By any standard metric, this past Saturday's Beefsteak dinner at Vibiana was a success. There were hors d'oeuvres from chefs Jason Travi, who turned out truffled eggs and bourbon shots topped with veal broth foam, and Neal Fraser, who presented crab cakes, salmon blini and plump little lamb kidneys wrapped in bacon. A large ice sculpture of a steer stood near the side altar. Beer and wine flowed in copious amounts; on some of the long banquet tables sat carafes filled with strong, well-made Manhattans. Dinner brought large bowls of roasted fingerling potatoes, sauteed broccolini with garlic, and long platters of beautifully rare flank steak to be dipped in red wine jus and horseradish sauce. By the end of the night a good deal of money was raised for the L.A. Food Bank.
Was it a fine meal? Sure. Was it a proper beefsteak? A historical meal that Joseph Mitchell described in a 1939 New Yorker piece as, “a form of gluttony as stylized and regional as the riverbank fish fry, the hot-rock clambake, or the Texas barbeque.” No, but it was probably as close as Los Angeles is probably going to get.
This modern revival of the Beefsteak dinner was co-hosted by comedian/actor Eric Wareheim, The Simpsons writer Matt Selman and TV producer Cort Cass (Aziz Ansari was also billed as a co-host on the program, but never materialized). The event was populated mostly by members of the Hollywood comedy scene, all dressed in varying levels of cocktail wear. We asked Workaholics star Blake Anderson (the guy with the bushy hair and thin mustache) why so many comedians were into food. He explained succinctly, “Have you ever tried to write comedy on an empty stomach?”
Many of the hallmarks of the famous beefsteak were apparent. Guests were meant to don large aprons on which to wipe their hands — beefsteaks meals are eaten sans utensils, napkins or plates. A folksy rock band played up on the main stage. At some point in the meal, Wareheim presided over a mock wedding between a “meat troll” and his “meat trollette,” in a bizzaro scene that could have been plucked from the Tim & Eric Show.
That was about where the similarities ended. While some patrons tore through the meat like starved lions, a greater portion nibbled daintily. No table was served a second round of flank steak; some didn't even finish their first [Correction: According to a source, several wirter from Bob's Burgers enjoyed a second serving of beef. Well done, lads]. The event was meant to last until 1 a.m., but the crowd had thinned to almost nothing by midnight. Was it too much to expect the kind of gluttony and bacchanalian excess that the Beefsteaks of yesteryear were known for? Perhaps in L.A. it is, where driving home at reasonable hour puts a limit on cocktail consumption, and eating multiple platters of rare steak in a single sitting is generally frowned upon.
Later, as we shared an after dinner cocktail with comedian Rob Hubel, the star of the Adult Swim show Children's Hospital and a member of the sketch comedy group Human Giant, he mentioned that he might find himself hungry a few hours later. “I think I might even stop for tacos on the way home,” he confessed. This sentence, in an ideal world, should never be uttered after a beefsteak, but in our culture of ever-increasing moderation, it's a statement that can be understood. More steak and booze for us then.
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