ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ
The atmosphere, the décor, the menu, even the dishes and the silverware all hearken back to an earlier time. The current chef, Marcel Pitz, is the son of the original owner.
Upon entering the restaurant, you are immediately struck by the genial and homey atmosphere and the totally unpretentious décor. The walls are covered with art deco flamingo prints in mirrored frames and glamour shots of old Hollywood movie stars.
The peachy rose walls and candlelight add warmth. A multitude of floral patterns swirl before your eyes in the carpet, the swag curtains and the tablecloths — no two are alike. All the dishes and silverware are different: random patterns, random shapes and random sizes. In warmer weather, the outdoor patio is very popular.
After being seated, you are welcomed exactly as guests have been for three decades, with a complimentary appetizer — a very nice pork and chicken paté, served with little garlic toasts and a delightfully refreshing glass of chilled vermouth with a twist.
Nowadays, vermouth seems to appear only as a whisper in a giant martini but there was a time when it was the aperitif of choice, back in the days when people drank aperitifs.
As we sipped and nibbled, the unusual menu was distributed between us. Each entrée and its description is printed on its own sheet of paper and enclosed in a plastic sleeve. The waiter suggested that we read our assigned sheets and then switch.
This amusing arrangement means a lot of papers on the table. However, on the plus side, you can separate the piles into rejects and possibles.
There is also a one-page appetizer menu with steamed clams, mussels, spicy wings and curried shrimp in papaya but since all dinners are served with paté and soup or salad, additional appetizers seemed a bit too much for us.
The soup of the evening was described as cream of asparagus. You could have fooled us, as there was no discernible cream or asparagus flavor. True, there were pieces of asparagus floating around in this quite pleasant soup which tasted more like a delicately smoky pea soup.
Three dressings for your salad are available: poppy seed, Caesar and oil and vinegar. We chose their signature poppy seed dressing, which was sweet and flavorful but too oily, and the salad was a bit overdressed.
Some of the choices we reluctantly relegated to our reject pile were: spicy cioppino, pesto Genovese pasta with little neck clams or tiger prawns, osso bucco and filet Rossini with bacon, truffles and paté.
Being duck lovers, we couldn’t pass up the roast duck in raspberry sauce. Most duck aficionados will admit that it’s really all about the skin. This one was very crispy and without fat, a tricky proposition to achieve since duck is very fatty. The meat was tender but a little dry.
The sauce, like most items on this menu, was retro — that is, it was thicker and sweeter than what is generally served today. The accompanying vegetables were some nicely cooked asparagus and a piece of soggy bread-stuffed zucchini.
The selection of entrées, the style of cooking and the presentation reminded us of restaurant food from the seventies. Though tasty, food was definitely heavier in those days and garnishes, if any, were often just parsley or a lemon slice.
Our second entrée was the night’s special preparation of their escolar* (see note) with mango sauce, recommended by the waiter. We had forgotten to say that we like our fish slightly undercooked.
When it arrived, it came slightly overcooked and with the customary caper sauce. We looked sorrowfully at the waiter and he looked at us sympathetically and then he graciously offered to have the chef prepare another piece saying, “It’ll be no trouble and will only take a few minutes.”
When he returned, he brought a large thick piece of very moist fish, perfectly cooked to our taste. He also brought two little bowls of sauce, the caper butter and the mango. The silky textured fish was very delicious, especially with the mango sauce, as the caper was a bit too intense.
Desserts too were a throwback: cheesecake; crème brulée; white and dark chocolate mousse, topped with whipped cream; a Belgian chocolate sundae, topped with whipped cream; berries over ice cream with Chambord and whipped cream, and their famous Belgian whipped cream pie.
We couldn’t decide what form of whipped cream we wanted and while we were discussing it, the waiter brought us the white chocolate praline mousse with his compliments. It arrived in an old-fashioned tall, glass sundae dish. Buried beneath a veritable mountain of whipped cream was a lightly flavored mousse. It was hard to tell where one began and the other ended.
Terry wanted to try the crème brulée, which the waiter said was the best in town... not true. It tasted as if it had been in the refrigerator for a long time and had lost its flavor.
Elle, looking for something lighter, ordered the whipped cream pie because the description said it was layered with berries and had a pastry crust. The gigantic wedge was mostly whipped cream. Again, over-refrigeration had turned the pastry mushy and she had to dig out the berries because we were just creamed out.
Dizz’s As Is is a Laguna institution. Its relaxed atmosphere and tasty, traditional menu have made it a favorite for almost 30 years.