Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The One and Only Kettle, July 12, 2010

One of my favorite films and subsequent TV series was “Highlander.” Its tagline, “There can be only one” goes double for the Kettle, which ironically, is on Highland and Manhattan Beach Boulevard.

There were actually two "Highlanders." Here is Christopher Lambert in the film version... He was like Peter Lorre with a French accent.

The Kettle was the first restaurant where I remember dining without my parents. As a world-weary junior at the now extinct Aviation High School, I would take extended lunches (read, “ditch class”) at the Kettle which was minutes away from campus. Upon being served a chef’s salad on my first visit, I puzzled over what to my uninitiated eyes appeared to be the world’s tiniest cup of soup. I discovered this to be a portion of salad dressing, my taste buds screaming from vinegar overload as I sampled a heaping spoonful.

Later, I discovered the joys of the Kettle’s signature French onion soup, the equal of which I will probably not find until I actually visit Paris. If the calories in bread can be diminished by toasting (see previous post), they are quadrupled by being soaked in rich onion broth and swathes of melted cheese. I have a misguided American expectation that every French restaurant I walk into is going to have the stuff on tap, which of course, has not been the case.

Plus de fromage, s'il vous plait. The Kettle's soupe l'oignon is the gold standard for me.

Along with watching my parents in the kitchen, my faithful viewing of the Galloping Gourmet, and my fascination with cookbooks – whether I cooked from them or not - The Kettle had a great deal to do with my gastronomic development as a young person. I had my first cup of coffee there. The menu helped me with my high school French with dishes like Oeufs Pain Perdu. And it taught me that zucchini can be vastly improved by deep-frying and bleu cheese dressing.

Several years and zip code changes later, I would dine at Mimi’s Café, a chain restaurant that absorbed The Kettle. Since they offer the identical menu, I could have a taste of home in the O.C. or in Torrance. But it is never the same.

There is a group on Facebook called “I’m From the South Bay Which Means I’m Kind of a Big Deal”. Laugh if you will, but that kind of hubris is what being from somewhere is. From Manhattan Beach to Manassas, home where confidence can be bolstered by a sense of belonging, and where souls can be warmed by a memory that never fades...like the memory of my first onion soup.

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