir in dill. Chill. Makes 3/4 cup.


1 loaf unsliced pumpernickel bread

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Freeze bread. With sharp knife, slice bread paper thin. Melt butter over low heat. Add garlic and cheese and stir few seconds to blend well. With pastry brush, spread one side of each bread slice with butter mixture.

Arrange slices in single layers on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 275 degrees until crisp, about 15 to 20 minutes. Bread will curl slightly at edges. Cool, then store in airtight container until ready to use. Serve as appetizer or with soups or salads. Makes 30 to 40 slices.


3 eggs

1 tablespoon sugar

3/4 cup sifted flour

3/4 cup water

1 tablespoon melted butter or margarine

1/8 teaspoon salt

Butter or margarine


Beat eggs and sugar together. Add flour, alternately with water, beating until smooth. Add melted butter and salt. Let batter stand at room temperature about 1 hour.

Heat 10-inch skillet, add small amounts of butter and oil and heat, swirling around to grease pan. Pour in enough batter to spread evenly over bottom of pan. Cook over moderate heat until underside is set, turn and cook other side. Repeat with remaining batter, adding butter to pan as needed. Serve with melted butter, syrup, honey or jam, if desired. Makes about 6 pancakes.


2 chicken breasts

1 small onion

3 carrots, peeled

3 medium potatoes, peeled

1 small stalk celery

Salt, pepper

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/4 cup flour

1 cup fresh peas or 1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas

Pie Pastry

1 egg yolk

2 tablespoons water

Place chicken breasts in saucepan with onion, carrots, potatoes, celery and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 to 40 minutes or until chicken is tender. Cool.

Remove chicken meat, discarding bones and skin. Cut into large chunks or pieces. Grate onion, slice carrots and cut potatoes into large chunks. Slice celery. Strain broth, and reduce to 2 cups.

Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in flour and cook, stirring, until smooth. Gradually add broth to flour mixture. Cook, stirring, until thickened and smooth. Add chicken, carrots, potatoes, celery and onion to cream sauce mixture. Correct seasoning with salt and pepper.

Divide cream sauce mixture among 4 au gratin or oven-proof dishes. Turn out Pie Pastry onto floured board. Roll out pastry and cut into 4 circles large enough to fit top of au gratin dish. Trim and crimp edges. Make few slits in pastry to allow steam to escape. Brush with egg yolk combined with water. Bake at 350 degrees 35 to 45 minutes or until pastry is browned. Makes 4 servings.

Pie Pastry

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup shortening

2 eggs

4 to 6 tablespoons milk

Combine flour, salt and baking powder in large bowl. Cut in shortening. Make well in center. Add eggs and enough milk to work into soft, pliable dough.


1/2 head iceberg lettuce

1/2 bunch watercress

1 small bunch curly endive

1/2 head Romaine

2 tablespoons minced chives

2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced

1 whole chicken, cooked, boned, skinned and diced

6 strips bacon, cooked and diced

1 avocado, peeled and diced

3 hard-cooked eggs, diced

1/2 cup Roquefort cheese, crumbled

Special French Dressing

Finely chop lettuce, watercress, endive and Romaine using knife or food processor. Mix together in large wide bowl or individual wide shallow bowls. Add chives.

Arrange tomatoes, chicken, bacon, avocado and eggs in narrow strips or wedges across top of greens. Sprinkle with cheese. Chill.

At serving time toss with 1/2 cup Special French Dressing. Pass remaining dressing. Makes 6 servings.

Special French Dressing

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

3/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

3/4 cup vegetable oil

Combine water, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, Worcestershire, mustard, garlic and oils. Chill. Shake well before using. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.


1/2 pound dry pinto beans

5 cups chopped tomatoes

1 pound green peppers, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons oil

1 1/2 pounds onions, peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/2 cup butter or margarine

2 1/2 pounds ground beef, preferably chuck

1 pound lean ground pork

1/3 cup chili powder

2 tablespoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Soak beans in water to cover overnight. Drain, cover with cold water and simmer until beans are tender, about 1 hour. Add tomatoes and simmer 5 minutes longer.

Saute green peppers in hot oil until tender. Add onions and cook until tender, stirring frequently. Add garlic and parsley.

In another skillet melt butter and add beef and pork. Cook, stirring, 15 minutes or until crumbly and browned. Add meat to onion mixture and stir in chili powder. Cook 10 minutes.

Add meat mixture to beans along with salt, pepper and cumin seeds. Simmer, covered, 1 hour. Remove cover and simmer 30 minutes longer. Skim fat from top. Makes 8 to 10 servings.


3/4 cup mayonnaise

3 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1/3 cup oil

1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1/8 teaspoon onion powder

1/8 teaspoon dry mustard

1/8 teaspoon celery salt

Dash black pepper

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 cup half and half

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large head cabbage, very finely shredded

Blend together mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar and oil. Add garlic and onion powders, mustard, celery salt, pepper, lemon juice, half and half and salt. Stir until smooth.

Pour over cabbage in large bowl and toss until cabbage is well coated. Makes 8 to 10 servings.


1 (18.5-ounce) package yellow cake mix

1 (15-ounce) package corn bread mix

Mix cake and corn bread batters according to package directions. Blend together and turn into 2 greased 9-inch square baking pans.

Bake at 350 degrees 30 to 35 minutes, or until corn bread springs back when lightly touched. Makes about 32 servings.


4 to 6 mild white onions

1 cup milk

3 eggs, beaten


2 cups pancake mix, about

Oil for deep-frying


Slice onions crosswise and separate into rings. Soak rings in mixture of milk, eggs and salt to taste in bowl for 30 minutes.

Dip each onion ring in pancake mix and fry in oil heated to 375 degrees until golden brown. Pack fried onions solidly, without pressing, into 8x4-inch loaf pan and bake at 400 degrees 10 to 15 minutes. Turn onto serving plate. Garnish with parsley. Makes 4 servings.