When you picture what Hollywood movie stars might be doing right now, you expect something fantastical, like blasting CGI aliens or running away from explosions. You never think it might be something normal, something you might be doing yourself, like eating a steak on a Sunday night at a restaurant in Orange County. This is why I found it, well, fantastical that Cameron Diaz was doing just this, ordering a sirloin that I would order, breathing in the same air and sitting in the next booth on that ordinary evening at the extraordinary 320 Main in Seal Beach.
She was with two other women, one of whom I assume was her mother, having a leisurely dinner, playing with her hair, as radiant as she is in the movies but now decidedly more human. It would be hard not to notice her: 320 Main is cozy enough to be called cramped, with barely 25 seats to the dining area and a snack-sized bar to the left. The actress was sitting smack-dab in the center of it all in one of two coveted booths. Anyone who walked in the door would've immediately recognized her impeccable cheekbones and characteristic smile. Save for a woman who did a bad job acting like she got lost trying to find the restroom just to catch a glimpse of her, everyone played it cool. Not one diner asked for an autograph or stared for longer than you can at the sun.
After we settled into our adjacent booth, my date sent a message to practically everyone in her address book, including me. “I'm sitting next to Cameron Diaz!” she texted. For my part, Diaz was “accidentally” included in a picture I took of our slightly overcooked pickled-shrimp cocktail. The rest of the evening, we enjoyed our meal as she hers, quietly, pleasantly, taking in the wonderful entrées that chef Stephen Pajor produced from his tiny kitchen. But, gentle readers, if you decide to visit 320 Main thinking you might see Diaz, don't. In fact, I debated whether to even mention her in this review. Despite my fortuitous encounter, she's beside the point. Go for the cocktails, copious concoctions that warranted a ranking in Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold's recent list of Los Angeles' best drinks—even though, you know, Seal Beach is in OC. Go for the food. That night, Cameron Diaz was just another satisfied customer in this charming little neighborhood bar which just happens to serve carefully crafted meals more apt for a fancier, tonier place.
Definitely order from the menu addendum, where four entrées—two steaks, a pork chop and sea bass—are listed on a separate scrap of paper. The sea bass might just be the best seafood dish on a street that also includes the beloved Walt's Wharf. The first bite has that pleasurable crackle when a piece of fish is properly cauterized to crispness in a hot pan. Everything else on the plate was just as indispensable, from the soft, homey goodness of the puréed cauliflower moat that became the textural foil to the acid of the tarragon-roasted tomatoes and wilted spinach that balanced the richness.
As I mentioned, Diaz ordered the same 8-ounce, baseball-cut top sirloin that I did, a formidable fist-sized hunk of cattle topped with a thin layer of chimichurri, which she scraped off with her knife as soon as her plate arrived. She also skipped the picture-perfect sunny-side-up egg that comes with the dish, a component that I thought sealed its success, connecting the corned-beef-flecked hash browns with the steak to sell the breakfast-for-dinner idea. In fact, so proud is 320 Main is of its fried egg that you can add it to any dish for $2.
For cheaper and lighter meals, sandwiches such as the meat loaf and the grilled cheese with short rib read as if they're actually entrées stuffed between slices of bread. The short rib, by the way, is seen again in big chunks mixed with sour cream and beef gravy to coat twirly egg noodles for a stroganoff that arrives hot and fuming steam like Krakatoa. And then there are the fried Brussels sprouts, an appetizer that will, once and for all, negate the healthiness of the once good-for-you veggie with bacon, the sprouts' bitter edge transformed into an addictive browned sweetness.
I was still nibbling on it when I noticed Diaz's table ordering the Black and White, a parfait made by alternating layers of chocolate mousse, vanilla pudding and pulverized graham crackers in a tall glass. Of course, I ordered it, too, not because she did, but because it's what everyone else was ordering. She's not that different from us . . . except for that world-famous-movie-star thing.
This review appeared in print as “There's Something About 320 Main: Cameron Diaz eats at this Seal Beach stalwart, and so should you!”
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.