Play it again, Sam
Sam Khachatrian, new owner of long-closed Twin Palms restaurant, shoots for January opening
By Dan O'Heron 11/29/2012
Disciples of dining out in style can thank new Twin Palms restaurant owner Sam Khachatrian for creating an aura of expectation not exceeded in Pasadena since 1994, when actor Kevin Costner and then-wife Cindy first opened the popular Old Pasadena eatery and nightspot.
In the process of reincarnating the place, Khachatrian, a Pasadena resident, said his goal is to bring back “the look and feel” of the restaurant in its dancing days, while making people forget the diminishing Twin Palms that existed before it hobbled toward closure in November 2009.
After lengthy negotiations with the San Miguel Band of Mission Indians (which purchased Cindy Costner’s 50 percent share of Twin Palms in 2002) and other entities, Khachatrian said he battled to keep the name and wouldn’t have signed a long-term lease without it.
Old Pasadena needs Twin Palms to perform again as a dining and entertainment giant, said Khachatrian. And to that end, “I’ll be at the restaurant, or a member of my family will be here, at all times to see that it happens,” he said.
Before it closed, the restaurant served as a campaign stop for current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she ran for president against Barack Obama in 2008. That year, the restaurant struggled with what Lisa Cohen, spokeswoman for the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, later called “the worst economy since the Great Depression.”
“In its last days, I didn’t like the food,” Khachatrian admitted. “We’ll have high-quality steaks and ribs, keep the rotisserie chicken — only make it even better — and grill seafood with flair.”
Until he hires a kitchen staff, Khachatrian said he can’t provide details about the style of cookery his chefs will be utilizing. But, he said, “The service will set us apart from everybody else’s in town. I’ve already had a dozen top people who worked here before tell me they want to come back.”
Hiring starts in December.
So what’s Khachatrian been up to so far?
“I’ve trimmed and treated the two palm trees,” he said of the restaurant’s towering namesakes.
He’s also installed a new parachute canopy made of better material, a new sound system and new heaters, and has reconditioned the flooring to provide a fresh rapport among the restaurants three convergent rooms — the patio, terrace and dining room.
Along with that, the restaurant’s lurid blue paint has been sand-blasted from the brick archway above the bar. Khachatrian said he’s going to have live entertainment, but hasn’t yet decided on what kind or on which days that will happen.
While he’s deciding, Khachatrian said that he welcomes suggestions from old customers and future guests.
Some of my personal suggestions include bringing back Thursday night music to dine by. Feature jazz or swing. Ballads and old favorites played by small combos, sometimes including a vocalist, would be nice. Who could forget the excitement over the Twin Palms-Thursday that kicked off the annual Old Pasadena Jazz Festival, featuring Chris Botti, former jazz trumpeter for Sting?
I’d get on my feet to applaud Khachatrian if he set aside a good part of the restaurant’s floor space for dancing, some gigs with high energy R&B and salsa bands; music that is romantic and evocative for guests over 40 would also likely be a hit.
And, Sam, please bring back the sugar-rimmed lemon-drop vodka martini. Also remember the other martini classic, the one that once left us high and dry: Bombay gin, a suspicion of vermouth and a twist instead of an olive. This would help officially reinstate the two-hour lunch.
One of the best dining and entertainment values in the early ’90s was the “Revival Sunday Brunch.” These featured traditional and contemporary gospel songs from various groups, including the choir from Pasadena’s Friendship Baptist Church — my favorite.
Earlier, when I pestered Khachatrian for details about the “better food” on the regular menu, his face sagged into noncommittal folds. But at the mention of Sunday brunch, Khachatrian’s eyes lit up: “It will be the best Sunday brunch ever,” he exclaimed.
While I’m not likely to say vespers before lunch and dinner, if we have a hymn book along with a better menu, I may go to Twin Palms instead of church on Sundays.