Subterranean Atmosphere

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“Want to do some old-school culinary spelunking?” I asked Stasha recently.

“Spelunking? Old school? What are you talking about?”

“La Cȃve. It’s a throwback to the Rat Pack era and been around for decades. I thought it would be interesting to go back to school – old school – and explore this underground restaurant.”

“La Cȃve.” She sounded unconvinced.

“It could be fun. And we can swing by Wine Lab Newport and select a wine to enjoy with dinner.”

“Now you’re talking, Trela. Let’s go!”

And go we did on a recent Friday night. We began at Wine Lab, a cozy boutique that boasts a terrific selection of small-production wines.

“You’re going to La Cȃve? That means you’ll probably order steaks,” said Roger, the owner. “We have some nice cabs.”

“Got any Justin?” I asked, referring to one of my favorite Paso Robles wineries.

“I have the Isosceles…”

“I love Isosceles!” interrupted Stasha.

“I also have a few bottles of the Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.”

“The Reserve Cab? You can only get that at the winery. I’ll take it,” I said, overjoyed at the thought of tasting the Reserve.

I purchased a few different bottles then headed for La Cȃve.

“Doesn’t look like much,” said Stasha, checking out the entrance.

“That’s because it’s downstairs,” I explained.

“Should’ve brought my diving cylinder,” she mumbled.


“Oh! A scuba tank, you know? It’s a cave joke, ha ha,” she looked at me expectantly. “Nevermind.”

“So, are you ready for your spelunking excursion?” I asked.

“Ready,” she replied.

We entered the elevator and pressed the down button. When the doors opened, we stepped into a scene right out of the 1950s—leather booths, dim lighting, and exposed brick.

“Wow, you were right – this is trippy,” whispered Stasha as we were shown to a booth. “I love it; reminds me of The Dresden in LA – my favorite neighborhood spot. I sing there regularly with Marty and Elaine who play all the standards. Although, it doesn’t look like La Cȃve has live entertainment.”

“Actually, my Dad used to sing here years ago. But now, they have DJs and live music that draw a younger crowd late in the evening,” I explained.

“Hook them while they’re young and eventually they’ll become old-school diners. Brilliant idea,” laughed Stasha.

“Well, this wine is definitely new school,” I said, pulling the Justin Cab out of my satchel. “I also brought this.”

I placed a bottle of 2007 Tobin James Reserve Cabernet Franc next to the Justin Cab.

“Oh my!” Stasha clapped her hands. “Which one shall we have?”

“Which one do you want?” our waitress suddenly appeared.

“Chris, should we—“

“I’ll give you a minute,” our waitress departed in a flash.

“Guess I better choose, huh?” Stasha laughed.

“It’s a tough choice. May I suggest the Cab Franc?”

“That’s what I was leaning toward.”

“Decisions?” the waitress magically materialized.

“Yes, the Tobin James, please,” I said, handing her the bottle.

“Is it possible to get menus?” asked Stasha, as the server poured the wine.

“The cart is the menu,” she said in a perfunctory fashion, pointing to a waitress in the far corner. “She’ll bring the cart to the table and you choose your entrée.”

And once again, she was gone.

“When I said old school, I meant old school.” I laughed.

“You’re not kidding. It looks like a lot of the diners here tonight have not graduated,” joked Stasha as she looked around the restaurant.

“I’m told a lot of local celebrities come here, including John Wayne’s widow, Pilar Wayne, and they have regulars who have been dining here for years.”

“I understand why. It’s straightforward. The old-school concept works well for The Dresden, too. And people from 20 to 100 fit right in and keep coming back for more. It’s the romantic notion of reliving the ’50s. And Frankly, it works – Sinatra pun intended,” she winked.

We started our cavernous exploration with the Shrimp Scampi appetizer, sipped the Cab Franc and munched on La Cȃve’s famous garlic bread.

“This wine is amazing,” said Stasha as the appetizer arrived: shrimp and mushrooms floating in a sea of sauce.

“Wow. Now that’s decadent,” I said, taking a piece of bread and sopping up the sauce.

“Chris, anything you can dip your bread into, you think is decadent,” teased Stasha. “But it certainly is rich. I can feel my veins coagulating.”

Our waitress wheeled the cart to our table and reviewed the dinner options.

“Can I do a surf and turf combo, with the Ribeye and Lobster, twice-baked potato, and asparagus, please?”

“That’s a lot of food,” I stated.

“Chris, if this is as old school as you say, then they will certainly have a doggy bag for my leftovers, won’t they?” Stasha defended her order.

“Good point. I’ll have the Swordfish with traditional potato, plus clam chowder,” I added for good measure.

“I notice they don’t give you prices on the food,” said Stasha.

“The prices will be on the bill,” I said with a grin. “We should try the Justin Cab and see how it’ll be with your steak.”

You sure? That’s a lot of wine.”

“Whatever’s left over in the bottle, you can take home with you.” I offered.


As the waitress decanted the Justin, Stasha leaned toward her and whispered cheekily, “He only gets half a glass.”

Our attention turned from wine to the entrées, as they arrived at our table.

“Hmmm, I love the lobster.”

“I like the swordfish, and the wine actually goes well with it,” I said.

“I’m full,” Stasha said after a few minutes. “Doggy bag.”

“We need to try the desserts,” I said.

“No, YOU need to try the desserts.”

“But Stasha,” I began to sing in my best Sinatra impersonation. “The best is yet to come, dessert sure will be fun.”

“Order your dessert, Trela.” She looked at me deadpan and sang. “My spelunking has come to a pretty pass–and now, the end is here, and so I face the final curtain…”

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