Food trends come and go, but steakhouses ought to be forever. A special-occasion dining experience long before the term "foodie" ever entered the lexicon, the steakhouse remains the finest testament to American exceptionalism — and its recent resurgence in L.A. (see the Arthur J, Steak & Whisky, Baltaire) suggests that fine dining might not be dead after all.
Of course, sensational cuts of beef don't come cheap. On Los Angeles menus, it's not uncommon to find steak slabs saddled with triple-digit price tags. What makes a steak worthy of commanding such a premium? Consider these choice insights before selecting your next top-dollar slab.
Marbled liberally with fat and bursting with umami flavor, the dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye has virtues that are undeniable. Aging the beef in a cooler for up to several months takes, well, time. And time costs money. You need not break the bank, however. Mastro's in Beverly Hills offers a 22-ounce version, aged for 28 days, for $59. Caked in a charred layer of funk, its core swims in its own juices, supple enough to ingest with nary a chew.
Climb higher still by seeking out the rib-eye cap: a thin layer of fatted muscle commonly known as "Butcher's Butter" for its unparalleled tenderness. The Arthur J in Manhattan Beach grills a Japanese Wagyu variety of the cut, priced at $72 — for two ounces. Incomparable in flavor, you'll want to cherish each scant bite.
The secret to its magic? "Fat equals flavor," says the Arthur J head chef David LeFevre. "Most guests mistake fat for that bad, chewy gristle or connective tissue. The fat that chefs talk about is the type that marbles into the meat. It's like butter in texture and melts in your mouth." In the United States, steaks with the highest degree of that marbling are labeled "prime."
With Wagyu beef, the Japanese perfected a technique of feeding and massaging their cattle to maximize the lacing of the fat, penetrating deep into the surrounding muscle. A5 is the highest expression of such artistry. Notable steakhouses such as Baltaire in Brentwood or Alexander's in Pasadena offer theirs for as much as $50 per ounce.
But LeFevre also reminds the casual steakhouse venturer that it's not always about the most precious cuts.
"I love skirt steak for its incredible value and deep flavor," he says. At his restaurant, you'll find a wood-grilled example, 10 ounces of beef with a satiating chewiness, for a thrifty $28.
To behold this cut in its ideal, though, you'll need a special invite to Totoraku, the $260-a-head Japanese yakiniku joint in West L.A.
As much fervor as Japanese-style steak elicits, there are, of course, profoundly satisfying cuts that are uniquely American. The porterhouse comes to mind, in all its gluttonous glory. The sizable short loin slab is divided by a T-shaped bone, offering buttery tenderness on one side and rugged flavor on the other. It's not a cheap cut, but it can qualify as a value, as it often provides enough meat to satisfy multiple carnivores. BOA in West Hollywood serves a memorable one for $78.
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These days, however, the all-American experience is perhaps best exemplified by an evening with the tomahawk — a massive, on-the-bone prime rib that's grown into something of a steakhouse fixture over the past decade. You don't just share this beef, you marvel at it.
Steak & Whisky in Hermosa Beach offers a show-stopping example. For $115, you're presented with 40 ounces of seared protein, dry-aged for just over a month. Wrapped within the crispness of a lightly salted char, the meat is chewy to its core, increasing in tenderness as you reach the elongated rib bone.
Back up the street at the Arthur J, chef LeFevre offers a comparably outrageous tomahawk, his priced at $146 — which you can then top off with seared Hudson Valley foie gras for $20 more.