My sister Julie who’s ten years older than I am (older enough, that is, to have pretended she was making gin in the bathtub during Prohibition) reminds me that back around 1931 Pop Ernt was still alive and joyfully presided at a tableside Rite of the Crêpes Suzette at his enchanting restaurant at Monterey Wharf. There was more, in short, than clam chowder and the mackerel-abalone-rock cod I remember Pop’s lanky son reciting. But all would eventually be lost; by my college days Pop’s sons, the tall one and the short one, had retired, selling their restaurant to a piscatorial entrepreneur of considerably less cachet. And then, shortly after, as if old Pop had posthumously released some ancient Hanseatic malediction, the successor restaurant burned, well not to the ground but down to the mud of Monterey Bay.
As for the Del Monte Express, my beloved Pacific-powered puffer that would steam into the station across the way at 6:52 p.m., proud bell ding-donging into the summer mist: well, first it was the maestro of the snacks and drinks in the parlor car who retired after thirty years’ service (and the SP kindly named the car after Oliver Millet), then it was the train itself that became history, victim of California’s love affair with Fords, Chevys and Toyotas that don’t have a big number like 2-4-8-2 stamped on the side in large white letters a small child could read from a hundred yards.
There must have been a printed menu at Ernt’s, but the regulation litany seems to have been all we needed for ordering. I’d give a royalty cheque to have a copy of Ernt’s carte for my menu collection, which ranges from the much comma’d laundry list of old Jack’s in San Francisco — before it was pulled kicking and screaming into a millennial yuppification — to the flights of graphic fantasy favored by Benoit in Paris or André Daguin in Auch-en-Gascogne. Occasionally chefs penned inscriptions, and my favorite is the one by Jean Peronnet of the long-gone Chapeau Rouge in Feurs, a little town west of Lyon we visited in ’73. M. Peronnet had as many Michelin rosettes as the urbane M. Daguin, but he looked one morning in his smock and beret more like the proprietor of a country hardware emporium than a celebrity chef.
No inscriber for my menu cache has come close to his lovely (and something is lost in translation): “With my compliments, hoping to see you again, have a safe trip, be healthy.”