Gold splashed walls of old plaster give the room the feel of an elegant Spanish villa. New upholstered draperies and French country flowered carpeting provide the setting for high-backed chairs and banquettes snuggled against three walls. From crystal chandeliers and crystal wall sconces spill a soft, warm light that makes every woman look beautiful.
It's a perfect setting for the tableside preparation of a traditional Caesar or pasta al dente with a light alfredo sauce, or perhaps Steak Diane.
"Tableside food preparation is a dying art," says Brian Ellis, Maitre 'd at Melvyn's for more than 30 years. "But people still appreciate the classic approach to dining and service." Ellis himself has been honored twice for stellar service: once by the Southern California Restaurant Writers Association and then by the California Restaurant Writers Association. He's the first to be distinguished with both awards.
Ellis has a welcome greeting for all, even though during his career he's become accustomed to greeting the rich and famous.
"They've all been nice," recalls Ellis, "But the kindest, gentlest man was Bob Hope, a real soft-spoken gentleman."
Melvyn's dining guests, Dorothy Kistler from Long Beach, and Bill O'Connor, from Palm Springs, have a special fondness for Melvyn's. They were splitting a Caesar and enjoying the Fettucini with Shrimp and Fresh Asparagus with Hollandais.
"It's very Palm Springs," says Dorothy. "Sort of a vintage atmosphere, and we were in kind of a vintage mood."
A restaurant with the cachet of Melvyn's naturally attracts celebrities as well as locals, drawn by its unpretentious, club-like atmosphere. There's a certain lure to imagining that you might be sitting on the very chair where Frank Sinatra was seated for his pre-wedding dinner, or enjoying a dish that could be a favorite of Kate Hudson.
Our tuxedoed waiter, Bobby, has served here for 30 years. His smile is enigmatic when asked about waiting on celebrities.
"Are you writing a book?"
"Every day," he says.
Along with last year's (2003) Ingleside Inn renovation project, Melvyn's saw updated design elements as well.
"While we've invested in giving our customers a new elegant dining ambiance, our prices have not been raised," says Haber, who privately admits he "can't cook a hamburger or make a Bloody Mary."
Haber's secret to his restaurant success? "There's so much common sense you can use. I started out asking people what they liked and they said they loved the food, but then I stood by the dishwasher and watched the plates to see what came back."
Tonight's soufflé of the day is Grand Marnier, and after entrées of veal and chicken, we're glad we ordered the dessert in advance. It provided a mouth-watering finale to exquisite taste sensations.
In the Casablanca Lounge at Melvyn's, where bartender Mark serves up his signature "mark-tini" (don't ask me what's in it, it's a secret), there's nightly live entertainment and dancing. At the piano bar for an aperitif, we caught singer, pianist, and raconteur, Gary Stephens, who appears Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings. On weekends there are strolling violinists in the dining rooms.
Palm Springs is noted for desert weather year-round, so lounge and restaurant are air-conditioned. Ladies may want to bring a light shawl; it's a sharp contrast to the warm night air.
Melvyn's at the historic Ingleside Inn in Palm Springs is open for lunch and dinner daily and serves Champagne brunch on Saturday and Sunday. Reservations are recommended: 760/325-0046.
Feature and photos by Carolyn Proctor, Jetsetters Magazine Food and Wine Editor.