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Sep 9, 2001 10:20 AM

"Upscale" chains (longish, rambling)

  • r

Spent my last two dinners at "Downtown Disney" (business meetings) and came away vaguely unsettled. One each at Brennan's and at what I believe is a J. Splichal place (name escapes me just now). There's a La Brea Bakery there, too.

The ambiance of the whole place struck me as a little strange, at least in part because the entire place was built from scratch six months ago; it's a "downtown" built like a housing tract, or more precisely, like a movie set or theme park. It thus manages to have even less collective history than greater Los Angeles, or Orange, for that matter. There are those, particularly with kids, who prefer it to an older grittier neighborhood; can't say their preference is wrong, it just isn't mine....

But, (to get toward where I was going) what are the collective thoughts of the "chain-ization" of restaurants, particularly chef-driven places, which initially traded on a somewhat individual, and (say, in Splichal's case) quirky take on food? Are they bringing good taste to the masses, or have they simply found a newer and more lucrative way to scam the rubes?


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  1. I don't know but there are times I wish Ken Frank would do a Splichal.

    1. My parents in FL live near one of those planned developments that sprang up absolutely in the middle of nowhere. There's a downtown area that makes you feel like you're in a Holodeck. Everywhere you look everything is artificial and something is a little bit wrong, and it gives you the creeps.

      She loves the whole thing. I think the masses are waiting for corporate America to simplify and homogenize all this new strange stuff for them so that it'll be safe to try some of that authentic cuisine.

      1. Sterile, manufactured "downtowns" like Downtown Disney, Universal Citywalk, etc., are not exactly my cup of tea. But if you end up at one of these, as we all tend to do from time to time (accompanying visitors, attending business meetings, etc.), wouldn't you prefer to have excellent restaurants that could actually stand alone in any neighborhood rather than be subject to the unmitigated dreck that used to pass for food at all theme parks?

        My advice is to stop fretting about the plight of the "masses" and be thankful that, in this gustatory golden age in which we live, we have more than a choice between Mickey Burgers and Daffy Dogs.

        3 Replies
        1. re: GaryP
          R. Gould-Saltman

          I didn't mean to sound unappreciative of the opportunity to have something other than a Mickey-Burger when I'm actually at Disneyland to go to Disneyland.

          MY concern is more with the situation I was in: I was attending a dinner meeting with, and planned by, some fairly clout-laden and supposedly sophisticated lawyers. Had they all been in Anaheim CA for the State Bar Convention, and had there not been a "Downtown Disney", there is no way this group o' guys would have said, "Let's go eat dinner in Disneyland"; they would have doped out a way to get to a real restaurant. The convenience of the Disney Mall-o-Food aced such exploration out.


          1. re: R. Gould-Saltman

            If you know of a "real restaurant" in Anaheim (one where you would actually feel comfortable taking business associates), I'd love to hear about it. I've done my fair share of "exploration" in that fair city, and have drilled a lot of dry holes--but I'd be thrilled to be proven wrong.

            1. re: GaryP

              If you're looking for a "real" restaurant in Anaheim, try Mr. Stox, on Katella, maybe 1/4 mile from Disneyland. Doesn't get much more "real" (high marks in the Zagat guide), in fact it's the quintessential business-exec's restaurant, very old-school (osso bucco, very nice wine cellar etc. etc). The executive chef, Scott Raszak is a real pro. Frankly it's a bit stodgy for my taste but that's me.

              As far as Downtown Dizzy land goes I haven't yet been but it sounds like several of you hit it on the head - it's nice to have decent food while you're there but it's not - as the Michelin guide would say - worth a trip out out of your way.

        2. I hate to admit that I actually enjoy Puck's chain endeavors. At least Splichal hires good chefs, too!

          2 Replies
          1. re: Palliser

            Why should you hate to admit it? Puck's Cafes are just fine for what they are, which is the best food you're likely to get at a shopping mall or tourist attraction. The shopping malls and developments are going to exist, so why take potshots at one of the only places that is even trying to do decent food?

            1. re: Richard Foss

              Agreed... if you find yourself stuck in a pre-fab, "Disneyesque" situation, then this is the best you're likely to find and be grateful. I wouldn't, however, make Puck's a first choice when eating out.

          2. I stopped by Downtown Dis' on my way to San Diego recently... Why? Not sure. But I think it had as much to do with the lure of celebrity chefs as it did Mickey Mouse... Anyway, I agree the place is disturbing -- cured me of my longtime affection for crafstman architecture. (For those who haven't been, DD looks like Greene and Greene on acid.) It also almost but not quite cured me of my affection for La Brea Bakery -- didn't try the other restaurants. Yes, the menu was similar to the La Brea locale. But something ineffable was lost in the translation/mass production. The sandwiches were good, way better than anyone has a right to expect in a theme park -- not to mention, intelligently wrapped in a crispiness-preserving kind of plastic, instead of seran wrap. But they didn't have that ole Nancy Silverton magic. They seemed familiar, watered down -- "oh just another 'gourmet' tomato and mozz sandwich" -- and not marked by a creative culinary spark. (Echoes of old LB bread debates, I know...) Was this a real drop in quality or just my snotty reaction to my surroundings? Couldn't say... But I don't think you have to be a total reactionary to want to feel like your meal is something special and not just over-priced fast food...