Hooray For Hollywood!
Musso & Frank Grill – Hollywood, CA
Last Visited: August & September 2019
There aren’t many restaurants around these days that I can say I visited as a kid, but the famed Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood, which turns 100 this year (I sense a theme lately), is one of them. I’ve been coming here since the early 1960s, and for nostalgia’s sake we had to make a return appearance to celebrate its Centennial Anniversary, which will be observed on September 27.
It had been nine years since our last outing (via the Gold/Red Line metro) and not much had changed (except for the people on the far end in this picture).
Of course, I don’t think much has changed for the last 100 years, except for the addition of a new dining room, and that’s what makes Musso & Frank so special. On the evening we visited the restaurant was jammed with tourists and locals alike (no Hollywood stars that I could see) soaking in the old-time atmosphere. I was hoping for a Mel Brooks sighting, but it was not to be.
On that last outing in 2010, the food was quite good, but not overly exceptional (I remember the the Prime Rib Sandwich and Grenadine of Beef with Béarnaise Sauce … in photo below below … as being our favorites that night), however Musso & Frank seemingly has upped its game even more since then, and we had quite a satisfying meal recently. But you don’t just come to Musso & Frank for the food … you come for the history!
For those who have not experienced Musso & Frank, and the reason why it is a Hollywood tradition and institution, here is a little background. Self-proclaimed the “Oldest Restaurant in Hollywood, Since 1919,” amazingly, there have only been three executive chefs in that entire time.
From The Hollywood Reporter, “Restaurateur Joseph Musso and Frank Toulet opened Musso & Frank Grill in 1919 and hired French chef Jean Rue in 1922. The restaurant moved one door down Hollywood Boulevard in 1934 and expanded with a second dining room in 1955. It changed hands in 1927 when Musso and Toulet sold the restaurant to Joseph Carissimi and John Mosso.” Rue served as executive chef for 53 years!
It’s fun to down martinis in a place once frequented by stars and literary masters such as Frank Sinatra, Charlie Chaplin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Clark Gable, Alfred Hitchcock, Rita Hayworth, Raymond Chandler, Orson Welles, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall and a host of others from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The website states that Rudolph Valentino liked to come to Musso & Frank and chat with the waiters in his native Italian. Coincidentally, we had run into Rudy on a previous Hollywood excursion at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
The restaurant has been featured in a number of movies, including the recent Quentin Tarantino (another M&F regular) film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.
We met up with friends, Jeff and Cecilia, on a humid Sunday evening in late August, and the nearly 200 seats were filled by 6 p.m. The valet could barely squeeze our cars in the parking lot.
Walking past the kitchen …
… into the vast Musso & Frank main dining room (called “The Old Room”) is a little bit like stepping back in time (photo from internet)
The red leather booths and banquettes almost make you think …
… you’ll see Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio at the next table. (photo on right courtesy of Musso & Frank)
The adjacent room is called “The New Room,” (1955), complete with a great looking Mahogany bar where you can enjoy your martini, Old-Fashioned or Manhattan, among other great, old standard cocktails. Yes, the “New Room” is 64-years-old. (photo from my second trip here)
The menu is vast with many classic, “old-school” items. Where else are you going to see Grilled Lamb Kidneys with Bacon (Charlie Chaplin’s favorite!) ($21), Chicken A La King ($26), Jellied Consommé ($5), Welsh Rarebit ($17) or a Spumoni Slice on a menu?
After ordering up some of the Musso & Frank famed gin martinis ($17), we settled in to peruse the menu. When we visited the last time our friend Andy asked for some extra olives in his martini … he got them.
The Musso & Frank martini was named one of the 20 best cocktails in America by GQ. In a recent Los Angeles Times article, it stated that “Musso & Frank served 55,272 martinis in 2018.” Not being an olive guy, I ordered mine with a twist. The gin … Hendricks.
When we walked in we spied a menu from 1919. No wonder the Thin Man drank so many martinis back in the day.
Speaking of old-school, after reading the story about the origins of the “Original Fettuccini Alfredo,” we decided to share one as an appetizer ($24). The waiter suggested we share two for the table otherwise the portion would be miniscule. Hey, no one can turn down extra pasta.
From the Musso & Frank website: “Silent film stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were frequent guests at Musso’s. While on their honeymoon in Rome, they dined at Alfredo’s restaurant and after tasting the Fettucine Alfredo, they begged Alfredo for the recipe. He declined them. The next night the newlyweds again dined at Alfredo’s and presented a golden fork and spoon to Alfredo. This time they got the recipe and brought it back to Hollywood. They asked Musso’s chef, Jean Rue, to make the dish. He often prepared it specially for the famous couple, but the dish was never added to the menu. We now proudly serve the ORIGINAL Fettucine Alfredo as prepared for Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.”
In a Discover Los Angeles article, Musso & Frank COO, CFO and proprietor Mark Echeverria, told a tale about the restaurant and its star. “Back in the early days of Musso & Frank,” the article states, “Charlie Chaplin would come here with his colleagues (probably ‘silent’ partners). To get to the restaurant, they would race down Hollywood Boulevard by horse and the loser would pick up the tab for lunch. As they ate, they kept an eye on the horses from the only booth with a window view. ‘It’s still known as the Charlie Chaplin booth, Echeverria said, ‘and it’s still, by far, the most-requested booth that we have.” (photo from internet)
On this night, we wanted to see what dish turned out to be the star.
I started with Musso’s Traditional Steak Tartare with Quail Egg, Cornichons and Crostini ($19). It was a very good tartare, and I am a big steak tartare fan.
Cecilia stayed in the old school vibe and ordered the Calf’s Liver with Onions or Bacon, Grilled Sauté ($22). This dish was served with mashed potatoes, and she enjoyed it.
Jeff and Tracy ordered the Filet of “Sanddabs,” sauté́ Meuniere ($26). Tracy had read somewhere online to order the sand dabs “al a Sinatra” style. According to what she read, the sand dabs were Frank Sinatra’s favorite, and he liked them cooked crispy. Our waiter had never heard of “a la Sinatra” style (maybe The Chairman of the Board said, “Make them My Way.”) However, our waiter did ask the kitchen to sauté́ them a tad longer.
At the waiter’s recommendation, I went with the French Cut Lamb Chops with mint jelly ($47). Unlike the lamb chops we experienced in Rome (where they served the chop seemingly without lamb), these chops had plenty of meat on them. I barely had enough room for that last bite of the perfectly cooked medium rare chops. The mint jelly brought back fond memories of my dad, who absolutely loved it with his lamb chops either here or at home.
Most menu items are a la carte unless noted otherwise. There are numerous side dishes available including Brussels Sprouts With Pancetta ($13) and Baked Potato served with Sour Cream, Smoked Bacon, Chives, Cheddar Cheese & Butter ($11).
For dessert we shared the Brioche-Bread Pudding with wild blueberries and a scoop of vanilla ice cream ($10). This was the weakest dish of the evening, as the bread pudding was nearly devoid of flavor. Of course, Tracy makes a killer bread pudding, so maybe I am somewhat biased. I should have had the Spumoni slice … or another martini!
Speaking of which, a little less than a week later I was in the Hollywood area, and since Musso & Frank had just opened for lunch I paid an impromptu visit. This time, for a short while, I had the place to myself.
I plopped down at that famous bar in the New Room for a bite to eat and was greeted by my bartender Austin.
Although a millennial himself, he eschewed that connotation. Austin was old-school, and a damn good bartender. Since it was 11 o’clock somewhere, Austin made his version of my Tomtini … Citron vodka, Cointreau and Grand Marnier. Yeah, baby! You really get two martinis in one since there is basically an extra one in a little bottle chilled next to it. I never knew these were called sidecars.
I thought I’d try two of the dishes I didn’t order last time. I opened with the Shrimp Cocktail, which tasted as good as it looks. Austin told me Musso & Frank makes the cocktail sauce in-house, and it definitely had a little kick to it … just the way I like it.
Then came my “Wow” dish … the Spumoni slice. You don’t see this every day, and each bite was better than the next. This might not be the last time I venture here for lunch.
If you don’t want to dine at the bar in the New Room, there’s a different type of bar where you can eat in the Old Room.
I chatted with Austin and a few of the waiters, and they told me their favorite dessert is the cheesecake, which also happened to be Sinatra’s favorite. They also recommended the Musso & Frank Torten Cake, which by photos I’ve seen online must have 20,000 calories. I’m in. You can diet when you die.
Speaking of waiters, our dinner server the week before was the affable Boris, who is one of the numerous true professional waiters working at Musso & Frank. Some of the waiters have been with the restaurant for decades. The impeccable service is reminiscent of those great New York City and East Coast restaurants where being a waiter is a profession and not a hopefully potential stepping stone to stardom.
Sadly, Los Angeles does not have a lot of treasures left from the old days. Luckily, Musso & Frank has endured and thrived through the past century and stands as one of the area’s icons. There might be newer and hipper restaurants dotting the L.A. landscape featuring the city’s finest cuisine, but for a journey back in time with good food (and cocktails), nothing beats the experience of taking a trip down memory lane and enjoying some old-time elegance at Musso & Frank. Happy Anniversary!!
Musso & Frank Grill
6667 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. • Sunday 4 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Parking: Valet ($7)