When people ask me what my favorite type of food is or what kind of restaurants I love, they probably expect certain answers. Either my favorite food is Korean because, like, I am, you know, Korean, duh; or my favorite type of restaurant is somewhat fancy, foodie forward “new” cuisine in a sleek, chic, upscale setting.
On both accounts, and even on the last account with Benito’s, you wouldn’t be totally wrong, but you wouldn’t be totally right, either. No doubt, I like Korean cuisine, but I did eat it every day for about 20 years of my life, so I see Korean food the same way someone else might see pork chops and casseroles. And while I certainly appreciate sleek, chic, trendy new restaurants that serve teeny tiny precious pretty food, I don’t love it. Oh alright, you’re accurate on the Benito’s nachos, but we’ll ignore that for now.
What I love is good old American steakhouse cuisine in a good old American steakhouse atmosphere. Steaks, chops, heck, throw an herb-roasted chicken in there, the iceberg wedge, sauteed spinach, mashed potatoes (no gravy, though), and macaroni and cheese with a crusty, crumb topping; apple pie a la mode for dessert, and in a Sally moment, if it’s not warm and cold in all the right places, I’ll take a brownie sundae drowning in a fatal lava flow of hot fudge; dark wood interior, leather seats in a deep, hidden booth, white tablecloths, low lights with green lampshades, and somebody somewhere in the room better be ordering a very dry martini.
The thing is, as much as I love American steakhouses, and as much as they’ve sprung up left and right in a hedonistic craze for retro glamour, I don’t go very often. It’s just more fun to keep my medium-rare steaks sacred by reserving them for special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, maybe even a *gag* date. Never mind the fact that most “true” steakhouses would require crossing that great continental divide known as the 405 freeway, and that dinner at a steakhouse could quite easily drain my currently non-existent savings. And that’s before we’ve looked at the wine list.
It wasn’t a special occasion. It’s not even a close “east of the 405” the way Beverly Hills can be negotiated into “the Westside.” Hell, it’s in downtown LA, which may as well be Nevada, and at rush hour? We’re talking about travel time equivalent to a cross-country flight. On America West Airlines. With four layovers. One, overnight in Omaha.
But the promise of beef on someone else’s expense account dime was enough to make me take a shower, replace the year-old CDs in my changer, battle sigalert after sigalert on LA’s miserable freeway system and finally pull into the parking structure under the Wells Fargo building in downtown LA, weary, cranky, and maxed out on my daily quota of four-letter words.
They bribed me with beef from Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse.
Technically, it wasn’t dinner, so there were no steaks involved in this outing. I could have resigned myself to woeful, steak-deprived disappointment, but it was Happy Hour, and there was beef in other, more happily affordable forms. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit, however, that the first thing I ordered was the Mezza Platter with absolutely no meat on it whatsoever. I must have still been under the influence of an I-10 exhaust fume cocktail, but that was quickly remedied by my signature Citron/soda. I don’t know how the monkey made it into the photo. Damn camera-seeking attention-whore freak monkey.
The Mezza Platter, with three taut little dolmades perched atop mounds of creamy hummus, smoky baba ghannouj, and tapenade, was actually a good way to ease into what eventually became a feast for the nonsenses. The group was large so I’m pretty sure that we ordered at least one of everything on Nick & Stef’s bar menu except for the oysters. I don’t recall seeing anything remotely resembling a bowl of chili either, but I could be mistaken. I have made mistakes before. Twice.
The star of Nick & Stef’s bar menu is the Bar Burger. Like a beefy demi-god, it hovers supernaturally tall and lean over French fries that tumble all over themselves in idolatrous worship of the American food icon. As impressive as the Bar Burger was though, it was its tiny siblings, the Baby Bar Burgers, that charmed me. They are angel and devil in one – part cherubic for their adorable size (and price), part demonic for the temptation.
Food on skewers lends itself to Happy Hour, especially for a large group, and Nick & Stef’s has a couple. Thai Steak Skewers were exactly as stated – Thai-inspired steak on skewers served with a Thai-inspired dipping sauce. I ignored that version of beef-sticks and paid more attention to the Slow-roasted Short Rib “Pops.” They were tender, yet together enough to cling onto the end of skewers and survive heavy-handed swirls through mashed potatoes and gravy.
Nick & Stef’s is on the ground floor of the Wells Fargo building in downtown LA. The bar is just inside the front door and spills out onto the patio. This is where the true Happy Hour action rocks out, though not too far out. Nestled between high-rises, you are reminded to maintain your composure amongst silver-haired suits from the banking set, business casual from the Big Three (Four? Five? No, yeah, I think it’s Three now), and the odd California casual. Because the sun sets artifically early behind the tall buildings, it got dark and chilly fairly early. We moved inside.
Once inside, I took a peek around the wall at the main dining room, which had an atmosphere that was starkly different from the bar. At the tail end of Happy Hour, I would have expected diners to descend upon tables, but the dining room was only a quarter full with a mature clientele politely cutting into steaks and speaking in hushed tones. It seemed almost…geriatric. However, one longing gaze at the meat locker and the wine cellar, and I knew I’d have to come back for a real meal.
Yes, I will brave traffic yet again for beef.
Nick & Stef's Steakhouse
330 South Hope Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
** a year ago today, i was invited to a really big cookoff (but i didn't end up participating because i am lazy) **