My husband loves jazz. He also loves spaghetti bolognese. So, lucky man, his Secret Santa provided him with $100 in gift certificates to use at Colombo’s Italian Steakhouse and Jazz Club in Eagle Rock, where he can get both seven days a week.
I have to admit, it’s been way too long since we’ve visited and, frankly, I’d forgotten just how good being there makes us feel. There’s just something about low lighting, spacious red leather button-upholstered booths, crisp linen, adult beverages, enormous plates of pasta, attentive friendly service and great music that combine to soothe the soul and tamp down any negativity, at least for the interim.
The first page of the Colombo’s menus has the logo of the restaurant with the statement “Serving Los Angeles Since 1954” and a picture of the Colombos, who founded the restaurant, when they were young. Ann stands in the foreground in a colorful apron with a big smile and Sam tosses pizza dough high in the air behind her.
With a passion for fine dining and wonderful music which has continued for nearly 65 years, it’s no wonder that among the awards listed at the very bottom of the page is one from the LA Weekly last year naming Colombo’s as one of their 99 Essential Restaurants. Old fashioned? Perhaps a bit. Out of style? Obviously not!
Colombo’s full descriptive is Italian Steakhouse and Jazz Club. And so it is. A list called “Carne à la Carte” includes five cuts of beef, all of which I’m sure sell well. After all, when was the last time you saw porterhouse offered at $25 or filet mignon at $26? Rack of lamb is a mere $21 and grilled pork loin chop is $20. But, as tempting as these are, it’s the word “Italian” rather than “Steakhouse” that floats our boat.
As soon as we were seated, we ordered a carafe of house chianti. OK, it’s San Antonio, which sells for under $8 per bottle retail. But for $14.75 instead of the restaurant’s San Felice Chianti Classico ($36 – just about the most expensive vintage on Colombo’s wine list and still a bargain given its high wine experts’ ratings), it’s just fine for folks with undereducated palates like us for swigging down with lots of tomato and garlic.
And that’s what we did, with hefty appetizers: a pair of delicious baked eggplant slices topped with fresh mozzarella rounds, marinara and pesto sauce ($10) and a heap of fried calamari with spicy marinara ($11). And if the squid wasn’t quite as lightly floured as some, and if the platter contained only chewy rings and no delicate tentacles, our disappointment was minor. Hot and garlicky toasted rolls came gratis, and we scarfed those up as well.
Our classic caesar salad was divvied up for us in the kitchen. You wouldn’t know it, though, since each share was a dinner-plateful of crisp, bite-size emerald romaine lightly dressed and sprinkled with parmesan. Colombo’s charges a pittance to add anchovies (the menu says $1, but we were charged a mere 65¢); of course IMHO they should charge to leave them off!
We were sated by the time my linguini bathed in a white wine sauce studded with chopped tomatoes, onion and garlic and ringed by a dozen or so plump clams relaxing in their shells ($19) and Alan’s spaghetti bolognese, in a pool of rich meat sauce spiked with plenty of cream ($18) arrived. All we could do was gape at the size of the portions and, after a valiant attempt to ingest at least a few bites, almost immediately request boxes.
We asked our super-helpful server Stephen for our check but, even after our two appetizers, that huge salad, the duo of pasta dishes and the carafe of wine, he advised that we were still well below our $100 limit and asked if we’d like to try a couple of desserts to pad the bill. He proffered a display tray from which we picked two decadent wedges — a multilayered spumoni ice cream cake topped with whipped cream and cherry and a sublimely gooey chocolate brownie cake with fudge frosting, each $6. Amazingly, we somehow found the capacity to completely devour them.
This grand finale allowed us to stay put for more of the evening’s delightful entertainment than we’d planned. The music began with Erik Ekstrand, one of Colombo’s regular performers, whom we warmed to immediately upon spotting both Bernie and Obama stickers plastered to his attaché case. He played piano and sang standards starting about a half-hour after our 6:30 arrival.
His act broadened when the other Erik Ekstrand Trio members, Leslie Baker on bass guitar and Frank Wilson on drums, joined him at 8, and then morphed into an impromptu jam session at 9 with a new drummer and sax player whose names we didn’t catch. A fabulous vocalist, Cheryl Conley, came up and sang only a single number but won our hearts.
Other impromptu musicians were signing up when the hostess apologetically had to request that we vacate our table at 9:30 because, being up front and center, it had been specifically reserved by another party that had just arrived. She offered to seat us further back (the room was packed) but, realizing how late it was getting, we stayed just long enough to sing along with The Beatles’ upbeat “Eight Days a Week” before heading to the car. As we left, I got some appreciative chuckles after I confided to some folks near the door that I hated to leave since I’d managed not to think about Trump for three whole hours.
The cost of an evening of great dining and music: $100.
The value of spending an evening soaking up Colombo’s positive vibe: Priceless!
Colombo’s Italian Steak House and Jazz Club
1833 Colorado Blvd., | Eagle Rock | (323) 254-9138 | Full Bar/Major Cards