Like the Energizer Bunny, Tam O’ Shanter just keeps going, and going and going. This venerable Tudor-style roadhouse, now owned by the Lawry’s chain, is about to begin its 75th year. Amazingly, its prices have actually gone down in the last three years, by nearly $2 an entree.
It was one of our pioneer theme restaurants, the theme being a fairly upscale Scottish pub. The walls are brightened by framed swatches of Scottish plaids, the tartans of proud clans such as Cameron, Campbell and McDonald. The efficient, mildly impersonal waitresses wear tartan skirts and (natch) the woolen Scottish caps known as tam-o'-shanters.
Tam O’ Shanter is a charter member of the diminishing fraternity of comfortable L.A. restaurants. The three dining rooms are dark and intimate, appointed with cozy fireplaces, high-backed tapestry chairs, copper service plates and hutches lined with English bone china.
You won’t have much problem remembering that this is a Lawry’s operation. Each table comes equipped with shakers of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt and Lawry’s Seasoned Pepper.
Just past the front podium you come to the Ale and Sandwich Bar, an old-time piano bar. Here chili, ribs and carved sandwiches are available, along with a variety of single-malt Scotches and authentic half-yards of Bass Ale (served in 18-inch-tall beer glasses).
If you stop here, try the lean turkey sandwich or the juicy brisket, laced with burnt edges of lean meat inside an oniony kaiser roll.
But if you’ve come for a more formal meal, prepare to be hustled into one of the crowded dining rooms. And then prepare your appetite for a joust with the finger-sized hot corn muffins to be found hiding in the wicker bread basket. These muffins are just wonderful, all butter and moist crumbs. They literally flake apart at a touch.
The appetizer called Scotch rarebit is cheese bubbling away in a crouton-filled copper dish. Too bad the bland cheese cloys after a few mouthfuls. Pass on the oily Cajun popcorn shrimp, too, and instead order the buttery skillet of mushrooms (mostly caps and few stems).
The spinach salad has a nice bacon dressing that isn’t as sweet as some around town, while the Caesar has a salty but rather neutral dressing. One nice touch (a Lawry’s trademark) is the chilled fork that comes with every salad.
Lawry’s excellent prime rib is served in several cuts: English (three small slices), California (a smaller single cut) or Prince Charlie (the monster cut). It remains the ne plus ultra of the genre. With any order of this rich, meaty prime rib come sides of creamed spinach and the puffy, popover-like quick bread known as Yorkshire pudding.
There’s also an entree called toad in the hole, which consists of roast beef, onions, peppers and mushrooms baked in Yorkshire pudding.
Other beef options include various steaks. I ordered the sirloin medium rare and received good, gamy Angus beef cooked exactly as requested. The chopped beefsteak is about as lean and flavorful as any chopped steak around.
The dish, like Tam O’Shanter itself, is a throwback to an earlier age of dining. It arrives majestically on a wooden plank with a border of piped mashed potatoes and a topping of fried onion rings. You might reproach yourself if you find, as I did, you’ve finished off the whole thing.
Among the non-beef entrees are a dependable rotisserie chicken with fresh herbs jammed underneath a crackly skin; a relatively mild and unappealingly flaccid spit-roasted duck (it comes with piquant cherry apple compote); an ultra-tender prime rib of pork; and even Southwest grilled swordfish, a nice but overcooked piece of fish served with spicy black beans and salsa.
There are plenty of acceptable side dishes, such as the firm-textured and fresh sweet creamed corn, and creamed spinach. One side to avoid is the wild rice, a tired rice pilaf that’s only about one-fifth wild rice.
The best desserts are a creamy, rum-soaked English trifle and a homemade coconut cake. Both are far better than the leaden double chocolate cake and the gummy, ponderous souffles. The souffles change nightly, but in 75 years, this restaurant has been surprisingly resistant to change. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
* WHAT: Tam O’Shanter Inn.
* WHERE: 2980 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles.
* WHEN: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m Friday-Saturday.
* HOW MUCH: Dinner for two, $28-$48. Suggested dishes: skillet of mushrooms, $3.25; rotisserie chicken, $10.95, carved sandwiches, $6.95; chopped beefsteak, $9.95; prime rib, $14.95-$19.95.
* FYI: Full bar. Valet parking. All major cards.
* CALL: (213) 664-0228.