By Richard Foss (Richard@RichardFoss.com)
I drove past the Melody Bar & Grill thousands of times without stopping in – I worked in Westchester for years, but often sped past the neighborhood of car rental offices and businesses on the highway. I did notice it a few years ago when the old-fashioned paint job was replaced with a whimsical retro sign, but still didn’t stop in. It wasn’t until a friend raved about a set of concerts called Guitarology that happened there that I visited, and I expected the food to be an afterthought.
It isn’t, but before I even talk about that I have to say something about the ambiance of the Melody. You travel back about 50 years as soon as you step inside and see knotty pine walls, tinplate-style roof and flocked wallpaper, and the long central bar with candles at the corners. It looks very much like a 1920s bar that was updated in the 1950s and preserved in amber, and it’s beautiful.
Alongside the main room are a pair of smaller spaces, one a tiki-themed room featuring pool tables and a coin-operated claw machine that allows you to select lobsters to be cooked as soon as you chase them down. (I suppose you could also take them home as pets, but I’m betting most don’t get that reprieve). I didn’t try the machine – my skills with those have been unimpressive even with a stationary target, though I have excellent success with getting food by ordering from menus.
The selection here strays outside the retro zone, though you can certainly get burgers, steaks and wings. Someone referred to the food here as “Gastrodive,” which is such a good term that I wish I had coined it.
We started old-school with grilled asparagus and deviled eggs. I often order deviled eggs because they’re too much work to make at home – it’s not the kind of thing you do for one or two people. When I do make them I like to add curry powder or Old Bay seasoning, and some restaurants take this simple item into outré territory with exotic spices, chopped chives and bacon. These eggs were traditional, with a dash of dry mustard, paprika, and gentle herbs, but that was all that was needed. As for the asparagus, it was a large pile of thin stalks fresh from the grill, with a light char-lending smoky flavor. Both went nicely with a high-octane mai tai from the bar, which put me in a benevolent mood as I considered the entrees.
Steaks and a few complex modern items are offered, but we decided to stay semi-traditional – a Melody burger on a pretzel roll, ahi tuna burger with wasabi mayo, and macaroni and cheese with bacon, cheddar and jalapenos. I was swayed to the burger because I like pretzel buns, but everything about this worked – it came from the kitchen in the medium-rare that was requested, which is by no means common at bars, and the toppings of caramelized bacon, gorgonzola, roasted tomato, avocado and spinach were an interesting balance indeed.
The tuna sandwich was a bit more conventional – fish patty, mayo with just a touch of wasabi, grilled onions and capers, and tomato on a wheat bun. The menu called the patty an ahi blend but didn’t say what it was blended with – a milder fish, certainly, because I found it a bit bland. My wife was the one who ordered it and she liked it very much, which was what mattered. The mac and cheese was unusual – fusilli instead of the usual elbow, which I approved of, and it used curiously mild jalapenos; the bacon was as least as strong a flavor. Even the self-proclaimed spice wimp at the table liked it.
For dessert, my companions were enchanted by the idea of the fried banana with caramel and chocolate sauces and whipped cream, which sounded too sweet for me so I invested in another adult beverage. It turned out too sweet even for them – we might have liked it with just the chocolate sauce, but it was over the edge.
The service was excellent, from a wisecracking waitress whose name I would include if I remembered it – she made us welcome and added to the joy of the evening. The irony of it all? The instrumental guitar series that I had come to see had been canceled, but not removed from their website, so I didn’t get the music I came for. I got something else – an enjoyable evening of very good food in a delightful atmosphere.
Melody Bar & Grill is at 9132 S. Sepulveda Blvd., just north of Los Angeles International Airport in Westchester. Street parking in front or lot in rear. Open midweek 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m., weekends 9 a.m. – 2 a.m., full bar. Wheelchair access OK, live entertainment some nights. Karaoke on Mondays. Website barmelodylax.com. 310-670-1994.