Ruben Castro is my kind of maitre d’
One of my favourite restaurants in Beverly Hills is a little place called La Dolce Vita. As you might imagine from its name, it celebrates all the sweeter things in life, mainly of the spaghetti and Barolo variety.
It also happened to be Frank Sinatra’s virtual canteen when he was carousing the city as the king of the Rat Pack. Ol’ Blue Eyes dined there twice a week whenever he was home, right up to his death in 1998.
And the man who always took care of him was Ruben Castro, La Dolce’s maître d’.
Ruben is one of the great unsung heroes of Hollywood, a legend without ever making a hit record, movie or TV show. He’s a brilliant operator, charming, warm and possessed of an elephantine memory. But more than that, he’s fantastically entertaining, and likes nothing more than sharing hilarious stories of Sinatra, a man he worshipped and adored.
‘Frank was a great person, but a man of many moods,’ he told me. ‘He was incredibly generous — one of my kitchen staff broke his watch, and when Frank found out, he gave him his brand-new Rolex.
‘He could also be difficult. One fan bothered him during his meal and Frank told his bodyguard to beat him up — right there in the middle of the restaurant. We had to carry the poor man outside.
‘Frank was also very protective. We once had a hoodlum shoot up the outside of the door after an argument over a reservation. Frank heard about it, and a few weeks later he came in and said to me, “Don’t worry about that guy again; we took care of it.”
‘I never found out what that meant, but that guy never came back to shoot at my door again!’
As for Ruben’s best Sinatra memory, he chuckled and winced at the same time. ‘Frank was eating with Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn at his table — it was the one facing the door, so he could see everyone as they came in, and they could see him — and Gregory got some pasta sauce on his tie. He asked me if I could do something about
‘Goodbye to La Dolce Vita’s legendary Ruben Castro... He was the Frank
Sinatra of maître d’s’
it, as his wife wouldn’t be happy if he went home with a dirty tie.
‘ I came back with scissors, and chopped off the tie halfway up. There was a terrible silence.
Gregory looked furious, and I thought for a moment I’d gone too far and would never work in this town again. Then Frank started to laugh, and Anthony too. And finally, so did Gregory. That was quite a relief.’
There’s a memorial Frank Sinatra booth now at La Dolce. ‘ George Clooney likes to sit there and feel Frank’s presence,’ said Ruben.
As for what the great crooner liked to eat, Ruben smiled. ‘Always pasta or steak, nothing else. He loved veal Milanese or rigatoni pomodoro, and arugula salad with shaved parmesan.’
And to drink? ‘ Red wine, like a Sassicaia, if he was with his wife. But if it was a boys’ night then Jack Daniels all the way. It was always Daniels, and always on the rocks.’
La Dolce also hosted just about every President of modern times, including Ronald Reagan — who is the only other big name to have a booth named after him.
‘He once stood up and farted very loudly,’ said Ruben. ‘I couldn’t ignore it, so I stood to attention and said, “Salute, Mr Presidente!” And he laughed so loudly that I thought he would fall over!’
Ruben Castro has just retired after 40 years tending to the rich and famous at La Dolce Vita.
He won’t get any of the public plaudits that his celebrated guests enjoyed — but in many ways, I only have one observation to make about Cheryl Cole’s ludicrous floral derrière-encompassing tattoo. And it’s this: when in the future she inevitably wants this ink- strewn monstrosity removed, she’ll need a man she can trust, probably in LA where she had it done, to perform the delicate 15-hour reverse procedure.
Cheryl, when that day comes, I’m ready for the call. Syria’s tyrannical regime clearly has weapons of mass destruction, and is even more clearly using them against its poor people. This makes it very different from Iraq, where Saddam Hussein didn’t and wasn’t.
Unfortunately, the bogus claims over Iraq’s WMD capability now make it very difficult for the British and American governments to garner support from its deeply sceptical citizens for military action.
It’s the classic ‘boy who cried wolf’ scenario.
And it’s what happens when leaders lie to their people.