Tuesday, March 24, 2009

CUT at the Beverly Wilshire, Los Angeles CA

With an ever-growing empire of restaurants across the globe ranging the gauntlet from Fine to Casual, European to Asian, and Californian to Steakhouse many say that Wolfgang Puck is hardly even a chef anymore, but instead a celebrity who spends more time in the board room than the kitchen. Having had a superb lunch at Spago two years ago that essentially served as my introduction to true "fine dining," I admit Chef Puck holds a special place in my heart and regardless of the critiques the man is a culinary legend. Following a long interview day at CS I needed a high quality meal relatively close by and after reading the myriad reviews I decided CUT at the Beverly Wilshire was just what the doctor ordered. “You don’t eat steak,” my mother said when I told her of my plans but a quick perusal of the menu clearly indicated that like Mastro’s – a previously excellent experience – Beef wasn’t “the only choice.”

Arriving for my (admittedly early) 5:30 reservations after browsing around (and being ignored at) Saks just down the street I made my way through the beautiful hotel and smiling faces to the valet area in back where SideBar and CUT sit side by side. As the waiters were just arriving I was told it would take “about 10 minutes before my table was ready” and that I could wait in the bar. Entering sidebar I was impressed by the gigantic images of rock, movie, and political icons along the wall and the comfortable couches. Not wanting anything to drink I simply sat and checked out the scene while listening to the admittedly superb soundtrack of The Who and The Doors. After 15 minutes I went back to the hostess station where (ironically) she was explaining on the phone that they could only hold tables for 15 minutes before giving them away – and I was told it would be another 5 minutes before my table was ready. Looking at my watch the time was 5:45 and as such 15+5=20 by my math….clearly the 15 minute rule is for customers only. As promised, however, at 5:50 I was led to my seat.

Walking to my great table on the main dining floor (directly under a huge picture of The Material Girl herself) I noted three young chefs rapidly chopping fresh fruits and vegetables at the entrance counter and the wide open kitchen behind glass where one can watch every aspect of the preparation from cutting to searing to finishing to the chef’s interactions with the wait staff – very cool. Approximately two minutes after seating I was brought water and a menu (featuring The Governator) and greeted by the floor manager who wished me a wonderful meal and suggested I ask for her directly if I needed anything during my meal. I was subsequently visited by the sommelier (declined, but gracious) and then met William – quite bluntly the best server I’ve ever had at any restaurant (TFL, Trotters, Alex, Providence included.) A fellow Ohioan who talked plainly about the differences between the Midwest and the West, showed interest in my line of work, answered all questions, and engaged in conversations about music and the world in general – like a great bartender yet tableside – I really can’t say enough about the quality service, especially for a solo diner who wasn’t racking up a huge wine bill.

Menu selections made, William noticed me taking pictures and asked if I’d like to see the beautiful A5 and in order to be like every other foodblogger I snapped the obligatory picture of the $10,000+ worth of sake fed and massaged cow. Picture taken, I was next brought the signature cheesy breadsticks and shortly thereafter the bread and butter – and what a selection it was. Salted and somewhat smoky sweet butter plus pumpernickel, white, onion forcaccia, and pretzel all served warm – it is a tossup between the onion and the pretzel as to which I ate more of, but I know it was a minimum of 5 pieces each – a nominee for best bread selection ever.

After the breads I was delivered the first of two amuses bouche from the kitchen. The first, provided to every table within my view, was a basket of savory gougeres. Using a sharp cheese that may have been cheddar, the gougeres were good, but in my opinion somewhat too large and therefore not quite as melt-in-the-mouth savory as the versions at The French Laundry or Providence. The second amuse, comped by the kitchen (as noted on the bill) were three steaming knishes served with spicy mustard. Large in portion and perfectly crispy outside with a pillow soft interior these beautiful dumplings of four cheeses including mozzarella and gruyere, onion, and hints of sage tasted like a heavenly baked potato and should definitely be ordered or requested by those who’ve had the opportunity to taste a knish or pierogie in the past.

More discussion of the city and life in Los Angeles followed the knishes and after approximately 10 minutes a second server arrived with my appetizer - the Rhubarb Compote, Fresh Buratta, Prosciutto Di Parma, and Tuscan Olive Oil. Smaller in size than the version at La Botte and unfortunately without the Black Mission Figs promised on the online menu, the dish was still a hit with the smooth and milky buratta accented flawlessly by a slightly grassy olive oil and two thin slices of fatty and salty prosciutto. As compliments to the salty and smooth components of the dish were served small dollops of sweet rhubarb compote with strong vinegar accents and a sharp tang. All told the dish was great, but at $21 (oddly, the menu price was listed as $16 but the price on the bill was $5 more) I'd prefer the fantastic ham selections at The Bazaar or Osteria Mozza.

Following another short wait, presentation of 3 mustards and fleur de sel, and songs from Pink Floyd, Prince, and (ironically) Neil Young’s Ohio a small preparation table was brought up and after another short conversation with William two waiters appeared with my main course and side dishes. Each presented prior to preparation for pictures, the smells from the food had my mouth watering with anticipation. As a side, Creamed Spinach with Fried Organic Egg was a beautiful mélange of crème fraiche, nutmeg, and earthy spinach topped with one of the most yellow and pure eggs I’ve seen in some time. Breaking the yolk with a pair of long forks the server whipped the concoction to a light foam and then plated approximately one third. Still piping hot, the rich dish was absolutely wonderful in it’s simplicity and each flavor rang through with notable aplomb.

For my main, Line Caught Chilean Sea Bass (which I was assured had been caught live within the past 48 hours and passed all sorts of ‘ethics’ issues that I found humorous albeit appropriate) was presented in whole grilled form and then skillfully deboned tableside, drizzled with olive oil, and spooned with Spring Garlic Leek Reduction. Literally “fall apart” tender, this was possibly the best grilled fish preparation I’ve ever tasted and the quality of the bass was second to none. Mildly accented with the olive oil and surprisingly smooth yet aromatic onion/garlic reduction the dish was everything I expected and makes me wish I had the time, sourcing quality, or finances to make such a healthful dish at home.

Plates cleared (literally, mopped up with another slice of pretzel bread) I must admit I was feeling a little full – but having read numerous accounts of their dessert selections I was ready for more – and with 6 selections on the menu and only one that didn’t sound amazing I almost wished I had eaten less pretzel bread. Bearing with the menu’s title I “Cut to the Chase” and made my selection which I was told would take 10 minutes to prepare (and would be totally worth it.)

Once again, the general manager and William stopped by to chat while I waited and yet again I was wowed by such service – I can only imagine how the Hollywood elite are treated on their visits. When I asked if chef Puck or Hefter was in house I was informed that Puck was preparing for a charity event while Lee was to arrive later as he was at Spago for the early part of the evening. Moments passed and a young lady next appeared with a steaming metal pan while another carried a long white porcelain tray. “Be careful, it is hot” said the staff.

Valrhona Chocolate Souffle with Milk Chocolate Sauce, Whipped Crème Fraîche, and Gianduja Ice Cream…it is hard to sum up in words outside of “wow.” Enormous yet not “overwhelming,” airy yet dense, bittersweet yet fudgy (brownie-batter) – and that was just the perfectly prepared soufflé. On the side, a dense chocolate sauce that I was told was 64% cocoa Valrhona/whipping cream/butter, a heavenly light yet mildly sour whipped crème, and smooth hazelnut Gianduja ice cream each formed a completely different sensation when paired with bites of the soufflé and I was particularly glad that I was allowed to add each as desired as opposed to the standard cut/pour at so many other places. Better than Danko’s famous soufflé and at least on par (if not better) than the version at Le Cirque – a masterpiece, and the second time I’ve been blown out of the water by an LA Steakhouse dessert (Mastro’s Buttercake may still be my favorite dessert ever.)

Following the meal, more or less stuffed, I was brought a final treat from the kitchen – a pair of Caramel Crunch and Meyer Lemon Yuzu shortbread cookies. An appropriate end to such a great meal, the wonderfully cool and creamy lemon bars were every bit as good as a lemon torte pastry (and quite large in size for a petit fore of such potency) while the Caramel Crunch was large chunks of cashew encased in a decidedly chewy and succulent caramel – hilarious when your mouth is completely stuck together and yet another server stops by to ask you how the meal was.

When it was all said and done after tax and an appropriate tip I walked out of the Beverly Wilshire slightly north of $100 and miles north of content. A great fan of French and Italian restaurants in most cases I was simply stunned by the level of service, quality of food, and overall feel of CUT. Whether that night was “the standard” or whether the team simply went out of their way for a single diner I cannot be sure, but I would place CUT on my list of best places to eat solo of all time (along with Le Cirque, The French Laundry, and Providence) and definitely at the pinnacle of my steakhouse experiences – the staff of Mastro’s and Craftsteak could certainly stand to learn from William and Puck’s brilliant team. Without a doubt the next time I’m in Los Angeles or Las Vegas and one of my friends suggests they’d like “a steak,” my response will be CUT.

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