Eve of Destruction Vintage July 2001: Orangatang and Chops in Newhall

When a new acquaintance mentioned that she enjoyed fine dining I had to wonder if she also enjoyed driving all the way to other cities like Santa Monica and San Fernando Valley.  I know of only a handful of restaurants in our own valley that require reservations and some, undoubtedly very fine restaurants as well, that don’t.  After some discussion I discovered that she hadn’t been to my latest neighborhood favorite, *Chiaso, whose owner laments that there just aren’t enough restaurants in SCV at all.
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When my brother and his wife were here for a recent visit I didn’t hesitate in suggesting Chiaso, hands down, as the finest bar in town.  I knew their 101 varieties of martinis would impress them. And so it began.  We soon found ourselves happily enjoying warm, crusty bread and a plate of oil and vinegar for dipping at the bar when a waiter mysteriously materialized waving an aromatic platter of lamb chops beneath four sets of flared nostrils.  I realized that this must be due to the owner and chef, Thomas Caso, experimenting in the kitchen.  Lucky us to be there that evening to sample his efforts.

Thomas, known to many as “Tommy”, has recently gone “back in the kitchen” to satisfy himself and his clientele.  He told me that he wanted his chefs to be more experimental with their creations.  This exceptional attitude has forced him to don his chef hat and we can only sit back and salaciously reap the rewards.  His mouthwatering pasta selections include, but are not limited to, Saffron Seafood Risotto, Prawns Pomodoro and Linguine and Clams.  His entrees start with Pan-Seared scallops, Pan-Fried Sand Dabs and Veal Scaloppini Ala Francais.  Of course these are preceded by an outstanding selection of appetizers and, if you can make just a smidgen of room, followed by delectable desserts made on the premises.  (Boy is this ever tough to write about at my computer with nothing but some leftover grapes from Sam’s lunchbox!)

It is not only a favorite place for me to bring out of town guests but a favorite when I have my monthly girls night out and my bi-monthly husband one.  I’ve taken home both of their menus, bar and dining, and can find no substitute.  (Although with their service I’m sure they would generously allow for those that do!)

All of the employees I have encountered are exceptional in their attentiveness to their customers.  From the hostess and host that welcome you in to the bartender that always stretches out his hand in introduction, warmth presides.  (Of course, the bartenders are my personal favorites holding the job I would love to have when we win the lottery, open a wine bar next to Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in Santa Ynez and I can visit with people all day long and call it a living.)

Now to get back to my story.  I wasn’t sure what I wanted to have when I was there last time with my brother, and was too lazy to peruse the martini menu.  I finally told the bartender I wanted something with good iced vodka, not too strong and not too sweet.  He came up with something reminiscent of what the trashy ladies drink on the popular cable television show, “Sex in the City”.  It wasn’t quite their “Cosmopolitan”, it was more an “Eve”.  And that’s exactly how it tasted, like he took one look at me, really listened and knew what I would like with my chops.  Unfortunately he was a tad off but only because he couldn’t fit himself into my waiting glass.
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When someone else at the bar dared to order martini # 63, the “Orangatang”, he poured the remaining mixture into a separate glass for our party to try.  He asked my brother, by name, to try it even though we were all a little put off by one of the ingredients.  Now, one small taste later, I cannot decide for the next time whether I’ll want the frothy chocolate/mocha concoction he dreamed up for my sister-in-law or the astronaut Tang we thought we’d hate in martini #63.

At the end of finishing our one cocktail, we were pretty relaxed.  But it was hard to pinpoint when we had each begun to feel so good.  For Eddie, my personal chef at home, it may have been the chops.  For my brother, it was his first martini since he finally finished college fifteen years ago.  For my sister-in-law, the only one with the guts to order a second “desert” martini, it was the cool breeze, Mexican Riviera sunset and lawn chair she was transported to.  For me it was a toss up: Meeting someone, in this case the good-looking Signal reader Michael, that confessed he’d read me once or my first safe meeting with a chef since I unintentionally (Don’t ask Ed!) plowed down Wolfgang Puck in my stride in Santa Monica years ago.

Chiaso can be fairly crowded on weekend evenings.  The bar, where the 101 martinis are poured along with other exceptional libations, can usually allow for how ever many warm bodies it has to.  I used to see our former publisher Will Fleet there before he deserted us for that beach town, but have also noticed other high ranking SCV “officials” enjoying Chiaso fare.  I’d have to say that Tommy Caso will keep us all in SCV, and not anywhere near Santa Monica or anywhere else, for his “fine” food!

*Chiaso is now, if you haven’t guessed it, The Social and owned by Patrick Lage.  We still love it there!