Led by Disney and Universal, Southern California theme restaurants are finally leaving the Middle Ages when it comes to concept dining

For a city as outr & #233;, as eccentric, as on the very edge of it all as Los Angeles, we don't have a long tradition of truly strange theme restaurants.

One of the most notable, a place long gone, was called 1520 A.D., an establishment that used to sit on La Cienega's Restaurant Row. The restaurant served what was referred to as food of the Middle Ages, a period that meant lots of buxom maidens and the use of trenchers (bread scoopers) instead of flatware.

But not a lot of attention was paid to the authenticity of the food the underlying concept seemed to be that everyone ate a lot of beef in the Middle Ages.

Pretty much the same thing can be said for Medieval Times down in Buena Park, where the fun of the place comes from the jousting matches.

Disney and the powers-that-be at Universal CityWalk, however, are changing things.

L.A. has entered a new age of theme restaurant dining. And there's now a synergy between the theme and the food.

Consider, for instance, Cafe Tu Tu Tango at Universal CityWalk.

The concept here is that diners are in an artist's loft in Barcelona, drinking sangria, eating tapas, and watching as real artists paint real canvases, which are sold for real money. All the while, a wildly varied assortment of entertainers dance and sing (salsa, mariachi, swing, tap, whatever). It sounds like pure corn, but it works. There's a thematically designed menu of small dishes divided into "Chips, Dips, Breads and Spreads," "Cosas Frias" (Cold Things), "Fritangas," "Empanadas and Egg Rolls" (when have you ever seen an egg roll category on a menu?), "Skewers and Sticks," "Pizzas" and "Lost and Found." The service is as zany as the setting; all that's missing is some graffiti declaring that "Picasso Eats Here!"

Disney dinners

Walt Disney virtually created the concept of the theme park. And so, it's not surprising that the latest addition to the Happiest Place on Earth the newly created Disney California Adventure would take thematic eating to a whole new level. Forget about FantasyLand; this is "FoodLand," a celebration of chow, Disney-style. Which is to say, done bigger than life, and fun for the whole family, though perhaps not that much fun when the credit card bills arrive.

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