A Dinner Club Inspired By Los Angeles' Most Lurid, Sensational Legends
In a town full of pop-up dinner clubs, only one seems to truly embrace Los Angeles' most salacious history for a clever and immersive dining experience. Los Angeles Eats Itself is witty. The dinner club, created by Jason Keller and Marco Rios, takes its name from the Thom Andersen documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, featuring scenes of L.A. as represented in film. The dinner series takes Los Angeles' most grim, shocking and notorious tales and turns them into a dining event that is visual, visceral and delicious.
Keller told LAist that the dinner series focuses on Los Angeles' most "sensationalized history and also why visual art was no longer as important as food-based forms of culture."
While previous dinners have explored the grisly Black Dahlia murder and the crimes of the Nightstalker, we decided to check out the decidedly less macabre Fleiss Feast last night at L.A. River Studios.
Heidi Fleiss, as you may remember, made millions as a Hollywood madam. The L.A. native began managing an escort ring when she was only 22 years old and later began her own service in 1990. Fleiss raked in the cash, but was arrested in June of 1993. Fleiss' supposed black book, which would reveal the names of her deep-pocketed clients, has long been a subject of intrigue and actor Charlie Sheen admitted personally to being in it.
After Fleiss was released from her legal troubles, she would appear on reality TV shows such as Celebrity Big Brother and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, open a laundromat called Dirty Laundry in Pahrump, Nevada (home to several legal brothels) and develop an affinity for caring for and rescuing parrots.
The dinner took us back to Fleiss' heyday, however, before her arrest and at the height of her crimes. When I first walked in, I was asked to write my name in a little black book. I was then given my seat number, which was printed on a motel key attached to a golden fork. A woman handed me a Zima—not a real Zima, but a fruity vodka drink—and another woman passed around an app called The Gilded Girl: a golden potato skin full of lobster mash and chives. I found a friend and we lounged about for a bit, listening to the sweet sounds of pulsating '90s dance hits. Like:
The main dining area, styled by artist Christopher Reynolds, featured an art installation that projected a pool onto the floor, a bedroom set photo booth and a series of tables adorned with parrot feathers, mirrors serving as plates, and pink, cloth hypercolor napkins that turned white when exposed to heat. Another photo opportunity could be found in a curtain that mimicked the pattern found in the Beverly Hilton Hotel at the time of the sting that took Fleiss down.
We were then given another cocktail. The Hollywood Madam was both an appetizer and a drink, inspired by purported aphrodisiacs. It was a passion fruit mimosa with an oyster set on top of the champagne flute. Chefs Teresa Montano and Mia Wasilevich then led us through several courses reminiscent of the decadent '90s. If you hadn't picked up on the nods to cocaine usage by now, the next dish set upon the mirrored plates made it obvious.
The Sting consisted of buttermilk, the powder cut into a fat rail in the bottom of a bowl. A smoky ham bone broth was poured over the powder and assorted vegetables, creating a rich, flavorful stew that could be eaten with a spoon or sucked up via a metal straw placed at each seat.
Next, came the salad, the Midnight Caesar. A wedge of green was topped with white anchovies, surrounded by squid ink croutons and doused in black garlic dressing.
This was followed up by Parrot Caviar, a dish made of beluga lentils, fois mousseline, quail egg and fennel that came served in a tin. The most substantive dish was the Surf & Turf War. A tender slab of beef cheek was topped with a single prawn.
For dessert, we received a treat that looked like a vagina. A chocolate base was topped with a pink cream and a cherry. A creamy push-pop came next, messy if not eaten carefully.
In between courses, which came at a relaxed pace, one could stop by the bathroom. Alien 51, a 2004 sci-fi disaster that Fleiss starred in, was playing outside the restrooms, and a number of '90s colognes and perfumes could be found at the communal sink. I made the terrible decision of spritzing myself with one. It did not smell good, and I don't know why anyone ever bought it. Other upcoming meals from Los Angeles Eats Itself include the Bling Ring Banquet and the All White Bronco Brunch, which may take place as both a tour and a meal. "Think party bus, but themed around the white Bronco chase on the 405 with food curated for a drive on the go," co-creator Jason Keller told LAist. Keller said that the next meal, Edible Earthquake, will be "much more lean and potentially less a sit-down meal and more of a survivalist's brunch."
He said that many of their selected stories unintentionally involved a female victim. A casual glance at the group's past and upcoming meals reveals several: Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia; Richard Ramirez's many female victims; Sharon Tate; Nicole Brown Smith.
But Fleiss was different.
Heidi Fleiss…was a woman who, for better or worse, had flipped the script and instead of being victimized could be called a victimizer. Marco and I wanted encourage the chef and artist to think about the food taking the place of Heidi, more like telling her story, from madam to parrot sanctuary to laundromat owner, as narrativized through the food—more like a biography through courses. The planning really consisted of a lot of research on who Heidi had been, how we can both pay tribute but understand the mess that is this woman. You can't completely celebrate her, nor wave her off as unimportant in the history of L.A. culture as she was just an industry that popped up to service the Hollywood industry.
Here's another one of those '90s jams: