Palisades Lunch Club Explores Caruso-Bound Madeo

By Bob Vickrey
Special to the Palisades News

Our monthly lunch club decided to check out Madeo Italian Restaurant in West Hollywood after we learned that our town will have its own branch of the famous trattoria when Caruso’s Palisades Village opens in 2018.

Madeo is known as one of the best Italian restaurants in Los Angeles and it also has a reputation as a place where first-time customers may flinch at its menu prices. But our group appreciates fine food, so we forged ahead after draining our bank accounts beforehand.

I took a quick look at the online menu before arriving and noticed the Dover Sole, which is flown in from Holland—and is all yours for $72. Maybe their printed menu would offer a trout amandine entrée (“trucked in” from Malibu Creek) at a slightly friendlier price.

Members of the Lunch Club (left to right) Alan Eisenstock, Arnie Wishnick and Bob Vickrey (far right) meet Madeo owner Gianni Vietina, who will manage the Palisades restaurant. Photo: Barry Stein

Our special guest this trip was longtime Palisadian Alan Eisenstock, who was a television comedy writer before becoming a successful book author. A native of Massachusetts, he went to graduate school at the University of Michigan, which happens to be the alma mater of our founding lunch club member Josh Greenfeld.

After college, Alan headed to Hollywood to write comedy, and rather miraculously, quickly landed a job writing for the Smothers Brothers TV show. He worked in television for 26 years, writing and producing numerous shows, such as “Sanford and Son,” “Mork and Mindy” and “Family Matters.”

His 15 books include “Ten on Sunday,” “The Kindergarten Wars and Raiders!” “The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made.” Next April, his book with L.A. Lakers legend Elgin Baylor—”Hang Time: My Life in Basketball”—will be published by my former employer, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

I was pleased that we were going to Madeo for a midday meal instead of dinner, when we might have been hounded by the paparazzi that are known to stalk the Hollywood elite who frequent the restaurant at night. Our lunch club likes to keep a low profile during our monthly outings, so we wore our dark glasses just in case.

Madeo’s interior offers an old-school setting featuring authentic Northern Italian cuisine and served by waiters wearing white dress shirts and vests. The entrance has a bunker-like feel as you descend the stairway and enter the dimly lit basement. The ad- joining dining room beyond the entrance features comfortable booths that offer relative privacy.

While we carefully studied the menu, Arnie sat patiently with his menu closed, waiting for the rest of us to make up our minds. He always cheats and studies the online menu the night before and knows exactly what he wants.

Alan decided on the Fusilli Puttanesca with olives, capers, and tomato sauce, while Arnie opted for the Ravioli Ricotta Spinaci filled with Ricotta cheese and spinach in a butter sage sauce. Barry and I both chose the same dish—the Risotto Mare with shrimp, clams and crayfish. (Later, he would describe his risotto as simply “good,” while I went a step further and dubbed mine “sensational.”)

We topped off our excellent meal with cappuccinos and ordered a dessert combination of Cannoli and Millefoglie (Italian custard in a puff-pastry cake).

Alan was good company and made us laugh just like he had done with television audiences in years past. And what would a “guys” lunch gathering be without the obligatory discussion of who was the greatest ball player of all time—Mantle or DiMaggio? Alan had the audacity to introduce his favorite Red Sox player, Ted Williams, into the argument. The nerve!

It later occurred to me how much these lunches represent escape from the real world for our group when I realized there was not one mention of North Korea, hurricane disasters, or Donald Trump.

We met Madeo owner Gianni Vietina, who will manage the Palisades location. I asked him the sensitive question about their upscale pricing and whether this model will work in a neighborhood setting. He assured us that prices here will be tailored to a more family-friendly audience. He also added that the Palisades location will serve breakfast as well as lunch and dinner.

I was relieved to find out that the atmos- phere will be more informal at the Palisades site, and we may not have to worry about the paparazzi bothering us. I discovered how difficult it can be to read a menu in a dimly lit room while wearing dark glasses.

Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisadian whose columns appear regularly in the News. He also writes for the Houston Chronicle and the Waco Tribune-Herald.

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