A Brief Note on Fine Food for the Stomach and the Soul

Just a brief note on greaseless French fries and '60s politics and the failure of recent Calendar reviews to grasp the essence of either.

First there was the heavy-handed attack on a neighborhood bistro, the Planet Earth, on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, which serves quite tasty but low-fat dishes ("Planet Earth: Low in Fat, Low in Taste," Calendar, March 3). I trust The Times' reviewers and am rarely disappointed. So imagine my surprise at this onslaught on the very place where I eat lunch and dinner a couple times a week with great satisfaction. Even the reviewer (Michelle Huneven) conceded that she would return for the house-smoked marinated salmon (which is the best in a town that excels at this dish).

So why the venom? The food is barely mentioned but "skinny women" watching their waistlines and "older gents" concerned with cholesterol somehow irritate the reviewer. So does Oliver Stone, "the personification of Hollywood edginess," who drops in. Where is Stone, who works in the area, supposed to eat? As it turns out, Stone didn't stay because he had the place of his meeting with the Rev. Jesse Jackson confused. He was due over at the Warszawa on Lincoln, but I hope this won't land that fine Polish restaurant on this critic's hit list.


The true object of outrage was the gall to produce a greaseless baked French fry. Hey, vive la difference, no? No. It turns out that French fries of the sort that my doctor insists will cause my untimely death happen to be a Holy Grail for the reviewer: "I realize that I love French fries because they are so salty and greasy, because they summon all the spare blood from the brain to the stomach, producing a sleepy je ne sais quoi. "

Admittedly that is a gourmand's masochistic thrill, reminiscent of a scene from "La Grande Bouffe," that is not afforded at Planet Earth.

The good thing about that intemperate review is that I decided, for the short run at least, to do the opposite of what reviewers recommend and as a result spent an exciting evening at the theater.

"Dreams Die Hard" is a marvelous play at the Met Theater that I would have missed had I trusted a dismissive little review in Calendar: "Bogged down in historical incident, bristling with tangled personal subplots, 'Dreams Die Hard' is history as presented by the denizens of 'Melrose Place' " (" 'Dreams Die Hard' Faces Gremlins," by F. Kathleen Foley, Calendar, Feb. 24).

It is nothing of the sort. It is the history of the '60s presented with all the verve, complexity and intelligence of David Harris' original work. Harris, the ex-husband of Joan Baez and former student body president of Stanford, was a Vietnam draft resister who served hard time for his convictions.

He is also a solid journalist and the play is faithful to Harris' insightful exploration of the downward spiral of madness that led to the death of Allard Lowenstein at the hand of his onetime disciple, Dennis Sweeney.

Having edited the article in Ramparts magazine that Harris claims fed Sweeney's obsession with Lowenstein's CIA connections, I can attest that this is history presented with ruthless accuracy. As to the "tangled personal subplots," they do exist in real life; just read the most recent biography of Mao Tse-tung. So why deny the crucial interplay of the personal and the political in a work for the theater?

Aside from providing considerable insight into the disintegration of the New Left, "Dreams Die Hard" is also fine theater. Odd that not a single word in the review is devoted to the quality of acting, which was excellent.

But don't take my word for it--go see the play before it closes on April 2. And if that act of rebellion against established wisdom proves satisfying, you might also be emboldened to sample the dishes, including the greaseless French fries, at Planet Earth.

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