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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

Tuesday
Mar312015

petite steakout: Gary Bric's Ramp - Burbank

Rating: 2.25 cows

 

It’s no surprise that we love steak. But sometimes it can be difficult to gather the crew together as frequently as we’d like. So we’ve created something new, we’re calling them “petite” to capture remarkable (for better or worse) steaks consumed outside our standard group.

These mini reviews won’t display in our steak ranking since they only include one of a few of members and are thus not fairly representative accounts. That said, our first petite steakout is Gary Bric’s Ramp in Burbank.

Situated immediately adjacent to the onramp to the 5 freeway, Gary Bric’s establishment has been around since 1962, though ex-Mayor Gary Bric has only owned it since 1993. The place is small but packs in a lot of character.

We started in the bar area with drinks and appetizers. The Old Fashioneds were actually decent, even though they were served with a cherry. The prices were very good as well. The potato skins were excellent, and cut into perfect bite-size pieces.

The service was nice, but ultimately the steaks were a huge disappointment. We ordered the porterhouse and the filet, both cooked rare plus. The filet was immaculately cooked, but there was a complete lack of flavor. The char marks on the tops and bottom was the only flavor you could taste, and without any seasoning whatsoever, it was not enjoyable. The porterhouse was not much better, with a distinct lack of flavor on both sides. And while we asked for rare plus, it was really closer to medium-rare.

The sides were even less appetizing—except for the cheese bread which was delicious. The twice-baked potato was luke-warm and tasted stale, and the fries were just awful. The greens were decent, but a bit overcooked and soggy. The prices here are fairly good ($35 for a 10-oz filet including sides) but it’s hard to see us coming back. Sorry Gary.

Gary Bric's Ramp Photos

Monday
Feb232015

#36 Shiloh's - Pico Robertson

Rating: 2.25 cows

 

Steakout XXXVI was held at Shiloh’s. Or was it Shilo’s? We’re not quite sure, and neither are the people who work there, apparently. Regardless, the only important word to know is STEAK, and that is their specialty.

Shiloh’s is unique among the places we’ve visited thus far in that it’s the only one that’s certified Kosher. Located in the heavily Jewish area of Pico Robertson, it’s not surprising that the city’s only Kosher steakhouse would be located here.

The interior is rather elegant, white linens adorn white walls around a medium-sized dining room with white tablecloths and white booths and chairs. The floor is a dark hardwood. The restaurant is purely food-focused. Although they do serve beer and wine, they do not serve cocktails and thus do not have a separate bar.

Our party of 5 was seated promptly, but when the waiter took our drink order he strangely omitted one person and took his order after delivering some of the drinks. After we ordered, it took an inordinate amount of time to receive  our salads, along with the one beer that apparently took 30 minutes to chill.

We began with the Ceasar, beet, and quinoa salads. The Caesar was decidedly sub-par; with cherry tomatoes and a creamy dressing that was far too sweet and obviously processed. The quinoa salad was similarly underwhelming, while the beet salad was adequate but overdressed.

So let’s get onto the main course. This is the part where Shiloh’s could have redeemed itself, because after all this is the reason we came. Shiloh’s prices are quite good, with steaks ranging from $35-66 that include vegetables and potato sides. Their steaks are all wet-aged for 21 days. We ordered the filet (11oz), rib eye (10oz, boneless), chef’s cut rib eye (28oz, bone-in), and the steak au poivre (14oz rib eye). The filets were large and beautiful, but unfortunately lacking in flavor. One was dry, the other just mediocre. chef’s cut rib eye was thinner than we would have expected, and overcooked. The pepper steak, which was ordered at medium-rare came out medium-well and had to be sent back. They were polite about it, but it shouldn’t have happened. Finally the 10oz rib eye was the “highlight” of the night if you could call it that. Most of it was cooked rare-plus, as requested, and was quite delicious. But a god portion of the steak was decidedly medium bordering on medium-well. Really disappointing all around.

The array of potato side dishes is ample but none really stood out except for the roasted fingerling potatoes with rosemary. We ordered two “exciting sides” to taste the steak cut truffle fries and the beef bacon. The fries were another let down. They weren’t steak-cut at all; rather they were thin-cut like you’d find at a fast-food restaurant. And while they did taste like truffles, it didn’t even come close to justifying the $9 price. The beef bacon was good, or as good as fake bacon can be. Better than turkey bacon, it was essentially beef jerky served in strips. It lacked the crispness of a good piece of bacon, and it was sweeter owing to its bovine heritage. A nice gimmick for a restaurant that wouldn’t dream of serving the real thing, but there’s a reason “beef bacon” is not a thing.

Finally, our waiter asked if we’d like to see the dessert tray. Perhaps he suspected we wouldn’t be ordering anything, because his heart really wasn’t in the presentation. We passed, and with that ended our evening at Shiloh’s.

If you are strictly kosher and want a good steak, well, you sadly don’t have many choices and will have to make do with the offerings at Shiloh’s. The food was certainly not bad, but it really left much to be desired in just about every category. It’s tough to recommend this place, so we won’t and say that you’re probably better off going someplace else.

Shiloh's Photos

Wednesday
Jan282015

#35 Spear - Downtown

Rating: 4 cows

 

Taking over the space previously occupied by Le Ka, Spear is a relative newcomer to the Los Angeles steakhouse scene. Situated in the heart of Downtown LA, Spear features a semi-open bar area lined with a row of fire offset against the evening sky. The dining area features a mix of large communal tables, some smaller personal tables and even a private dining area. The ambiance can sort of be described as business modern with a touch of classic flair. It certainly feels very much at home amidst the tall buildings and suits, but some touches like the vintage light bulbs give it a slightly more comfortable feel. And while this isn’t something we usually remark about, the music selection was absolutely on point. With selections by Thom Yorke, Muse, Broken Bells, among others, the soundtrack was exactly up our alley. The dining room was rather loud even though it was relatively empty, so be warned this is not the place to go for a quiet romantic meal.

The bar has a fair selection of homemade cocktails, and the tenders definitely know what they’re doing. The Old Fashioneds we ordered were expertly prepared, and one of the house specials “Root to your Rye” was different, but very complex and enjoyable.

On to the food. The Caesar salad (which masquerades as the “grilled romaine”) is not your typical dish. A grilled salad is unusual to say the least. The taste of wilt and char on lettuce definitely takes some getting used to, and the inclusion of copious amounts of radiccho further complicates this dish. The dressing was good, but was barely noticeable amongs the other flavors. The pea soup and clam chowder were both good in their own right, but nothing overly impressive.

But we haven’t gotten to the real meat yet, and I mean that literally. Between the four of us we ordered two filets, a rib eye, and a porterhouse. Both filets (one medium-rare and the other rare-plus) were cooked to absolute perfection (though they were delivered on the wrong plates, which was a forgivable mistake), and both were delectable and bursting with flavor. The outside char was done well and the steaks were subtly seasoned with just enough salt to really enhance the flavor, which was incredible. The porterhouse was outstanding, cooked again to perfection and everything a great porterhouse should be. It was was well-sized, perfectly-seasoned and eminently satisfying. The rib-eye was also good, though perhaps not quite as good as the others. The char on the rib-eye was overdone and overpowered the flavor of the meat. Oh, and did we mention that all the steaks come with a side of bone marrow? Yeah, that doesn’t suck.

Spear has a very good accompaniment of side dishes, and we availed ourselves of the double-cooked fries, garlic mashers, uni risotto, duck confit mac & cheese, and the creamed spinach. The clear winners were the mac & cheese and the uni risotto, though truth be told the risotto could have used a bit more uni. Mac & cheese is a steakhouse staple, but this offering goes above and beyond. The fries, as has been the case in every single steakhouse we’ve been to, were adequate but ultimately underwhelming given the fine alternatives. The creamed spinach was creamed spinach. Nothing special, and pretty much the same as all the other creamed spinach you’ve had before. And then there's the garlic mashed potatoes, which we'll just leave at that.

Spear doesn't offer an extensive dessert menu (only 3 items), but what they do offer is completely house-made, which is very admirable. We split the key lime pie and chocolate mousse. Both were quite good, but didn't knock our socks off. You know, we come for the steak, but they still have to offer dessert. All in all these were fine choices, so no complaints here.

In summary, Spear surprised us all with the quality of their meat. The prices are in the upper echelon but not at the super high-end. Thirty-six dollars for a 7-oz filet and $52 for a 14-oz bone-in rib eye is what you should expect (the porterhouse was $68 for 20 ounces), but chef Greg Paul runs a fine kitchen and you won’t be disappointed. The ambiance is appealing, probably a bit moreso than Nick & Stef’s if you’re eating downtown, and it’s hard to beat an open-air (almost) bar with fire. We’d definitely go back here again, and give it a hearty recommendation.

Spear LA Photos