Closure scare behind it, the aviation-themed restaurant is firing on all cylinders again

By Richard Foss (

The Proud Bird is both a restaurant and a museum

The Proud Bird is both a restaurant and a museum

When I told friends that I was going to The Proud Bird for dinner, every one of them replied with variations on, “Oh, is that place still open?” It’s probably not the response that management hopes for, but for various reasons this is the most famous restaurant that most people don’t visit very often.

Planted among various edge-of-the-airport businesses, The Proud Bird clearly isn’t in a nightlife district. Its side-street driveway gives this high-profile building a pretty low-profile entrance, too. The situation wasn’t helped by the fact that the restaurant’s problems with renewing their lease attracted press attention over a long period, while coverage of the successful end to negotiations was much more scant.

This element of uncertainty appeared to have taken a toll on food and service, but now things are looking up. The news that the place will be around for another 20 years has visibly improved staff morale, and while the food isn’t cutting edge, it is noticeably better. We stopped in on a pleasant late afternoon to admire the restaurant’s expansive collection of real and replica aircraft outside and then went in to dinner.

We started with an ahi tower — a cylinder of tuna, mango, radish, avocado, tobiko caviar and ginger with a wasabi crème fraiche. Stripes of sauce decorating the top added a bit of sophistication to an item that is all about fresh ingredients. The vertical presentation creates layers of fish, vegetables and mango, and it’s as tasty as it is pretty. The modern trend is to deconstruct salads like this so you can mix and match ingredients, but we were quite happy with this melded version.

I ordered beer-cheese soup as the starter with my entrée just because it had been so long since I had seen it on a local menu. The idea goes back to medieval Germany, and when done right the beer gives a bright, slightly sour flavor that accents the rich, funky cheese.

They do it right at The Proud Bird — and add bacon bits for a hint of smoky flavor. The white bean soup was very good too, though somewhat more peppery than expected, and the Caesar hit the mark. I would have preferred more anchovy tang, but my companions liked it just as it was.

The only flaw in this course was the dinner rolls, which were dense white bread, served cold. Heating them would have helped, and a breadbasket with some variety would have been even better. The pesto butter served with the bread would have been good on crusty sourdough or wheat rolls, but after a bite of the bland, soft bread I decided to wait for my main course.

That may have been a wise move, because the portions here are immense. My companions ordered a ribeye steak and the parmesan-crusted chicken, while I had a daily special of boneless short ribs braised in wine and mushroom gravy.

My ribs were delicious and as falling-apart tender as a good pot roast. The dish was served with a mound of mashed potatoes and well-assorted mixed vegetables. I’d suggest adding this to the regular menu.

The ribeye was a big bone-in hunk of meat that was ordered medium-rare but arrived rare — unusual, since most restaurants err on the side of overcooking. The steak was beautiful but somewhat tough, whether because of the brief cooking or some other factor. The béarnaise served with it was excellent, and I’d consider ordering another steak here just to have something to put this sauce on.

Though the menu had described the chicken as parmesan-crusted (implying a crisp breadcrumb, herb and grated cheese coating), what arrived was much closer to a classic chicken parmesan. The two flattened breasts were crusted, but a fresh-tasting tomato sauce and mozzarella were baked over them. This resulted in a tasty dish, but heavier than expected. Measured by the standards of the Italian classic, it was quite good, but they should change the menu description.

At the beginning of our meal we had cocktails, switching to wines when food arrived. The bar program here isn’t ambitious, but the drinks are well-crafted. The Gold Rush — bourbon with honey and lemon juice — is one of those simple delights that are always enjoyable, but the very good balance and generous pour on the mai tai was outstanding. These are often a sweet, fruity mess, but everything in this glass was in harmony, so you could taste the good rums and liqueur along with the citrus juices.

Our meals had been so filling that dessert didn’t tempt us, and we walked off some of our meal exploring the vast collection of aviation memorabilia that decorates the walls and halls. The display here would do credit to a museum and is one of the added attractions to dining at The Proud Bird. If you have even a particle of interest in the human conquest of the air you will find it delightful to dine in this setting while watching planes land next door.

The exotic location carries a premium — our meal for three, including drinks, ran $181 — but it’s unlike any other dining experience in Greater Los Angeles.

The Proud Bird, 11022 Aviation Blvd., Westchester (310) 670-3093