The right cut of steak makes all the difference
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LOS ANGELES -- I send a text to my high school friend who lives in L.A. that I'm staying at the Residence Inn in Beverly Hills, and she texts back: "Then we must eat at Cut, in the Beverly Wilshire."
I know Cut is a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, but that's all I know, so I look it up:
Here's the thing about steak and me; we haven't gotten along too well for the past, oh, three decades. When I was a kid in Brooklyn, the butcher on Nostrand Avenue used to make pinwheels from flank steak, and that was a huge treat; my birthday meal a few times, in fact. But since I left home, I don't cook steak much, and my husband likes it well done, which I can't abide. So steak and I, we have come to a parting of the ways. It also means our son, Josh, hasn't had many opportunities to try steak, and he's heard his father talk about the word "rare" in terms of "bloody" and "practically alive" enough that it makes him nervous.
The only time any one of us eats steak is when my husband, Phil, orders it at a fish restaurant (he doesn't eat fish). And he orders it well done.
So here Josh and I are, going to Cut, which earned a three-star rating from the Los Angeles Times and was designed by Richard Meier, the Getty Center architect. In my Google search, I see many more raves than pans by people who understand steak. I see discussions of $600 Eames chairs. I see ... that I am out of my element.
After spending the day touring the UCLA campus, Josh and I decide to further build our appetites and walk the mile to the restaurant, taking a couple of residential blocks of Rodeo Drive to the cobblestoned courtyard that leads to Cut's door.
I've been told wearing any old thing will do in Los Angeles, and that seems to be the case. People are dressed to the hilt or in shorts and sneakers. And nothing about the contemporary, curvy, elegant interior seems to scream that either is right or wrong.
Giant photographs of celebrities (cropped tight, like mug shots) adorn the walls, and smaller versions are clipped to the menus. I asked the patient waiter if we can take the menus as souvenirs. He says yes, but not the clipped-on photos. They're copyrighted. Josh is disappointed -- he has an image of Angelina Jolie.
The pretzel rolls on the bread tray are keeping Josh busy, but it's time to get over the sticker shock and make a choice. There are a few other proteins on the menu -- pork chops, for one -- but, come on, it's a steakhouse.
My friend Ronni asks the waiter to give us the show, so he brings out a prop that explains the different cuts of steak and the marbling (the thin streaks of fat that look white against a red piece of meat), and how it disappears with proper cooking. A menu note explains that at Cut steaks are grilled over hard wood and charcoal then finished under a 1,200-degree broiler.
Sirloin is ordered; there's filet mignon and rib-eye on the menu, too. I opt for the 34-ounce porterhouse for two ($67 -- it's also U.S.D.A. Prime, Illinois corn-fed and aged 21 days!), and ask for it to be prepared medium, so as not to scare off Josh with the "r" word.
The waiter nods his approval. Phew.
No sauces (although many are available: whole grain mustard, house-made steak sauce, wasabi-yuzu kocho butter, Argentinean chimichurri, shallot-red wine bordelaise, creamy horseradish, armagnac & green peppercorn or bearnaise); no adornments (options include Point Reyes blue cheese or Italian white truffles). This is to be a pure experience.
The porterhouse -- two-thirds strip steak, one-third filet mignon -- is delivered on a cart and cut off the bone tableside. It is divided and transferred to plain white plates.
I dig in first, and it's like butta. Honest. All these years, having an occasional leathery steak, and now this. It's almost too much to take in, the flavor and the tenderness.
Josh looks tentatively at the pink middle of some pieces and asks if it's too red.
"Just try it," I say.
He cleans his plate.
We order side dishes ($12 each) for the table: French Fries With Herbs and corn in kernels. The fries are nothing special; the corn is ideal.
For dessert, Ronni and I share a baked Alaska with strawberries, while Josh has a chocolate log that tastes as decadent as it looks. He shares, too.
A week later, I can't find the corn and desserts we had on Cut's online menu. I'm considering a change to my at-home menu, too.
The timing won't be easy -- well done, medium and medium rare all in one meal -- but steak may just make the cut.
First Published August 9, 2009 12:00 am