While legendary Tinseltown restaurants like Chasen’s and the Brown Derby have long since disappeared, Lawry’s Prime Rib has managed to maintain it’s ambiance, clientele, and employees.
Christopher Hopgood gave mom and me a rare behind the scenes tour of the restaurant he proudly manages for the Frank family. I especially loved the story about how co-founder Lawrence Frank experimented with herbs and spices in his own home kitchen, developing the seasoning that gives Lawry’s Prime Rib it’s exceptional flavor, and can now be found in supermarkets worldwide (since I love developing spice rubs too).
Seventy-three years after opening it’s doors to the Hollywood elite, the restaurant is still going strong with complimentary hors d’oeuvres, including the homemade potato chips they’ve been making since 1938. They can seat 475 people or “500 close friends at a push,” but there still may be a wait. People love the food, and the old world service with dramatic flair.
While nothing much appears to have changed on the menu (apart from prices, you could get a huge cut of Prime Rib for $1.10 back then)…
… or the feeling that I was actually in one of my mother’s favorite 1940″s films, fully expecting to look up and see Rita Hayworth or Joan Crawford walk in dressed to the nines at any moment
… the state of the art kitchen is massive with custom built machinery and appliances that enable the staff to make the huge quantities of food they serve every day with both quality and safety in mind.
I was most fascinated by “Felipe” – the potato peeler that literally sands the skin off the spuds before they are steamed and whipped into ultra smooth mashed potatoes. I could do with a Felipe, and the vast assembly line that magically clean and sanitize the glasses, cutlery, and dishes. My tired, dishpan hands would be gone!
We peeked in all of the cold storage walk-ins, and got to inspect the grass-fed beef from Nebraska as Christopher explained the wet aging process they’ve perfected over the years, what they look for in marbling, the spacing of the ribs, and then the banks of stainless steel ovens with the beef roasting to perfection within.
Huge vats with an array of motorized whisks prepared the other side dishes and desserts, but the thing that impressed me most is that they collect all the remnants of fat from the plates to render down for bio fuel.
After viewing the private dining rooms, Mom mentioned it would be a spectacular venue for a wedding to which Christopher informed us he also happens to be an ordained minister and could personally accommodate that request, too. I let out an audible sigh of relief after a quick scan of the restaurant confirmed no one resembling a single doctor my age that my mother might try to marry me off to!
Our meal began with the famous Lawry spinning salad. A large metal bowl is filled about 1/2 full of ice, with another large bowl filled with the salad fixings placed atop. The theory behind the method, our waiter,Mr. Kang explained, is the ice not only keeps the lettuce cold, but helps the dressing adhere to the lettuce. He then spun the top bowl with his left hand as he poured the vinaigrette from a height with the right hand – hence the spinning salad.
The salad was then followed by the succulent prime rib au jus with a cumulous cloud of mashed potatoes on the side, a very tasty Yorkshire pudding so large it required it’s own dish, garlic mushrooms, and asparagus hollandaise. My eyes were bigger than my tummy, so I brought home enough for the next night’s dinner too, and uncharacteristically never made it to the dessert menu. I did however manage to persuade Christopher to share the Lawry’s Prime Rib Roast recipe with all of you.
Lawry’s Prime Rib Roast
1 (4 rib) standing rib roast
Lawry’s seasoned salt
1 (5 pound) bag rock salt
Sprinkle fatty cap of roast with Seasoned Salt. In heavy roasting pan, spread rock salt evenly over the bottom; place wire roasting rack on top of salt. Place the roast on rack, fatty side up. Make sure no salt actually touches the beef. Insert meat thermometer into thickest part of the meat, making sure it does not touch a bone. Roast in preheated 350° F. oven until thermometer registers 130° F. for rare, 140° F. for medium, or approximately 20 to 25 minutes per pound. Remove from oven, and let stand for 20 minutes before carving. Using a sharp carving knife, slice meat across the grain for serving. Discard rock salt.