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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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August 5, 2008 8:14 AM

Fame Game: the Restaurant Edition

Posted by Nancy Leson


After reading my pal Mark Rahner's interview with "The Bachelorette's" losing lover, Jason Mesnick, I feel professionally obligated to post this photo of Kirkland's famous suitor, seen here posing in front of the coat room at the Metropolitan Grill :



The close-no-stogie "bach" is smiling for the camera with "VIP"-patron Bob Wright (left), and the Met's marketing manager Wendy Starr -- who knows a good promo-shot when she stands in one. So, how does Mesnick keep his boyish figure? He goes to the Met, and instead of hoisting a knife and attacking a prime porterhouse, he orders the halibut cheeks.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. But, if you were to ask, say, Jerry Seinfeld what to eat at the Seattle steakhouse, he'll tell you: "Halibut cheeks? Fuggetaboudit! I'm having the ribeye!"
Don't believe me? Just ask GM Schuyler Adams and server Joan King:


When I worked in restaurants, I, too, rubbed elbows with my share of celebrities. And with the glaring exception of Jeff Smith, the late local culinary-celeb who gained fame as "The Frugal Gourmet," they were, to a one, very nice folks.

Harry Connick, Jr. once dined at Saleh al Lago, where I worked for years, and the evening was thereafter described as "When Harry Met Saleh." One night, after listening to a four-top chatting about Broadway actors and theater in general, I asked if they happened to know my best friend from high school, Liz Larsen. Indeed they did. And when I asked the older gent at the table if I should know him, he laughed and introduced himself. It was Broadway playwright and librettist Arthur Laurents -- and it was all I could do not to start singing, "I like to be in America! Everything free in A-mer-i-ca!" right there in the middle of my station.

Another night, I got a laugh out of Larry King and company on their visit to the Green Lake restaurant. Larry, whose voice booms in person as loudly as it does on TV, was regaling his assembled guests with a story. When he explained, "So, then, I picked up the phone and said. . ." right on cue I leaned over from my post in the bar -- and handed him a telephone receiver to use as a prop. Another evening, a pre-"24" Keifer Sutherland and that handsome hunk Jeff Bridges came in to dine with an entourage of ingenues and filmmakers. In addition to a nice tip, they left me half a bottle of expensive grappa -- which I later enjoyed at home.

When I was a 20-year-old waiting tables at the Good Earth Restaurant in Santa Barbara, CA, I had heart-palpitations while waiting on Kenny Loggins, who drove a white Mercedes-Benz station wagon, which I thought was the height of luxury. Believe me: When I was a 15-year-old at a Loggins & Messina concert five years earlier at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, dancing in my seat to "Your Mama Don't Dance and Your Daddy Don't Rock 'n Roll," I'd have never dreamed that one day I'd be chatting with the skinny pop-singer from Everett, WA (where ever that was) whose every croon ("I Wanna Sing You a Love Song. . .") rocked my teen world.

And speaking of rocking teenager's worlds, later, while working at the Marx Bros. Cafe in Alaska, I waited on the very charming John Sebastian. What? You never heard of John Sebastian? He made this song famous eons before the existance of the Disney Channel, and its never-ending promos of singers like Aly & AJ, now raking in the bucks by performing their tweeny-pop rendition of this John Sebastian classic:



Then there was the night actor Roy Scheider came in for dinner at the Marx Bros. He sat in the best seat in the house -- table 12 -- and was quite the elegant gentleman. So, how come every time I approached his table -- the one with the water view of Cook Inlet -- a certain, frightening orchestral arrangement immediately ran through my head?



What about you? Have you got any stories about brushes with celebrity in restaurants? Feel free to share them right here.


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Posted by ts

9:15 AM, Aug 05, 2008

Do casinos count?
I was walking backwards and stepped on Joey Bishop's toes at Circus Circus in Las Vegas!
Watched Mr. Spock (!) playing blackjack, err 21at the Hyatt, Lake Tahoe.
Saw Buddy Ebsen kick up his very old feet at a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Long Beach, CA.
Shared a bathroom with Carol Channing - okay, she was in the next stall. Again, old days of Vegas.
Had aunts swoon at meeting Lloyd Bridges - in another part of the restaurant where my cousin had his bar mitzvah.

Posted by Anne

9:41 AM, Aug 05, 2008

While having a romantic dinner at La Fontana we discovered the bass player from the band Garbage sitting at a table behind us. We weren't sure exactly who it was but he was talking about Shirley and parties with Ann and Nancy and stories about Lars. I figured it was someone in the music business. We knew Garbage was performing in town and looked them up on the internet when we got home.. and there he was!

Posted by Simonian

11:28 AM, Aug 05, 2008

I saw Jason Alexander at IHOP once, which seemed a little bizarre. I mean, I was in LA and all, but surely there were better places for breakfast out there?

Posted by elaine

11:30 AM, Aug 05, 2008

Many years ago in NYC, as poor students, we wanted to be in the "in crowd" and we went to Sardi's and as we were leaving, there was my favorite actor coming in, Peter Falk! I was dumbfounded and only was able to open the door and say, Hi Peter! Not anything else. He was nice and he was short.

Posted by stein

12:13 PM, Aug 05, 2008

I passed the hot sauce to Bob Dylan at Tortilla Flat in Sheridan Square in NYC in the early '60s. I still remember his words: "Could you pass me that hot sauce?"

Posted by Seefood

2:40 PM, Aug 05, 2008

I lived in LA for a few years. THe ONLY celebrity I ever ran into was Wierd Al Yankovic. I must have been hangin' in the wrong places!

Posted by mama g

3:15 PM, Aug 05, 2008

During my stint at the Palace Kitchen I served a late night nosh to JFK, Jr. He was every bit as gorgeous as any photo I had ever seen of him, right down to his baseball cap worn backwards. Sadly, it was only a short time later that America lost one of its royalty.

Posted by Frank

4:36 PM, Aug 05, 2008

Lute Olsen, coach of the Univ. of Arizona basketball team, at Metropolitan Grill.

Omar Vizquel at PF Changs in Bellevue.

Dave Matthews at El Camino.

I think there's more, but those are the others that came to mind. Now other celebrities at places other than restaurants, that's another story.

Posted by Jenny

10:49 AM, Aug 06, 2008

Ran into Derek Jeter at Axis in Belltown a few years ago. It was my birthday and a group of my girls and I were having drinks at the bar...he was in the back with another player (can't say who) and two VERY attractive women. We giggled and giggled--waved in his direction, but that was as close as we got. Pretty cute in real life, though.

Posted by Patrick

3:50 PM, Aug 06, 2008

I was at Harborside on Westlake Ave on Lake Union a few years ago and thought to myself, "that woman at the next table looks like Soon Yi Previn. Then when I looked at the person next to her, I realized why: it was Woody Allen! My favorite director in the world! Very exciting that he was sitting about 8 feet away.

Posted by Michael

3:52 PM, Aug 06, 2008

Robin Williams on the patio at the Pink Door about 2 weeks ago! Very nice and gracious!

Posted by Nancy Leson

3:05 PM, Aug 18, 2008

This just in: Ellen Pompeo, of Grey's Anatomy fame, was spotted in Tulio this weekend eating a (Mc)steamy bowl of spicy orecchiette. And, as you might imagine, in an effort to keep her trim figure, she only ate half of it.

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