PIERS MOR­GAN

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - CONTENTS -

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.

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