When it rains, it pours

De gustibus non disputandum est. There. I’ve wanted to say it all along. For those unfamiliar with Latin platitudes (and I swear this is the only one I know), it means, “In matters of taste, there is no dispute.” Translation? Don’t listen to the food reviewer. Another translation? Hey, you like what you like.

In the case of the second, my nearly septuagenarian aunt, who doesn’t look a day over 50, is a prime example. She has good taste, employs advanced cooking techniques and is a picky eater, yet she drinks instant coffee in the morning. She prefers it. Upon seeing her last, it dawned on me that all those jars of Taster’s Choice sitting on supermarket shelves were not the same ones from 1970. Go figure. She’s buying them.

Another example is the taste of instant mashed potatoes or “dehydrated potato flakes” as they’re known in some circles. These were invented in 1962 by the Canadian Dr. Edward Anton Asselbergs. Some people like them. I liked them after my oral surgery. I probably would have gone on eating them, but I must have forgotten they existed. Either that or I came to my senses and realized that real mashed potatoes are much more delicious than the just-add-water kind.

In any case, instant mashed potatoes were the last thing on my mind when I went to the Buggy Whip for dinner with two smart-aleck companions. One was my husband, and the other one was my husband’s longtime Barzaghi. (Early-1970s reference: Jacques Barzaghi was Jerry Brown’s confidante and adviser.) Out of respect for my husband’s friend, however, I’ll henceforth refer to him as Chicken Teriyaki.

So, Jerry Brown (my husband), Chicken Teriyaki and I walked into the Buggy Whip on a midweek night, looking for an interesting “Sacramento of old” experience. Buggy Whip is one of those places that can’t help but inspire curiosity. Its carriage sits proudly amid a parade of ethnic restaurants, cheap eats and car dealerships on Fulton Avenue. To be honest, an article in another paper had piqued my curiosity about Buggy Whip’s family setting, longtime Sacramento credentials, elegant atmosphere at a reasonable price, etc. After eating there, it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure the writer ever mentioned the food. Maybe he just looked at it.

What can I say about the Buggy Whip? When we walked in, we brought the median age down by half. Senior magazine stood out as the free publication on the stand. Maybe it was the mustache on one of our servers—a sure ringer for a Boogie Nights extra—or Fleetwood Mac playing in the background, but the place had an unmistakable 1970s feel. Suspicions were confirmed when we learned that the single draft-beer choice was Michelob. Jerry Brown affirmed that Michelob was the high-end 1970s beer if ever there was any, with the possible exception of Lowenbrau.

With the understanding that Buggy Whip was a steak-type joint, I ordered the prime rib, medium rare. Jerry Brown ordered steak and scampi. Chicken Teriyaki, bucking conventional wisdom, ordered the chicken teriyaki.

There may be two explanations for what followed: One, they used a lot of salt in the ‘70s. Perhaps that was the flavor of choice back then. Two, people over the age of 60 like more salt. Salt tastes good.

Well, there was plenty of it. The chicken-noodle soup was highly salty. The prime rib’s sauce was nothing but a liquid salt lick with a mild beef flavor. Jerry Brown’s scampi was a congealed mass of butter, token spices and salt. His steak and mashed potatoes were salt-laced. Even Chicken Teriyaki’s teriyaki sauce had a salty tinge.

Needless to say, the salt content was the talk of dinner. The only distraction from the salt was the appearance of instant mashed potatoes, which were passed off as real mashed potatoes, on Jerry Brown’s plate. I asked Jerry Brown if he was sure they were instant. He said he’d eaten them for years when he was a poor college student. These were them.

Now, I don’t want to complain, but these dinners were not cheap. They came in anywhere from $15 to $22. The steak, the three or four shrimp, the chicken breast and prime rib all were decent—not fabulous, but decent to good. But who in the world serves instant mashed potatoes with a $20 steak meal? Not to mention that my baked potato had seen better days, like yesterday possibly.

So, there you have it. Buggy Whip is the place to go if you like seniors, salt and the ‘70s—three things that always will be around. But hey, don’t listen to the food reviewer. You like what you like.