Off the Menu
Editor’s note: “Off the Menu” is a new series dedicated to spin-off and companion stories to Life & Thyme Issue Two. Today’s story takes you through the doors of Chef Curtis Stone’s Maude Restaurant in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. Be sure to also read our print-only feature on Curtis Stone in Life & Thyme Issue Two. — Order Issue Two
While Chef Curtis Stone’s Beverly Hills establishment, Maude, may share a moniker with his grandmother, the first of many folks with whom you’re likely to speak should you decide to pursue a meal at the restaurant is named Kim.
The Maude reservation system is a rather unique one by today’s technologically reliant restaurant standards; you won’t secure your Saturday night two-top through a digital search a la OpenTable or the like. Rather, it’s far more similar to the old-school process of snagging front-row seats to a Springsteen concert or symphony orchestra.
Each month, opportunistic eaters refresh their inboxes to find an email announcing the date and time that the reservation line will open for the upcoming month. A frenzied phone offensive follows, and it is Kim’s charge to field calls from table-seekers that confront a busy signal sometimes for hours on end.
Perhaps it seems an old fashioned setup, but that suits Maude just fine. In fact, you find this return to fundamentals is a running theme throughout.
Once you’ve secured your seat––a feat best accomplished if you have some flexibility––you can spend the next thirty-some-odd days taking mental stabs at how the hero ingredient of your menu might be manipulated for your enjoyment. There’s no list of dishes available ahead of time to review, you just trust that the chefs will manage to make a minimum of nine courses worth your wait.
When the date finally arrives and you approach the address, you must stay alert while you’re searching for the spot or there’s a strong possibility you might walk right on past. A simple, dignified door, marked only by the scripted letter “M” is the sole signal that you’ve reached your destination.
The entrance could easily be a portal to Narnia or some similar fictional realm; comparatively diminutive and gracefully demure, it separates storefronts that nearly obstruct its humble facade entirely. As the rest of the bustling Beverly Hills set breeze past without taking much notice, you can’t help but wonder if this access point is actually only visible to reservation holders, enchanted and exclusive.
Bearded and bow-tied, the affable and endlessly hospitable General Manager and Wine Director, Ben Aviram, will likely greet you when you enter. You may be escorted to one of the 25 seats in the main room, or perhaps to the chef’s counter where the concert for which you so diligently vied the month prior will in part be composed. From this first chair vantage point, you may watch chefs like Brandon DiFiglio and Gareth Evans, who collaborate on menu creation, as they direct each dish’s arrangement alongside a framed photo of the famous Maude herself.
Regardless of your seating arrangement, you won’t be limited to a single server. Instead you’ll spend the evening becoming acquainted with a synchronized and collegial cast, each one equitably knowledgeable and invested, no one particular player with a designated solo performance.
If you’ve dined with Maude before, you may be reminded of the wine selection you made during your last meal. Or you may choose from one of the carefully culled wines or craft beers and offered an expert interpretation of which would best pair with various segments of your dinner service.
The promised tasting menu is the only option, alleviating you and your present company of the obligation to any conversation-disrupting decision-making. The meal will begin with light snacks; a few playful notes that set the tone for the many dishes that follow. Over the next few hours, you’ll be invited into the imaginations of this tight team of chefs. You’ll be introduced to courses accompanied by elocuted stories, but you’ll likely do a bit of investigative deduction yourself, exchanging educated guesses amongst your party as to the evolution of a particular item’s inspiration.
When your final course has been cleared and you’re confident that you’ve enjoyed every possible iteration of the featured ingredient, you’ll be presented with a parting gift. Typically it’s created by the kitchen with breakfast in mind; perhaps a jam or cake that can allow the experience to again unfurl the following morning, packaged in a homemade manner that you imagine Maude herself may have informed. Like many of the components of dining here, it makes you feel at home, as if it could just as easily be your dining room, your grandmother’s portrait, your family feeding you and sending you home with a jar of preserves.
It is in these deliberate details that Maude slows you down, draws you in. It’s a style of restaurant that impels personal interaction; an undigitized, reverse engineered affair throughout which you engage directly with so many of the people integral to creating your experience.
So you can call it old-fashioned, but during an age in which even the simple act of dining feels increasingly digital, the analogue efforts here are transportive. To another place and time––perhaps even another realm––one in which cell phones stay put in pockets and the distractions of a typical restaurant are dispensed with.
In such an intimate space, exiting unnoticed is hardly achievable. So your departure elicits expressions of gratitude and well wishes from nearly everyone that has served and welcomed you. Outside, you will return to the regular pace of the city’s dining scene, but should you become one of the many who make a monthly pilgrimage, you can be comforted in knowing that there’s a quiet corner of Los Angeles in which folks like Kim, Ben, Brandon, Gareth, and the rest of the ensemble at Maude will always make you feel as if you’re part of a family.
212 S Beverly Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90212