Sandy Koufax, Jim Brown , Magic Johnson, and, now Josiah Citrin. All 32s.
Ever since David Rosoff retired from Mozza, his former boss, Nancy L. Silverton, had promised him a farewell, thank-you dinner. The celebration would take place at chef Josiah Citrin's opus to fine dining - Melisse in Santa Monica.
Then, two days ago before the dinner, Los Angeles Magazine came out with their top 75 restaurants. Melisse was listed at #32. I wish I lived in a town where Melisse was the 32nd best restaurant.
But, when Nancy heard Melisse had come in 32nd, she was aghast. "I can't go to the 32nd best restaurant in L.A.. What if people recognize me? It could hurt my reputation."
Still, against all common sense, we honored the reservation. The elegant room - this place has a carpet! - was packed on a Thursday night. Our table, Nancy, David, his gal Chanterelle Johnson and myself, sipped and talked about the placement of Melisse on this list. "32? You have go to be kidding," said Nancy, "This place is at least 31st best." I offered, "The list is suspect. Chasen's came in 14th and they been closed for 19 years."
Then a server dropped the butter; Rodolphe de Meunier's Beurre de Baratte. If that was all Melisse served, it would get in the top 20 in my guidebook.
The food and wine started appearing by a team of very polished servers.
Somewhere between Wagyu beef tartare with smoked tomato and white asparagus with morel mushrooms, Josiah came by - proudly - to check on our table.
I couldn't resist. "Number 32nd, huh?"
"Why did you have to bring that up?" he said. Citrin said he understands lists, that he got it, that it didn't mean anything to him.
It was disappointing to the chef. Even hurtful He listed several restaurants listed above Melisse on that top 75, and, while complementing the establishments, implied, like Nancy, 'You've got to be kidding."
Other publications respect Citrin. When Michelin Guide last rated L.A. restaurants in 2009, Melisse garnered two stars. ( Only Providence, Spago and Urasawa were so honored). Zagat had it #1 for food in L.A. in 2013 and Gayot has it in their top 40 in the USA.
"If Melisse is ranked 32, I'd have been proud at 33,' said Michael Cimarusti whose Providence came in #3 in the L.A. magazine list. .
As our meal progressed deliciously, we became more and more impressed. A black bass with sugar snap peas, green almonds and smoked haddock; Squab with porcini, mustard greens and wheat berries, Sonoma lamb with fava beans and cauliflower.
"Exceptional," said Nancy. "Josiah, you're the tops."
We drove home and raved about Melisse.
This morning, in a research mood, I went to the St. Andrews Place Public Library and mined some bizarrely similar ratings
In the August, 1225 issue of Foreign Affairs, Genghis Khan was rated the 32nd best conqueror of all time. You gotta be kidding me? After Alexander, I'd put him second.
Then, more suspicious ratings were uncovered. In the Muslim Science Monitor of May 14, 1543, Copernicus was listed as the 32nd best astronomer in history. He died 10 days later.
The art world was not immune to unfair ratings. In 1672, Johannes Vermeer came in 32nd in a Delft Daily News Today poll of ”Best Dutch Painters”.
I went home confused. Then I saw the most shocking rating of all. True Romance had rated Michael Krikorian, me, Nancy Silverton’s 32nd greatest boyfriend.
And then I knew for sure.
32 is the new number one.
Josiah. Congratulations. You’re the tops.
# From Cole Porter's "You're the Top!"
You're the top!
You're Mahatma Gandhi.
You're the top!
You're Napoleon Brandy.
You're the purple light
Of a summer night in Spain,
You're the National Gallery
You're Garbo's salary,
You're turkey dinner,
You're the time, the time of a Derby winner
I'm a toy balloon that’s fated soon to pop
But if, baby, I'm the bottom,
You're the top!