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Monday
Jun202016

#42 Baltaire - Brentwood

Rating: 4.00 cows

 

When it comes to steak, Los Angeles has plenty of delicious options. For the most part, the best slabs of meat are concentrated in two areas: downtown and Beverly Hills. Both of these locations have a reputation for fat wallets and satisfied diners so this comes as no surprise. But way out west of the 405 freeway, (but not as far as Santa Monica) lies the neighborhood of Brentwood, and the site of Steakout XLII: Baltaire.

You'd probably miss it driving by, without any street-facing signage, Baltaire exists not for you to stumble across it, but because you sought it out. Through the oversized wooden doors the airy bar greets you warmly. Off to the left, the dining area extends out from under the roof into an open-air table arrangement in the courtyard. Beams of afternoon light pour in from the large front windows next to the lounge that flanks the bar. Style and comfort are the main themes here.

The bar menu is predictably expansive (yes, Pappy is here), with a generous selection of all your favorite liquors. Our bartender mixed up some excellent drinks for us while we waited for our party to arrive. No worries about maraschino cherries in your Old Fashioneds at this place.

The steak menu at Baltaire is befitting a restaurant that charges $50+ per cut. they have filets (boneless and bone-in), a strip, Kansas City, porterhouse, rib eye, and the ever-so-chic Australian Wagyu for $25/oz as of our seating.

We started off splitting an array of salads including the Caesar and the Bibb. All were well made, though one of our half orders took conspicuously longer to arrive than the rest. That turned out to be a considerably minor hiccup however, since we later learned that the Bibb salad contained candied walnuts, though it wasn’t called out on the menu nor was it mentioned by our waiter. Since one of us his allergic to tree nuts, this was a rather unwelcome surprise. When confronted with the oversight, the staff was very apologetic, and our waiter even claimed he had no knowledge of the walnuts. They comped the salad and offered to bring a replacement. Outside of that, the salads were quite good, but nothing we would describe as best-in-class.

We ordered a bottle of wine for the table to go along with our meat and sides. When the waiter came to bring our wine, he apologized for not having the vintage shown on the menu, and offered the same wine from a few years later. This happens from time to time, but we asked for a comparable replacement from the sommelier, which we later found out did not exist. Not every steakhouse employs one, but we were surprised not to find one here. As the replacement wine was brought, the manager came by to apologize for the incident with the walnuts and offered to comp our first bottle of wine. It was a generous offering which we appreciated.

Ok so let's get to the main course. Between us we ordered the 8-oz filet, the 12-oz filet, the rib eye, and the strip. No Wagyu for us this time. To accompany our slabs of cow we had the Brussels sprouts, asparagus, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and of course the obligatory pomme frites. All sides were $12, so this may be the most expensive order of french fries we've ever had. And, like every other order of fries, while they were tasty enough, they continue to be the biggest sham in the steakhouse sides business.

And yet.

The Mac and cheese was especially delicious, one of the best we've tried. The vegetables were well-seasoned and tasty too, while the mashers were bland and uninspiring.

The steaks themselves have a nice char on the outside and an excellent texture. We ordered temperatures ranging from medium rare to rare+, with the latter yielding especially flavorful results on the 12-oz filet, which was definitely a highlight. One of the rib eyes came noticeably overcooked, and though we never enjoy sending back a steak, this one went back to the the kitchen. The NY strip was good, but not what we'd consider great unfortunately. It was drier than we'd like and just didn't have the flavor we've been accustomed to at place of this caliber. The replacement rib eye was a huge improvement over the first one and immensely satisfying. This is how you do a rib eye ladies and gentlemen. Bummer it took them two tries, but it was worth the wait.

To finish our meal, we ordered the key lime pie and peach crumble which was their special of the night. We wanted one each for us all to share, but somehow our order was misinterpreted and they brought out two of each. I think the waiter could tell by the confounded looks on our faces that something was amiss, and he offered immediately to not charge us for the extras. So what's a few hundred extra calories when you've already stuffed your face with steak and sides? We couldn't let that food go to waste. The verdict was clear this time: the key lime pie was just fantastic while the crumble was good, but not great. Maybe it was still a bit too early in peach season.

It's hard to summarize this place. The atmosphere is warm and inviting, the service had a few hiccups, and the steaks were mostly very good, occasionally great and sometimes missing expectations. Even the dessert and sides seem to be split. We feel there's a really great end-to-end experience just waiting in there, but it didn't quite come together for us this time.

Baltaire Photos

Sunday
Apr172016

#41 Meat District Co. - Pasadena

Rating: 2.50 cows

 

Australians have a reputation for knowing a thing or two about meat. Yes, we know that Outback isn't really Australian, but it's actually [pretty good] for a budget steakhouse. Also, outside of an Australian Wagyu it's the closest we'd gotten to an Aussie experience until we arrived at Meat District Co.

Hailing from Down Under, Meat District Co's first stateside establishment arrived not too long ago in Pasadena, California. It's laid back and casual which is probably what you'd expect, though they do not feature the words "shrimp" and "barbie" in the same sentence, thank goodness. 

The good thing about a place without a lot of pretense is you get right down to business. Pouring over the menu we pondered our choices until we saw one item that grabbed us and just wouldn't let go. The MDC Platter was a monstrosity. It came with a NY strip, 2 racks of ribs, and two “Hooks” which were chunks of meat and vegetables. It was a fierce debate on whether to go traditional and get our own personal steak, or indulge our animalistic tendencies with a smorgasbord of meat laid out before us. We compromised. Sort of. We ordered the MDC Platter and another rib eye to boot.

Most of the time when you get a lot of meat for a ridiculously low price (the MDC Platter itself was the same price as a single steak at Alexander's, you end up full, but not necessarily satisfied. Meat District Co was no exception here. All of the meat was cooked more than we'd like, and it was fairly tough to boot. Steak sauce, that spicy bastard, once again helped us get through this meal.

We skipped out on dessert and took some time to walk around downtown Pasadena to get that peristalsis going. Sometimes you just want to move on to what's next. Sorry, Meat District Co. Hooroo!

Meat District Co. Photos

Sunday
Oct112015

#39 Delmonico's - Encino

Rating: 3.25 cows

 

Ventura Blvd in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles is where you'll find Delmonico's Steak and Lobster house. The other time we ventured into Encino was our New Year's Eve Steakout at Larsen's. Back in The Valley again, we descended upon Delmonico's and sidled up to the bar for some cocktails.

Many older steakhouses have a type, and Delmonico's is no exception. Red-colored drinks seemingly all of which come with maraschino cherries, and a bartender who's probably had the same job for at least 39 years. The drinks weren't bad, but they also weren't outside of our expectations.

So Delmonico's bills itself as a steak and lobster house. Most places offer one or the other, but Delmonico's puts both front and center, with a number of surf and turf specials. Indeed all but one of us opted for the steak and lobster combo, and when it was all said and done, the biggest regret was that he didn't get the lobster also.

It wasn't that the steaks were bad, but they just weren't quite what we hoped they'd be. Moderately flavored, although they were cooked quite well, is the hallmark of a cut of meat that just doesn't quite make…the…cut. On the other hand, the lobster was quite good, and we all devoured our crustaceans with vigor. Well, all but one of us anyway.

For some reason we ordered dessert, and here's another place where Delmonico's does it right. Their desserts are enormous. And good. Look at the pictures at the end of this post and you'll see what we're talking about. They don't do it fancy, but there's something delightful about some simple sweets with whipped cream that just really satisfies.

You should go do Delmonico's if you're in the area and want some lobster and also maybe a decent steak. Or a huge delicious dessert. Or all 3.

Delmonico's Photos

Sunday
Jul262015

#38 Alexander's - Pasadena

Rating: 4.75 cows

 

When we heard that Alexander’s Steakhouse was opening a restaurant in Los Angeles, we were eager to give it a try. Alexander’s is a well-known Japanese-influenced steakhouse from Silicon Valley, boasting a Michelin star and quite possibly the most extensive menu of authentic wagyu beef on the west coast.

Alexander’s took over the space in Pasadena previously occupied by the far less exciting chain restaurant, McCormick & Schmick’s. Even if you are truly insane and prefer seafood to steak, Alexander’s is a big upgrade in every way. Well, other than number of seafood options. But we’re not here for seafood.

Our first stop was the bar, and it was a fantastic first impression. The staff was very friendly, very knowledgable, and mixed some kickass drinks. The old fashioneds were just right (no cherries, thank you very much) and came with what could only be described as a hunk of ice. Macallan-style ice balls are cool (no pun intended), but these just felt right. The manhattan came with a cherry three ways. The “irish wristwatch” was a unique mix of whisky, smashed berries, and basil. Talking up the bartender about their way-above-average whisky selection scored us a free taste of Black Bull 12 years old, a blended Scotch whisky that he claimed was the hidden gem on their menu because the youngest whisky in the mix is 19 years old. We of course have no way to verify this claim, but the dram was very nice even accounting for it’s low, low price.

 Back to the whisky selection. This place had it going on. Everything from bourbons to Japanese, blends to single malts, Highlands to Lowlands—it was impressive. To top it all off, a display case at the entrance to the bar contains the ultra-rare stuff, including a bottle of Very Old Fitzgerald, a predecessor to Pappy Van Winkles that can be had for the princely sum of $600 per glass.

When we moved to the dining room we found a very tasteful and modern decor, with high ceilings and a monochromatic color palette. The tables had a very generous amount of space between them, which was appreciated even though there were only a few other parties dining at 6pm on the first Sunday that the restaurant was open.

First up was an amuse-bouche, followed by an impressive bread basket. Three types of breads were offered, including a unique bread made with squid ink that was, not surprisingly, nearly black. What really made the bread stand out though wasn’t the bread itself but rather the selection of three butters that accompanied it, including one that was infused with beef fat and was served stuffed into the middle of a bone. It tasted how you would imagine that beef butter would taste—which is to say, amazing.

For the salad course we tried the “little gem”, which is Alexander’s take on the classic Caesar. It was composed of romaine lettuce, fennel, onions, squid ink crutons, and furikake, topped with miso anchovy dressing. It was fresh and different and good but didn’t knock anyone’s socks off.

Before we get to the steak, a word about the service. That word is “spectacular.” On all fronts. Not only did our waiter have an outstanding knowledge of the menu for a restaurant that had only been open for a week, but the table service was top of the line. If you’ve ever wanted to be served like the Crawley’s in Downton Abbey, this is the place to go. Each course was placed on the table in front of half of us at the exact same time, and then the other half received their plates at the exact same time. Very classy, and yet somehow it did not come off as snobby or pretentious. Bravo.

For side dishes, we ordered the mac and cheese which we can’t seem to resist ordering at every steakhouse, creamed taro, and truffle fried fingerling potatoes, which may or may not count as the fries that we also order off of every menu. The mac and cheese was made with udon noodles for a japanese twist. The creamed taro was something we had never seen before and was thus the one that we remember the best. The potatoes were unremarkable. Overall a nice diverse variety, but no threat to the main course unlike some other restaurants with truly fantastic sides like Mastro’s.

Steak is offered at three levels—“regular” steaks at the $50 price point, dry-aged Omaha prime at $80, and wagyu which covered the spectrum from expensive for Los Angeles all the way to “oh my god.” There was also an eight-course tasting menu if your budget truly knows no bounds. The steak was both the high point and the low point of the night, so let’s get the low point out of the way first—three of us attempted to order the dry-aged bone-in filet, and somehow they only had two available, even though we were dining on the very early side. One of us was forced to downgrade to a “regular” boneless filet. To add insult to injury, while one of the bone-in filets was cooked perfectly, the other was surprisingly overcooked. We decided not to send it back because we knew they didn’t have any more, and it still tasted better than most steaks—albeit not enough to justify its high price. It didn’t help that there was a perfectly cooked example right there on the table for comparison. Elsewhere around the table, we had two ribeyes and a bone-in New York. The ribeyes were both very flavorful and cooked to perfection. The New York had a smallish bone and the first few bites were simply above average, but working toward the bone the steak just kept getting better. All of the steaks were light on seasoning, so the flavor of the beef was the star.

The astute reader may have noticed that nobody ordered wagyu as their main course. Fear not! The prices were more than anyone wanted to pay for the entree, but in the name of science we went ahead and split 6oz of wagyu among the six of us as a sort of pre-dessert, yielding a single ounce for each of us. They went ahead and plated it separately for us, so we were each (elegantly) presented with a small plate with an even smaller portion of steak on it. The menu offered 4 different varieties of true japanese A5 (the highest grade, but of course) wagyu, priced in 3 ounce increments. Each had a unique description on the menu, some of which were a sort of steak version of terroir—“warm mild climate / ideal conditions for raising cattle” (Miyazaki) and “farmed in below freezing temperatures” (Hokkaido) being the highlights. There was also one Australian wagyu, one domestic wagyu/angus cross breed, and a two pound domestic dry-aged tomahawk that tipped the scale at 20 ounces and tips the wallet at $315. That is the most expensive single steak that any of us has ever seen on a menu, though the Japanese wagyus would put that price to shame if someone were to actually order 20 ounces of it. The Hokkaido, for example, was priced around $50 per ounce. You do the math. We went ahead and ordered the Miyazaki, which was priced in the middle of the pack. Besides, it was raised in ideal conditions, so it had to be good. And it was. True wagyu is just out of this world, and this was no exception. Loaded with flavor, tender, perfectly seared, and delicious. There were only a few comments that could be construed as negative—one of us thought that this example was a little bit too fatty and therefore too rich, and none of us were willing to rank this as the best steak they had ever tried. When those are the only faults that a group of steak fanatics can come up with, you’re doing pretty well.

We went ahead and leveraged the overcooked filet into a free dessert, called “chocolate.” This consisted of various preparations of chocolate, including a bone marrow chocolate (surprisingly good) and various other textures, from a dense and moist cake to a sherbet to name a few. The whole thing was delicious, though perhaps not delicious enough to make up for the loss of a dry-aged filet. On top of that we were served complimentary cotton candy with a few other chocolatey treats. Those were a nice tough, but one can’t help but think that cotton candy feels out of place in a restaurant of this caliber.

Overall we had an amazing experience. The only thing holding us back from a perfect 5 cow rating was the filet situation, and deservedly so. Everything else was among the best we’ve ever experienced, so we’re willing to write that off as a fluke and heartily recommend Alexander’s. The food and service rank up there with the best steakhouses in LA, on top of which you get a unique Japanese influence and an unparalleled selection of wagyu.

Alexander's Photos

Saturday
Apr112015

#37 Steak & Whisky - Hermosa Beach

Rating: 4 cows

 

Hermosa Beach is not known as a destination for great steak, but one establishment is aiming to change that perception. Tucked around the bend on Pier Avenue just east of Hermosa, the aptly named “Steak & Whisky” has both in spades. Opened in late February, this place is tiny. With only about 15 tables and a diminutive 4-seat bar area, this place is by far the smallest restaurant we’ve seen so far. But small does not mean cozy. The interior is warm bright with skylights and large windows to let that sunlight in. The decor is wood & dark leather with a patterned tile floor and a brick wall one one side. The other side is filled with whisky bottles.

We started with the whisky, of course. Though it took awhile to deliver what in most cases amounted to a glass with about two fingers of liquid, they have about 30-40 to try, the biggest portion being American Bourbon. The selection is good, but there’s a reason the “steak” comes first in the same; you’re not going to find troves of strange and/or super-rare whisky (no Pappy, for instance), but they’ve got something for anyone’s taste. They also make excellent mixed drinks; we tried an Old Fashioned and their “Bill the Butcher” which were both fantastic.

Before the main course, we sampled the seafood platter and Caesar salad. The seafood platter was excellent, with ceviche and shrimp selections, while the Caesar salad was a little less spectacular. Some of us found it exceedingly salty & peppery, while others didn’t seem to mind the taste. It’s certainly a good salad, but probably not one of the very best we’ve had.

Keeping the “small” theme, there are not a lot of steak options here but they take care of all the basics. There’s a 25-oz Porterhouse, a 13-oz filet (bone-in), a 20-oz Kansas City, and a 42-oz Tomahawk Rib-Eye. There's also a Japanese Wagyu selection for $18/oz. Lastly, if you like you can get a 6-oz petite filet as an add-on to your entree. While the portions are quite healthy, the prices per ounce are the steepest we’ve seen yet, and it’s not really close. The filet will set you back $75, the porterhouse is $95 and the Tomahawk is a cool $120. The waitress advertised them as big enough to share, and that’s mostly true, but if you’re looking to stuff yourself with steak, you’ll probably want to get one all for yourself. For reference, the 13-oz bone-in filet at CUT will cost you a comparatively paltry $58.

We shared 3 porterhouses, a tomahawk, and the filet in our party of 10. Price aside, the steaks were absolutely fantastic. The one blemish was one of the porterhouses that came out with far too much fat and had to be sent back, but they did the right thing and replaced it with another steak that was just outstanding. All the steaks are dry-aged for 30 days, and the meat was tender, juicy and very flavorful. The outer sear is not as severe as some places, but just enough for a delicious crust, and the cuts are seasoned with salt, and pepper to enhance the flavor. The one steak that didn’t quite live up to the standards set by the others was the filet, however. We found it rather bland and underwhelming compared to the rest. They offer sauces, but we chose not to partake, and that was the right move. These steaks do not need a sauce, so lay off the sucker bet and just enjoy the meat. We ordered ours medium-rare to rare+ and they were cooked impeccably. Just delicious all around.

The waitress suggested we order one side dish per person. We should have listened to her. We ordered 8 sides for 10 people, and while they were good, the portions were comically small. That’s perhaps a bit unfair, since we were told we should get one side per person, but we’ve heard that line in the past and usually ended up with more than we can really eat, especially with larger parties. But here at Steak & Whisky, a party of two should get at least two, if not maybe three sides for the table. We got the potato puree, mac & cheese, french fries, cauliflower risotto, seasonal vegetables, shishito peppers, creamed spinach, and sauteed mushrooms. The peppers and mac & cheese were probably the highlights, while the potato puree was a disappointment lacking in flavor. The others fell somewhere in the middle.

We finished the evening with an array of desserts, including the strawberry shortcake, panna cotta, and the german chocolate flourless cake. All were very tasty, especially the panna cotta and they were an excellent way to end the meal.

One last note about the service, since it was somewhat hit or miss. While they did a great job responding to our fatty porterhouse, they did things like serve half the side dishes without serving spoons. And although we were all splitting our steaks, they didn’t bring out extra dinner plates until we asked (only plates for the sides). Finally, the first round of Old Fashioneds were served with regular cubed ice instead of Macallan ice spheres. They fixed it for round two when we asked about it. Given the prices, we expected a more coordinated operation. Perhaps this is because they’re still pretty new, so we hope those sorts of issues get ironed out soon.

To conclude, the food (and drinks) at Steak & Whisky are exceptional. This is a legitimate top-of-the line steakhouse that unabashedly competes with the big boys in quality, flavor, and (most boldly) price. They even charge you $5 for bread. But if money is no object (or only a minor inconvenience), then you’d be hard-pressed to get a better steak somewhere else.

Steak & Whisky Photos