It is with both pride and slight dejection that I admit to having watched every single episode of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I’m not going to explain myself. Just know that it’s a fact.
Beverly Hills is arguably the crown jewel of Bravo’s most successful franchise. It doesn’t have the highest ratings—that honor goes to Atlanta—but it best encapsulates the themes of the Real Housewives brand: abject wealth and “real” drama. As is the case with with every series in the franchise, Beverly Hills is an ensemble, but anyone who watches knows that the closest thing the show has to a star is Lisa Vanderpump.
In many ways, Lisa Vanderpump is the perfect Real Housewife. For starters, she’s actually married. Equally important, she’s very, very wealthy. Lisa always manages to be very much involved in the drama, but somehow floats just slightly above the fray, in a cloud of pink silk and diamonds. Perhaps this is because Lisa Vanderpump has a real, offscreen life that she’s interested in keeping unsullied: She and her husband Ken earned their wealth in part through opening and managing a slew of successful bars and restaurants—three of which are in the Los Angeles area.
In addition to the obvious meteorological benefits, an upside of being one of the few Jezebel dot com staffers in LA is that I have easy access to these important landmarks: Villa Blanca, SUR and Pump. So I decided to go to all of them in one day. What will I learn about Lisa Vanderpump and the human condition by visiting her restaurants? Probably nothing. I don’t claim to be a food critic or even a foodie. I’m just a young woman with a dream, an arsenal of RHOBH knowledge, and the (somewhat) limitless funds furnished by my employer.
So readers, please join me on this expedition, as I attempt to drink from the cup of this Bravo TV Holy Grail. Live with me. Learn with me. Experience what I hope is the first—and certainly the most inane—Lisa Vanderpump Restaurant Crawl.
Villa Blanca is located in Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills is a strange place. I’ve lived in Los Angeles for about nine months and the only time I go to Beverly Hills is for medical care because I’m not stupid. One rule I live by is: Always find the same doctors and estheticians that rich people use.
Beverly Hills truly is a parody of itself. It feels like you’re walking through downtown Disney except Mickey Mouse is dispensing fillers and charges you $25 for a basic manicure. When the wind blows, you can smell self-hatred masked by the fumes of expensive cars. All of this is to say that Villa Blanca fits in perfectly.
My partner on this intrepid journey is my friend Rachael. Years ago, Rachael and I studied abroad in Cape Town together and gained approximately fifteen pounds each during our five-month stay. Gorging ourselves on the culinary offerings of a Bravo television star seemed like a nice way to honor that time in our lives.
We have a 2 p.m. reservation at Villa Blanca that it turns out we don’t need. We are greeted by a blonde hostess in a completely inappropriate cream-colored sweater (HELLO, BLANCA MEANS WHITE, NOT CREAM) and ripped jeans. For some reason she’s allowed to wear this Free People-inspired getup as all the servers run around in white button-down shirts and black pants. She seats us immediately and I embarrassingly have to tell our waitress fifteen minutes later that I actually did make a reservation. A perceived no-show would count against my Open Table score and I’m not trying to ruin my life.
As Rachael and I sit down, the urge to judge overtakes us. Lisa Vanderpump has always been painted as the fanciest fancy lady of the show—and really, across the entire Real Housewives universe—with all her diamonds and Bentleys and “daaahlings.” The women on the show love to go on and on about Lisa’s “great taste.” Now, I wasn’t expecting Villa Blanca to look like an actual white villa, but I was expecting a step above what we got.
The first thing Rachael says is: “It looks like Caesars Palace.”
For the record, she meant the Las Vegas hotel and casino, not the actual residence of the Roman general.
She is right. Villa Blanca, unsurprisingly, takes the theme rather literally. Obviously, almost everything is white. But it is at Villa Blanca that I come to understand the reason people don’t often open all-white restaurants (as far as decor goes, anyway). Inevitably, the fixtures end up different shades. White shows every single flaw, so anything that’s just the slightest bit worn catches your eye. You also have random butts sitting in these white chairs all day every day. Problems could arise.
The most jarring thing about Villa Blanca, however, is how low the ceilings are, which gives the whole space a cramped feeling. In terms of creating a balancing illusion of space and depth, I can’t imagine that painting everything the exact same color helps much. Somebody, who I hope was not Lisa, apparently thought that the solution to this problem was placing giant-ass plants around the entire restaurant. Almost every piece of foliage touches the ceiling, which only serves to remind me that the ceiling is three feet above my head.
As was to be expected, the place is full of tourists. I would be interested to know how many of these tourists—especially the foreign ones—came to Villa Blanca specifically after seeing it on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and how many simply walked into the first bistro-looking restaurant they passed after a long day of shopping on Rodeo Drive.
A group of four French tourists—two men and two women—sits directly next to us, taking up half of a round table that faces the patio. We overhear our waitress explaining to them that the bartender has gone down to the basement to fish out a specific bottle of wine they requested. We then watch them taste this wine, side-eye each other and reject the newly opened bottle. Seeing as how they come from a place with actual villas, I’m not shocked by their reaction.
Little did I know that their dissatisfaction would be an omen for our meal.
Our waitress takes a solid ten minutes to come to our table. At this point, I’m already annoyed because I don’t like waiting or any form of excessive whiteness. Rachael, as you will later see, is a bit of a food snob, or—perhaps put more gently—a foodie who doesn’t like being called a foodie. She also has extensive experience working in the restaurant industry. She attempts to defend our waitress by suggesting that she’s probably just busy. I look around and there are three other tables in our section: one of which already has its food and one other that just ordered. Two busboys stop by and offer us water before our waitress even says hello.
Our server is a pleasant-looking white woman under the age of thirty and that’s really all I can remember about her. She informs us that they are running low on most of their wines, which doesn’t seem like something you’d want to open with because who knows if we’re even going to be ordering wine?
But maybe she’s psychic, or Rachael and I just look like winos. We each order a glass of sauvignon blanc before taking a closer look at the menu. If I had a gun to my head, I would describe the cuisine at Villa Blanca as “Italian,” but that gun better be loaded and cocked. There’s risotto and pizza, but also fish and chips.
In preparation, I had briefly perused the online menus of all three restaurants and learned that Lisa has some variation of a caprese salad on every single one. I decided that we had to try all three caprese salads. In addition to the salad, Rachael and I order a pizza with roasted chicken, artichoke and pesto as well as vegetable risotto with rock shrimp.
Now, the bread at Villa Blanca is great—warm, soft. It’s everything you’d want out of a carbohydrate. Please remember this. The bread is excellent.
Our “Caprese a la Villa Blanca” arrives. The menu description reads: “Burrata, heirloom tomatoes & avocado with fresh basil & a balsamic reduction.”
I love burrata and I love avocado. Today I learn that I do not love burrata and avocado together. I probably could have gotten past this questionable combination if not for the balsamic reduction. This goddamn balsamic reduction. It is way too sweet and completely overpowers the dish and I hate when people automatically add balsamic to a caprese salad in the first place.
I end up dividing the tomato, burrata and avocado and eating the components separately.
The rest of our food arrives quickly. At a first glance, things are already looking dubious but we take the plunge.
LISA PLEASE COVER YOUR EYES. I can confidently say that this is the worst pizza I have ever had in my entire life. Every single $1 slice I sucked down at 3:30 a.m. in New York was infinitely better than this pizza. Those pizzas you get at sporting events that are 70% dough and sit in a hot box of air for hours are better than this. Shit, I once bought some Trader Joe’s pizza dough, only had Mexican blend cheese in my fridge and made a pizza out of that and I’d still rather eat that meal for the rest of my life than this pizza. Holy god, it is bad.
The crust tastes like it was frozen (although I’ve had a lot of frozen pizzas with much better crusts than this). We can barely taste the pesto, as it has been burned into the crust. Somebody seems to have confused “roasted chicken” with boiled Tyson chicken. The artichokes are bland and the blobs of goat cheese are both unnecessary and refusing to do this dish any favors. We each have one slice and later give the rest to a couple of panhandlers, which makes me feel guilty because they may be starving but they don’t deserve this.
The risotto is much better but that’s probably just in comparison to the pizza. It’s basically wet, cheesy rice and clearly nobody at Villa Blanca learned from Top Chef that risotto is always a risk. We pick through, eating the shrimp and most of the vegetables. Rachael does not look pleased.
After making as much of a dent as we can stand, we express our hopes that the next two meals will be better. We don’t order dessert, but a quick look at the menu reveals this jewel of information:
These people are charging $15 for a Caesar salad and they can’t spring for a free scoop of ice cream? Rachael hypothesizes that perhaps too many people were coming in to live out their Bravolebrity fantasies and pretending it was their birthday. I can certainly see that happening, but even so, how much money could that really have cost them? Enough where it was eating into their profits so deeply that they had to 86 free birthday desserts? The fucking Misers of Villa Blanca we got here.
Putting aside the mediocre service and pretty terrible food, our lunch is also exorbitantly expensive. The bill clocks in at $85.02, not including tip. I’m sure that’s pretty standard for lunch in Beverly Hills but that doesn’t make it right.
I have to believe that Lisa, Ken and their investors got incredibly lucky with Villa Blanca. The real estate they occupy in Beverly Hills is amazing—one block from the heart of Rodeo Drive and down the street from Mr. Chow—and that location, coupled with Lisa’s fame and the abiding willingness of Beverly Hills residents to overpay for mediocrity, surely comprise the only reasons this place is still open.
Rachael and I go home to nap, our hearts just a little hit heavier than when we arrived. Our spirit has been bruised, but not yet broken.
SUR is the backdrop for the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills spinoff, Vanderpump Rules, which follows a group of young people with various mental health issues and social skill deficits as they pretend to work in a restaurant. SUR stands for “Sexy Unique Restaurant.” Yes, actually. Such a gloriously ridiculous string of words cannot go ignored, and they quickly became the theme of the evening. My goal is to determine if everything at SUR is, in fact, sexy, unique and a restaurant.
I called SUR earlier in the week and the only open reservation they had was at 6:30 pm. When we arrive at exactly this time, the dining room we are led into (one of about four sections) is looking thin—as in, we are the only people in it. We sit down at our table and ask about the happy hour menu I had seen online. Our waitress, who is not a Vanderpump Rules cast member, informs us that happy hour is only in the lounge, and ends at 7. Figuring I can save the Gawker Media company a few extra dollars, we give up our table and head in. Our waitress warns that we’ll be forfeiting our reservation and might have to wait to be seated again. I look around the empty dining room and give her a sympathetic but firm nod. “OK,” I say.
It is of paramount importance that we discuss what is playing on the flatscreen television above the bar in the SUR lounge. The flatscreen television above the bar in the SUR lounge is playing videos of ethnic people hanging out with wild animals on loop. “What type of videos of ethnic people hanging out with wild animals?” you might ask. Well, imagine if a white person said, “Go get me some artsy African footage. And make sure there is absolutely no context for what you’re filming. Thai people like elephants right? Film that shit too but make it super slow and weirdly choreographed. Kind of like karate. Do they do karate in Thailand?”
Everything is shot with a greyscale filter, as an African child looks solemnly at the leopard sitting next to him, AS AFRICAN CHILDREN DO. Then the Thai child cuddles up next to an elephant. I feel that I cannot do these visual monstrosities justice so I’m just going to quit now.
Rachael and I cannot stop marveling at the abject absurdity of these videos, which are actually pretty off-brand for SUR. Are the videos sexy? No. Are the videos a restaurant? Nope. Are they unique? Well, I do have to give them that. Admittedly, I have never seen super slow-moving greyscale videos of Thai children cuddling elephants in a restaurant before.
From the happy hour menu we order red and white sangria—Lisa Vanderpump’s famous sangria, that is. The white sangria is sweet and contains alcohol so it’s pretty good. The red tastes like chilled red wine with some fruit thrown in. We also order the goat cheese balls because on one episode of Vanderpump Rules, Stassi waltzed into SUR screaming “fried goat cheese balls” over and over like a deranged parrot.
Imagine a fried ball of goat cheese. That’s what they taste like. The fried goat cheese balls are not especially good, but they’re not bad either. They’re just... fried balls of goat cheese. Luckily we ordered off the happy hour menu and I wasn’t paying because I would be pissed if I dropped $10 for three marble-sized pieces of anticlimax.
These balls are definitely not sexy, unique or a restaurant. I am really frustrated with Stassi for making these things sound so appetizing. We finish our goat cheese balls RATHER QUICKLY since they are tiny balls and head back into the dining room where we are seated immediately.
Aesthetically, Lisa seems to have dug deep into some idea of gothic decor for SUR. I say “some idea” because I’m not sure that it counts as gothic when you place large Buddha statues between metal crosses. Does it pass the SUR test? I guess Buddha is sexy. But Buddha is not a restaurant. Is Buddha unique? In the technical sense, yes, but as far as decorations go? Nah.
The SUR menu is... expansive. I can’t think of anywhere other than the Cheesecake Factory that serves enchiladas, risotto and dumplings. I can feel the judgement emanating from Rachael’s side of the table, and that’s when she notices another gem. SUR’s menu includes five chicken breast entrees: Crispy chicken breast, Blackened chicken breast, Roasted garlic chicken breast, Lemon picatta chicken breast and wild mushroom chicken breast. Five chicken breast entrees.
Who the hell goes out to a restaurant that doesn’t ask you to speak through an intercom and orders chicken breast? There is no way on this earth that I would ever drop $20+ on a chicken breast dish that you could recreate at home with a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup.
Rachael guesses that maybe SUR gets hordes of LA women trying to maintain the body fat ratio of ninth-graders. For them, chicken breast is a safe, low-carb option. It’s also pertinent to note that SUR charges a $4 split plate fee, which makes me imagine an appealing montage of gaggles of Real Housewives wannabes click-clacking into SUR splitting chicken breast entrees.
Our waiter stops by. He is an attractive, tanned man with an aggressive five o’clock shadow. SUR, like every restaurant in Los Angeles and New York, is staffed by very pretty people—I’ll give Lisa that. Our waiter seems a bit on edge. But he works at SUR, so I understand.
SUR has a special for the evening on sea bass, which Rachael approves of, so we order that. We also order angel hair pasta with tomato, basil and garlic and, of course, another caprese salad. This caprese salad is described thusly: “Caprese salad, olive oil, balsamic glaze.” I’m hoping that Villa Blanca and SUR don’t share the same vat of balsamic glaze.
Since we haven’t yet finished our sangria, we order a cocktail to share—a sea breeze made with Lisa Vanderpump vodka. I did not realize that Lisa Vanderpump also had a line of vodka. In the spirit of Vanderpump Rules legacy and the catalyst for the majority of Bravo’s high ratings, our drink is very strong. However, something about it tastes a little off. It has an almost medicinal aftertaste. We drink it anyway.
Our caprese salad is delivered and I’ll say this: It is much better than the one at Villa Blanca because the one at Villa Blanca was terrible. Somebody opted for mozzarella this time but there’s still that damn balsamic glaze. I don’t know what the fuck is up with this balsamic glaze. Luckily our salad was assembled with a light hand so the glaze is less distracting than the Villa Blanca salad but good lord this stuff is terrible. Fuck this balsamic glaze.
Aside from the ridiculous video above the bar, the most absurd thing about SUR is how comically dark it is.
Is the darkness sexy? I assume that’s the point, but it’s difficult to set a sexy mood when “Sing Sing Sing,” the song from every swing dance scene in a movie ever, is playing. Is it unique? No. Is the darkness a restaurant? It is not.
I noticed when we first walked in that all of the male staff members wear shirts that read: “SUR Restaurant and Lounge.” As we’ve discussed, SUR stands for Sexy Unique Restaurant. Therefore, the shirts, when read in full, say: “Sexy Unique Restaurant Restaurant and Lounge.”
Obviously I can’t let this go. I’m in a curious mood, hungry for a bit of investigative journalism. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. I end up asking three SUR staff remembers the exact same question about their shirts. The conversations went as follows:
Me: “I have a question. Your shirt says “SUR restaurant and lounge,” but doesn’t the R stand for restaurant?”
Busboy with the shaggy Justin Bieber haircut: “That’s a good question. That’s a very astute observation.”
He makes me feel really, really smart for asking this question, which I find worrisome. I try our waiter.
Me: “I have a question. Your shirt says “SUR restaurant and lounge,” but doesn’t the R stand for restaurant?”
Our waiter: “That’s a good observation.”
Our waiter doesn’t want to play this game with me. I turn to Rachael and ask if she thinks he’s annoyed with me. Rachael says yes. I try a busboy next.
Me: “I have a question. Your shirt says “SUR restaurant and lounge,” but doesn’t the R stand for restaurant?”
Busboy who doesn’t give a fuck: “Yeah, it’s embarrassing. I mean, the acronym kinda sucks. Sexy Unique Restaurant? Come on.”
Thank you to this one SUR staffer for keeping it real.
Our food arrives very quickly again, and I forget to take a picture before we start eating. I make the executive decision not to turn on the flash to take these photos because a) I truly want to bring you, the reader, with me on this Vanderpump restaurant crawl and b) because I feel like a huge asshole using flash photography to take pictures of my food at SUR.
Our sea bass entree was sold as coming with “roasted vegetables.”
There are literally two brussels sprouts on our plate and they’ve been cut in half to make it seem like there are four. The sprouts join the equivalent of a single baby carrot.
That aside, I’m pretty happy with our food. As Rachael helpfully points out, it’s hard to fuck up pasta with garlic and tomatoes and, in retrospect, I’m really not sure why we ordered that. I think the sea bass is good, mostly because sea bass is delicious. Rachael says, more than once, that the fish could have been flakier if it were cooked better, but she’s fancy so who knows. The fish is good.
Like Villa Blanca, SUR is full of tourists and LA residents who look like they hate their out-of-town friends for dragging them here. This makes me wonder how this place made any money before Lisa became famous. The food and the scene are not enough to warrant a second visit and, like Villa Blanca, SUR occupies some ridiculously expensive real estate.
I don’t get to meditate on this for too long, because everything starts happening. Ken and that curious head of hair of his come floating in. Ken in his sport coat. Ken holding Giggy. Giggy in a purple velvet dog jumpsuit that spells his name out in rhinestones. Ken rushes in as half the restaurant gawks and him and starts to feel like their $26 chicken breast was worth it for a brush with the man who shares a bed with Lisa Vanderpump.
For the first time I notice how much Ken and Giggy look alike.
Our waiter returns and yes, we would like dessert. He suggests the blackberry cobbler. We order the blackberry cobbler. The blackberry cobbler is good because blackberry cobbler is delicious. Rachael eats the blackberry cobbler without any comment.
A few minutes later, Ken goes sweeping by again, this time trailed by his son, Max. Remember when Lisa and Ken forced Max to work as a busboy so he could learn some responsibility before they would promote him? I don’t claim to know these people’s business, but I will say that Max is clearly still working as a busboy.
Rachael and I are sitting right by the door, so on his way out, Ken is basically forced to make eye contact with me. Rachael sees him get into a Bentley because people in Los Angeles really do drive Bentleys around like psychopaths.
Max comes back in and collects our dessert plate.
The damage, including the happy hour tab, comes out to $111.83 before tip. This feel slightly less predatory since we did order quite a bit of food and drinks and the food wasn’t laughably bad. But this isn’t my money we’re spending so my objectivity is questionable.
As we make our way along the uphill 0.2 mile route to Pump, I start wishing I had spaced our last two reservations out a bit further.
Within the first ten seconds of us walking into Pump, who do we see but Ken Vanderpump. Ken and I make eye contact again and he seems to pause for a second, probably thinking: “Didn’t I just see these two fools at my other restaurant not twenty minutes ago?”
Anyway, it’s 8:45 and Pump is jumpin’ jumpin’. The crowd looks much more native than Villa Blanca and SUR, but still a group you’d probably want to avoid. It’s packed, but we are seated immediately thanks to the reservation that I placed online. (Now you understand the importance of keeping my Open Table slate immaculate.)
Our waiter is a slim white man with hair like the brunette villain from the Disney Channel Original Movie Brink. We’re pretty sure he’s straight. The first thing he says to us after “hello” is that the food at Pump is “Mediterranean.” He doesn’t ask if we’ve been here before. Just throws that out there.
The decor at Pump is by far the best of the three restaurants. Lisa is still hooked on that gothic schtick, but it’s toned down largely due to the softness of the garden patio, which really is gorgeous. We notice that Lisa has a proclivity for replacing entire walls with panes of glass. If I had to sum up Lisa’s design aesthetic, it would be: good in theory, but hard to maintain. Which is probably how I would decorate the homes and restaurants that I owned but didn’t have to personally clean.
It seems that Lisa also has a thing for playing videos in her restaurants. Above the inside bar is a television playing a black and white movie on mute. Three different waiters stop by our table to ask if we’ve been helped yet. I tell the first one that yes, we have, but does he know what movie is playing above the bar? He doesn’t know.
I also ask the second waiter if he knows what’s playing. He also has “no idea” but offers to find out for me. The movie, I eventually learn, is The Man with the Golden Gun, a Bond movie that shares something with the animal videos in that part of it was shot in Thailand.
Then, the world stands still. “Kyle!” Rachael whispers loudly. I turn around. Kyle Richards, along with that magnificent if age-appropriate hair of hers, is standing there, looking exactly as deliberately frazzled as she always does on the show. Kyle is in a slightly too-tight red dress and her husband Mauricio is dressed much more casually in jeans and a red baseball cap. IT’S HAPPENING.
Perhaps all my years of selling my soul to Bravo have finally paid off. Is this the Bravo gods rewarding me for my dedication and service? I’ve spent innumerable hours of my life on this often questionable programming and it only seems fair that I’m rewarded with cameos from the most fabulously neurotic cast members on the one and likely only night that I patronize Pump.
Slowly, we come down from our Kyle Richards contact high and vow to take a stroll after the meal to stare at her some more.
The Pump menu looks much better than the other two, mostly because it’s half the size. It also includes that old Mediterranean standard: fish and chips for $25. We, of course, order our third caprese salad which here is listed as, “Heirloom Tomatoes with Creamy Burrata: Drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic reduction and fresh basil.”
At this point, we are both on the full side and know that the food will likely be disappointing, so we decide to get just one entree: the Grilled Skirt Steak with Lisa’s Potato Salad.
If I’m being honest, 75% of the reason I’m ordering this dish is because it is one of only two items with the distinct honor of including one of Lisa’s “homemade” recipes.
For drinks we settle on the Pump-Tini and the Bye-Felychee because they sound the silliest. The online menu lists the Bye-Felychee as the “Lychee-Licious.” I really can’t make a judgment call on which name is better. (Ed. note: they have stuck with the Bye-Felychee on the restaurant’s POS system, as evidenced by Kara’s expense report.)
There is a looseness in spelling about this cocktail list, as evidenced by the “Hazlenut” martini and the “Pumpopolotan,” which sounds like the name of a fairytale antagonist who lives in a potato field and has struggled with gout.
The Pump-Tini is strong and tastes just all right. It has that same medicinal taste as our SUR sea breeze which leads me to believe that it’s the Vanderpump vodka giving it that taste.
The lychee martini is good and despite the name, they don’t try to get too cute with it.
Our final caprese salad is just tomato and burrata with the same terrible fucking balsamic glaze that these people cannot let go of. I now regret not speaking up and letting everyone at Villa Blanca, SUR and Pump know that their balsamic glaze is gross as hell. I must now put the responsibility on you all to right this wrong: If you’re ever at any either of these restaurants, SPEAK UP. Let them know that people don’t want this vinegary syrup on their food. Do what I could not.
It’s not until now, at the hour of our last caprese salad that I learn Rachael has “a thing” about tomatoes. Tomatoes are one of her favorite foods, so she very much prefers them to be of high quality—fresh and juicy and some other foodie terms. Start making your bets now as to whether or not Pump’s tomatoes lived up to Rachael’s standards. I respect that she waited until the final caprese salad to relay that information—that was big of her.
Bread at Pump costs an extra $3 and even on Gawker’s dime, it doesn’t seem worth the effort.
This skirt steak with some sort of gravy-esque sauce that was not mentioned in the menu description. It is at this moment that I’m also seriously questioning my order decisions. Why did we order this? Yes, it came with Lisa’s potato salad, but there were other ways to make that happen. I’m usually such a good orderer.
Lisa’s potato salad is made with turkey bacon and scallions and is served warm-ish. The turkey bacon is rather chewy and the scallions are overpowering. The temperature is bizarre as well. Warm potatoes are obviously delicious, but knowing that this is supposed to be potato salad makes the temperature unsettling. That being said, you know when you know objectively that something isn’t good but you like it anyway? Yeah. I don’t tell Rachael this.
Let’s just ignore the asparagus.
If I was at, say, Applebees and they brought me this steak, I wouldn’t be mad at it. We are not, however, at Applebees. This steak costs thirty-two American dollars.
Rachael and I are willing to make room for dessert in order to get the full Pump culinary experience. We are expecting a dessert menu but are instead brought a fake dessert tray to order from. I feel like a dessert tray is something you see at either a super fancy restaurant or a restaurant that has delusions about its fanciness. We try to order some sort of layered mousse dessert, but they’re all out. The only thing left is tiramisu. Not in a tiramisu mood, we pass.
Our final meal comes in at an economical $75—before tax and the $18.00 service charge. The grand total is $99.75.
It’s time for our final lap. We take a stroll around the bar because we know Kyle is still in here somewhere. At first I assumed she had been shuttled off to some private room, but in that thought process I ignored the constant need for attention that afflicts every Bravolebrity.
Kyle, Mauricio, Lisa and two unidentifiable white men are sitting at a round table smack in the middle of the patio. Rachael and I find a small bench inexplicably placed in a corner of the patio that gives us an unobstructed view of the table. We proceed to sit there for twenty minutes just staring at them.
Lisa looks amazing. We later learn that they had just come from the taping of the reunion show, which explains why Lisa’s makeup is so on point. Their table is partially closed off by a single red velvet rope. Some non-threatening looking dude in a baseball cap stands nearby, who I assume is meant to be security.
Lisa and Kyle actually look like friends. They’re leaning in close and chatting with each other, the way people who like each other do. Kyle talks significantly more than everyone else. Every once in awhile Mauricio says something to the man next to him, but he sits there largely ignored.
Then begins the crescendo of our evening, and very likely my life up to this point.
We see Ken walking towards us from the left. He’s trying to make his way through, but the patio is crowded so he’s moving slowly. Giggy is still in his arms, lounging like a baby kangaroo. Rachael and I discuss our theory about Giggy. We think Giggy actually died years ago and they stuffed him and just carry him around because they don’t want to deal with the fact that they may very well love that dog more than their own children. What I’m saying is, Giggy does not move.
I am able to snap this single creeper shot as Ken and Giggy approach us.
As Ken moves past Rachael, he wordlessly extends his hand and pats her on the head. (THIS REALLY HAPPENED.) A moment later, Ken and I make eye contact for the third time. “Hi!” I say. “Hi,” Ken responds. Ken then reaches down with his free arm and touches my face—a gentle hand on my cheek—and says: “Nice happy face.” (THIS REALLY HAPPENED.) A second later he’s moved on and Rachael and I have no idea what the fuck just happened.
We sit there, flummoxed. Ken Vanderpump pet Rachael’s head and caressed my face—my nice happy face. With that, we think it’s time to go.
Hey, maybe we just caught them on a bad day... a bad day for three separate restaurants. Perhaps it was naive of me to expect Lisa’s expensive food to be good simply because it’s expensive and her name was on it. I later realize something I should have known from the beginning: It’s not about the food.
Villa Blanca, SUR and Pump are obviously restaurants where one goes to be seen or to pretend like Bravo’s cameras are following you around. For that, I have to salute Lisa. She nailed it in that regard, and has managed to use Bravo to simultaneously promote and brand her businesses—and get paid for it. And while this may not be saying much, I have to imagine that these Vanderpump establishments are all fairly comparable to the restaurants near them.
Naturally, Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurants are very much like the shows they appear on. You know what you’re getting into in the beginning. So many people have tried to explain to me why shows like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills are “bad,” as if I’m watching for the symbolism or allusive dialogue. But I’m not being tricked into watching grown women buy diamonds. I’ve had this argument approximately 34 times. I know what I’m doing!
And this is how I must sum up Lisa Vanderpump’s Los Angeles culinary empire. Are you looking for a satisfying caprese salad? Find another restaurant. and for the love of god make sure it’s not soaked in a balsamic glaze. Looking for pretty waiters and the slight chance of maybe catching a glimpse of a reality television star? Sure, go pay $23 for one of five chicken breasts.
A few days later, I receive a text from Rachael: “I still can’t get over how bad it was.”
Photo by Getty