We’ll Always Have the Ritz

A Fond Farewell to Orange County’s Ritz Restaurant

The following is a guest post by Orange County native Kathleen Clary Miller of Huson, Montana.

My husband sighed when I told him the iconic Ritz restaurant was closing its doors. “They made the best soufflés,” he said.

After 37 years of putting the “fine” in fine dining, the restaurant’s landlord has decided that patrons’ tastes have changed; according to reports, it’s time to move “in a different direction.” As my sagacious Irish grandmother would have reflected, have these people lost their minds?

My first nostalgic memory of the place: the night he held my left hand across the pristine tablecloth after he had placed an engagement ring on it, under what felt and looked like candlelight. (The Ritz really knew how to make a woman look her best.) And yes, we ordered the dessert soufflé as we sipped our ambrosia pre-dinner martinis, since it took more than an hour to perfect the touch of pure heaven on your tongue. But one heady memory led to another until I was tripping over them.
It was only yesterday, 30 years ago, when my mother, father, and sister all gathered at The Ritz to sup and raise a glass while I lay in Hoag Hospital’s maternity ward, having just given birth to my oldest daughter. Daddy forgot about the dress code, so he went to the car and cut his belt buckle off with a knife and wore his belt as a tie.

No matter what life crisis I was suffering, mama felt the best prescription was lunch at the Ritz. No challenge was too great or too small for high-country comfort. And it always felt like Christmas when Daddy would treat the family to a festive dinner, our hearts (and stomachs) warmed by the magical ambiance only The Ritz seemed to achieve. Was it the food? Amazing. The service? Unparalleled. The décor? It was the private club for those of us who didn’t have one.

Now, I’m the first to rip off my clothes at the end of the day and replace them with flannel pajamas. I’m glad I can go anywhere in style wearing shorts and flip-flops, denim, and tennies. I wouldn’t want to dress to dine every night of the year. But there was something about putting on the ritz to go to the Ritz—just every once in awhile—that transported me from my designer-jean culture to something closer to an era of tuxedoed Bogarts and gowned Bacalls.

Nestled in a cushy, red upholstered booth, pampered by an impeccably efficient and charming staff, I felt like Lady Grantham.

I fear we’ve allowed the art of refinement to slip through our fingers. We say we don’t care, deeimg it stuffy and out-of-date, but then rush to the TV to ogle the dining room at Downton Abbey. I may not want to live it every day, and Lord knows I’d be uncomfortable with a hovering wait staff, but I wouldn’t mind being invited to dinner there every once in awhile. I still love a glimpse of the lovely.

So here’s hoping The Ritz will find a new location; if it doesn’t, we’ll be losing one of the county’s last vestiges of undiminished elegance. Change is a healthy endeavor, but amidst the crash and clamor of progress there remain those momentous occasions, however great or small, where a hit of the old politesse (not to mention the world’s best hazelnut soufflé) is just the ticket.
I can’t go home again; those doors are closing. But for those of us who can say we were there, here’s to us. We’ll always have The Ritz.

The Ritz announced on its website: “we are here at this location until February15, 2014”.

Image of the famous Ritz egg by Priscilla Iezzi

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