Photo by Tenaya HillsWhen it became evident last week that killing my brain with beer and burgers just wasn't working fast enough, I turned to The Self-Destruction Handbook: 8 Simple Steps to an Unhealthier You and its authors, West LA-ites Adam Wasson and Jessica Stamen, for help ruining my life. The two are currently touring the Southland, preaching the same mantra in their recent release as every self-help book: everything in moderation—especially moderation.
"Your body's made to enjoy things, to get the most out of life" is how Wasson puts it. "It's not right to deny yourself everything."
Continuing education is never a bad thing, so I met them for some pointers at Rembrandt's Beautiful Food. This is truly the little steakhouse that time forgot. It looks like what the Velvet Turtle would be if they'd redone it Spanish-style in the '80s: stark, white walls; huge paintings; chandeliers.
I arrived early and sat outside watching old men in the Official Dress of Orange County walk in with their wives for an early dinner. The longer I sat, the more out-of-place I felt; the uniform here for fellas is invariably uncuffed khakis and a tucked-in shirt in order to show off your paunch.
I just didn't have it, but then neither did my guests. They'd written the anti-12-step book on how to not help yourself, and thus were correspondingly rail thin and rakishly attired. Adam had the requisite leather car coat, worn open over a red oxford shirt (also open) over a black T-shirt. Jessica? A flirty black skirt and pointy heels, plus a red T-shirt emblazoned "I am a wreck."
Destruction was on.
We started with the double martinis. They were $3.50, people—they had to be well drinks. But did I mention they were $3.50? They were. One taste of all that floaty gin, and I realized I'd cut right to the quick of self-annihilation. So we ordered another round. And another. Drinking's fun!
Then came the food—lots of it. Rembrandt's may claim to do "beautiful food," but that translates to hearty, plain fare done to nostalgic perfection: a Brown Derby for our county minus the starlets but without that whole wrecking-ball thing. Adam ordered the filet mignon; it arrived rare and oozing as specified—and nicely crosshatched on the outside. Trading up from her usual dinner of Diet Coke and Marlboros, Jessica requested a piece of chicken, also grilled to perfection, done just enough. For dessert, she promised me a lesson in smoking. Yes, sensei!
And I had the rack of lamb, which came perfectly medium rare, those little paper booties on the ends of the ribs so they wouldn't be scorched. It was just a little tired but delish, as the recently deceased Doris Dowling would have said in The Lost Weekend, Billy Wilder's ode to offing yourself with booze.
The double martinis buoyed me, so all I remember is meat. Meat, meat. Meat, meat, meat. I do recall that the Rembrandt folks tried to mitigate that carnage with baked potatoes and a choice of toppings (butter, cheese, chives or sour cream) in a serving caddy nearly a foot high. Brimming with calories, it dwarfed our entrées. I could feel my arteries hardening, but I just didn't care. Bring on the artery-expanding balloon, doc—and do I get a diploma yet, teachers?
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Not until the smoke, they told me. Ten years ago, we'd have simply ashed on our plates. Now, we went outside with all the other unrepentant Orange County smokers—basically, the entire restaurant. Adam produced the classic red-and-white pack, and we lit up.
"Hold it in your thumb and first two fingers," he said, teaching me the classic Bogart moves.
Two huffs of nicotine later, I'd gotten it down. Two cigarettes later, I was knocking the ash off with my pinkie. Twenty minutes later, I was rolling home, full of meat and potatoes, martinis and smoke. I'd officially been self-destructed, and I felt great. For another 10 hours, anyway. Then I realized I was still alive. And my head hurt. And I had to write a restaurant review.
Rembrandt's Beautiful Food, 909 E. Yorba Linda Ave., Placentia, (714) 528-6222; www.rembrandtsrestaurant.com. Open Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-10 p.m.; Fri., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. & 5-11 p.m.; Sat., 4-11 p.m.; Sun., 4-10 p.m. Full bar (open daily until 1 a.m.). Dinner for two, $34-$60, food only. All major credit cards accepted; The Self-Destruction Handbook by Adam Wasson & Jessica Stamen; Three Rivers Press. Paperback, 160 Pages, $12.