Thursday, January 10, 2008

Eat & switch: Ex-mayor turns Larry David's deli into an upscale, expensive, organic, goyish eatery

For years, Mort's Deli was the gathering place in the heart of Pacific Palisades, California, where Sunset Boulevard meets the Pacific Ocean. You might know it as the deli that's been featured often on HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm-- the place where Larry David had a sandwich named after him (the place was called "Leo's" on the show).

Mort died in 1999, and last year his widow closed a deal to sell the join to former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan, who owns several other eateries in Los Angeles including the crapulous tourist trap Gladstones at Sunset & PCH, and the aged Original Pantry downtown. All through the approval processes, Riordan promised to carry on Mort's tradition as a deli and comfortable, neighborly gathering place.

Did we forget Riordan is a politician? A look through the window this week revealed something that looked little like a delicatessan of any sort. And today, as the new Village Pantry prepares for a "soft opening" next week, it turns out that the deli is dead.

Mort's has gone "upscale." And brisket-less.

An article in the local Palisadian-Post today reveals that Riordan pulled the old switcheroo, and that his plans were very different all along:

The Village Pantry will be 'an upscale casual restaurant that offers deli foods like pastrami and corned beef sandwiches, ' (executive chef Douglas) Silberberg told the Palisadian-Post last Saturday. But it will also feature non-deli items such as the pulled pork sandwich ($12), where the meat is slow cooked in Guinness stout, smothered in barbeque sauce, joined by apple-wood smoked bacon, and served on a warm Kaiser roll...

The entire restaurant has been redone; the only vestiges from Mort's are the ice machine and the exhaust hood in the kitchen, though owner Riordan plans to have a wall dedicated to the former owners, Mort and Bobbie Farberow...

"A lot of people will associate this space with the old Mort's for a long time," Silberberg admitted. "We can't please everyone, but we will please an overwhelming majority. Those who are not initially pleased will come around."

...Meat for the restaurant will come from the Niman Ranch in northern California, where the animals are raised free of antibiotics. Eggs are from free-range chickens raised without hormones and antibiotics.

"Those eggs cost twice as much," Silberberg said, "but because of my background, I wouldn't settle for anything less than the best." Most of the restaurant's produce will come from farmers' markets, and will be organic...

"I'm cooking for myself and my family because we live here," the chef noted.

Looking at the menu posted on the front window at the Village Pantry, a few residents have questioned the prices, which begin at $10 for sandwiches and salads. Various scrambled egg dishes (with toast and potatoes) are $10, omelets $10.50 and French toast $9.

"It's very fair for the quality we're serving and the ingredients we're using,' Silberberg said. One example: the cheddar cheese used in omelets and sandwiches is aged two years and is white instead of yellow (not dyed). "We're serving upscale full-flavored breakfasts and lunches."

During the interview, a Palisades resident came in the back door and told Silberberg that he should have brisket and hot dogs on his Village Pantry menu. Silberberg politely explained that the restaurant isn't going to be a renovated deli, but a new entity, although it will carry Matzo ball soup. He also didn't discount the idea of adding hot dogs.

In addition to potential $15 hot dogs, Mort's banquet room, the Oak Room, is being turned into a "high-end California bistro" in which kids are discouraged because it will also include Palisades' second full-service bar. That's a point in Riordan's favour, though historically, the Palisades has not been kind to upscale eateries. We'll soon see if the former people's cherse underestimated the appeal of a budget-priced sandwich, eggs and brisket joint in the center of a posh suburb.

FUN LINK: Click here and dig the wild connection between Tabloid Baby's author and Richard Riordan, the pol who broke his promise to Mort's loyal customers.


Anonymous said...


Price counts. Change is hard, especially around the old neighborhood. It still sounds good enough to try!

Anonymous said...

morts was terrible, and Riordan's chef's did a great job at Michaels. He really knows what people want.

Anonymous said...

it's just the old farts in the palisades that a bitching about the price.

Anonymous said...

morts sucked and was really dirty and greasy. I've had the new kids food and it's great. I'm looking forward to the place opening...finally

Brian Aldrich said...

what is the first, and previous only, full service bar in the Palisades? Is it that horrible tourist joint Gladstones? I didn't realize the presence of "bars" was an issue in the Palisades?

Anonymous said...

Full service bar at the Pearl Dragon restaurant.

Anonymous said...

actually was there today. breakfast was great...and free too. they're doing a soft open for a few days and not charging anyone. The food and new digs was really great, free or not

Diallo said...

I, for one, am VERY disappointed.

There is no sense of preservation in Los Angeles. All we do is tear down our buildings with history and culture,

and then put up the same uber-modern plastic-looking new stuff with the same three dishes.

What happened to history and character?

Are we going to put a Whole Foods in Paradise Cove?

An Applebees at the Malibu Inn? Craft at Geoffrey's?

Anonymous said...

to the person re history...the history of Mort's was disgusting. The food and the nasty old building needed to be done over. Horray for Dicky and his team. Also that entire street looks like it's ready to be re-done. For all the $ is palisades, that street looks like crap; not all history is good history. Good job Village Pantry team!! Keep it up!!