I never gave much thought to the thousands of miles of ocean that cosset our country until the meat crisis afflicting much of the rest of the world hit; each horrific headline stirs both grief for those who can no longer eat beef (and other hoofed creatures) with impunity, and relief that we can. And no doubt will — for if there is a food that epitomizes our national character, it’s beef, and I‘m not talking the gazillion burgers sold at McDonald’s every day, but the gargantuan T-bones (served with mashed potatoes and creamed spinach, please) that we devour with the enthusiasm of our frontier forebears. Steak calls up the restaurant meals our folks took us to, the significant lunch the boss sprang for, the splurge when that big check came in. In short, steak makes us feel safe.
And we are, for now. Which means that all committed carnivores should eat beef with abandon while we may.
The steak house I most often frequent is Taylor‘s, the branch bordering Koreatown, open since 1953 and happily looking not to have redecorated since, with prototypical red-leatherette booths, moody amber lighting, oversize paintings of ships and sheiks, and a hale, mostly male clientele who hew to the belief that rye on the rocks and 20 ounces of aged prime beef are a birthright. This is the place to take your family, order some Shirley Temples and a nice Bordeaux, work through that slather of blue-cheese dressing on the iceberg-lettuce salad, and then dig into Taylor’s signature culotte steak, a juicy, well-marbled orb cut from the sirloin, or the hefty porterhouse, which arrives sizzling on a tin platter. The potatoes are mashed with a schooner of butter, you can get your horseradish mildly creamed or sinus-incinerating straight, and the tab isn‘t any great shake: Four can get out the door for about $125.
That same $125 might, if you’re careful, buy lunch for two at The Palm, one of a chain started in New York in the 1920s, though the aesthetics of L.A.‘s steakery-to-the-stars is of the stars — hokey wall caricatures of celebrities you’ve heard of (a baby-faced Larry Flynt, every guest star who ever sported a shag) and those you haven‘t (Bob Loox?), their youth trapped in perpetuity beneath tawny resin. The booths are enormous, perfect for the fat ass you will no doubt acquire if you make the Palm’s prime-aged, 36-ounce New York strip for two a habit. The behemoth brick of beef arrives bearing blisters of char, the aroma lingering as the career waiter whisks it away to be sliced, returning with thick, pristine slabs, purple in the center, singed on the edges. Tender in parts, chewy in others, this steak is an odyssey, one you‘ll swear you can’t finish, and yet you will, along with creamed spinach so buttery it tastes like molten dairy with a dash of green, and a wedge of cheesecake whose contradictions fill the mouth and leave one speechless: Dense yet fluffy, sweet yet tangy, this is the best cheesecake in the city. If you really can‘t fit a slice, be a hero and take some home for your honey.
When I want to break the bank and eat what I think is the best steak in L.A., I go to Dan Tana’s, where old-guard Hollywood, sports figures, local politicos and lots of florid-faced folks tawking New Yawk gather at the always boisterous bar, before chowing down a 16-ounce New York cut that goes by the moniker Dabney Coleman. (Though plenty of people rave about the chicken marsala, I find the menu‘s fowl and fish items superfluous, the litany of specials delivered by the Italian waiters a distraction.) You have this big, lustrous, prime-aged hunk of steer all to yourself, and because everyone’s on a fourth martini, no one will notice the juices rolling down your chin. Get a dish of sauteed spinach, glossy with olive oil and studded with garlic, and an order of the butter-delivery system known as garlic toast.
I don‘t even want to imagine a world without steak. And if your arteries constrict and your conscience bucks at the mere thought of all this good fat, take heart: All those “healthy choices” we meat eaters now look down our noses at may, in the near future, be our only option.
Taylor’s Steakhouse, 3361 W. Eighth St.; (213) 382-8449. Also, 901 Foothill Blvd., La Cañada–Flintridge; (818) 790-7668. Open Mon.–Fri. for lunch, nightly for dinner. Full bar. AE, MC, V.
The Palm, 9001 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 550-8811. Open Mon.–Fri. for lunch, nightly for dinner. Full bar. AE, DC, MC, V.
Dan Tana‘s, 9071 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; (310) 275-9444. Open nightly for dinner. Full bar. AE, D, MC, V.