Why are old things, places, clothes, movies, books, more interesting than what's available to us today? Is it because the grass is always greener? Or that you always want what you can't have? I'm sure that's part of it, but it has to be more than that. The authenticity, the history, the credibility? Whatever the reason, old things (in moderate condition) are just cooler. It's why a thinning t-shirt looks awesome hanging in a vintage store as opposed to folded up in your dresser drawer. It's also why eating in a dining car seems a little bit more stylish than it actually is (nothing says classy like tuna salad on white bread). The Pacific Dining Car in downtown LA is no exception.
Pulling into the parking lot, you get the sense that this restaurant has been around for a long time-- and they'll let you know just exactly how long ("Since 1921").
Originally, the incarnation of this restaurant was an actual dining car, which soon turned into a popular steakhouse and quickly found that expansion would be necessary.
At nearly any hour of the day, the main dining room has attracted business people of various types-- there is a tangible sense in the air that many Don Drapers, Roger Sterlings, Grace Van Owens and Arnie Beckers have had one too many at the bar. And no doubt, Maddie Hayes has imbibed a few chardonnays in one of the spacious booths, impatiently waiting for a suitor.
Not sure if I was going to have a full meal, and to keep up with high caliber clientele, I ordered a Beefeater Gibson. Up, of course.
This may be one of the best gin cocktails I've ever consumed. Perhaps it was the presentation of the drink in a heavy, martini glass, decorated with ornate etchings, or maybe I just needed a drink. Either way, it was delicious.
The menu primarily consists of old timey items from the era of martini lunches, so sticking with this aesthetic, I ordered the traditional Iceberg Wedge. The salad was served with tomatoes, fresh pepper and shitloads of blue cheese. It wasn't quite up to snuff with the Gibson, but that didn't matter.
While I sipped on my cocktail, I snacked on the complimentary warm sourdough, cheese croutons and butter. The cheese croutons didn't really need any extra butter, but I added some anyways.
For the main course we shared a petit 8oz. filet mignon. The steak is served on an over-sized plate and the amount of white space immediately caused me to worry that we didn't order enough food. This fear subsided within seconds when the side dishes and accouterments arrived to accompany the steak. The temperature of the steak was a perfect medium rare and the meat was so tender and flavorful it didn't need any sauce.
I ordered some anyways (obviously), selecting a Béarnaise from the complimentary list of sauces. The Béarnaise was a perfect butter cream with a lemon finish.
The creamed spinach, was well, creamed spinach. It was delicious and tasted like... creamed spinach.
I expected the mac and cheese to make a similar impression as the spinach, but it didn't, it was much better than I expected. It was complex and casserole like, perfectly cheesy through out with a crispy, not overcooked, crust.
Still starving, I thought to myself, "what the hell?" and ordered a side of mashed potatoes and a hamburger. The lady sitting next to me was visibly relieved when my own burger arrived, I guess she thought I'd stop staring at hers.
Ok, I'm kidding, I didn't order a burger or mashed potatoes, but I wanted to. After the mac and cheese, I took a mini-breather and ordered an espresso while waiting for the chocolate souffle. Soon enough the souffle arrived at the table and was served with (overly)whipped cream. Though delightful, the dessert was the least impressive part of the meal.
The service was languorous at times, though I never felt neglected. This contributed to the overall feeling of ease in the room, which still kind of has a lunch counter feeling to it in some ways, though the price points suggest otherwise. The Pacific Dining Car is definitely cool, a great old LA standard that's easily overshadowed by some of the flashier joints in Hollywood (yeah you know who you are). I'm not sure if I would make any immediate plans to eat here again, but if I find myself downtown, I will happily stop in for a drink or two (or three) to pass the time.
It turned out to be an expensive drink but an enjoyable one. Washing down the last sip of espresso with the last sip of my Gibson, I couldn't keep from eye-balling the entrance every time the door swung open. Secretly, I was hoping to see Philip Marlowe walk in and take a seat at the bar, which is probably where I should have sat in the first place.
*Photos by Thomas Young