The timing, admittedly, could have been better. L.A. is awash in steakhouses, the no-brainer restaurant concept of the last couple of years. Puck and Spago executive chef Lee Hefter had been thinking about opening a steakhouse for awhile but the right location hadn't presented itself. So when the landmark luxury hotel a stone's throw from Spago came calling, it seemed like a natural.
The clincher was Puck's friend Richard Meier agreeing to design it. The Getty Center architect doesn't normally take on such piddling projects. Cut is Meier's first restaurant and it's a beaut. A study in airy volumes and subtle curves, it's a sleek, thoroughly contemporary contrast to the hotel's otherwise traditional hauteur. The crowd at Cut's entrance at the back of the hotel, just across from the adjacent Sidebar lounge, may drip Pucci prints and old-fashioned bling, dress up or down, wear their own tresses or somebody else's, but inside the mood is cool, casual elegance.
For The Record
Restaurant review: The review of Cut in Wednesday's Food section said it was the first restaurant designed by architect Richard Meier. Meier previously designed Restaurant 66 in Manhattan.
Kobe beef: A restaurant review of Cut steakhouse in the Aug. 9 Food section said Kobe beef was being imported from various prefectures in Japan. Kobe beef comes from only one prefecture, Hyogo.
Hollywood A-listers and the assorted famous and infamous are seated at honey-colored wood tables, leaning back in slender mesh-covered Eames chairs that swivel at the slightest touch, the better to see who's sitting where, who's looking suddenly radiant, who's showing off the latest wife. It's the Spago crowd, come to see what Mr. Puck is up to with this new restaurant.
One night I sit back in one of those oh-so-comfortable $600 chairs, taking in the scene. There's enough going on to fit in the frame of a modern Brueghel painting.
In the exhibition kitchen, Hefter faces off with chef de cuisine Ari Rosenson. At one table, the sommelier decants red wine, a flotilla of shimmering crystal wineglasses lined up beside her. One guest feels so at home she's slipped out of her shoes and wiggles her toes happily as she looks over the menu. A man wearing an impressive watch and soft, faded jeans is sprawled half in, half out of the chair. Everyone at a festive long table in the middle of the room leans toward an older gentleman -- a music industry honcho -- to catch every soft-spoken word.
And yet Cut, which manages to refer to both Hollywood and prime red meat in its name, is a very serious restaurant. Everywhere you look, here a server, there a server, everywhere servers attired in severe black suits move purposefully through the room. Here's one with a sheaf of skinny Parmesan-laced bread sticks. Another sets down an amuse bouche -- a basket of gougeres, flaky gold cheese puffs. After that, it could be tomato-y risotto balls, or more likely, miniature potato knishes that are so heavenly you can't help devouring every one. (They're all from the adjoining Sidebar lounge menu.) And now a server leans toward you, offering four or five different breads fit onto a square tray like jigsaw puzzle pieces.
Proceed slowly: There's much much more to come.
STARTERS include a lobster and crab "Louis" cocktail set down on a shivery cushion of horseradish panna cotta, which melts into a fiery cream on the tongue. It's wonderful. There's also warm veal tongue with braised artichokes and white beans with a pert salsa verde. And a very pretty plate of heirloom tomatoes of all sizes and colors topped with slices of chalky goat cheese and sharp vinegary white anchovies.
Warm asparagus stacked like logs is crowned with a fried egg and bathed in a delicious smoky bacon vinaigrette. Or go ahead and order that maple-glazed pork belly or the foie gras pave, a sumptuous foie gras mousse sandwiched between ultra-thin Moroccan-spiced tuiles -- but I wouldn't. Not if you want to make it to the second course.
The star of the steak lineup is genuine Kobe beef from Japan, which is just now being imported from various prefectures there. Cut has secured its supply with a standing order for the highly prized beef, and at some point before you order, a server will come around to show off the two kinds of Kobe, Japanese and American. The Japanese cuts are so heavily marbled they look more like fat marbled with lean than the reverse, while the American Kobe from Snake River Farms in Idaho is quite a bit leaner. At Cut, Japanese Kobe steaks are $160 for 8 ounces, $40 more for every additional two ounces.
The beef equivalent of foie gras, the astonishing rich steak is worth trying at least once, just to see what it can be. Puck never ever stints on the quality of his ingredients, so this is top-notch stuff. Tender as butter, a bite holds a world of flavor and the taste isn't in a hurry to go away. But a bite or two and you're sated. Sharing an 8-ounce sirloin, say, with the table so everyone gets a taste might be the way to go. I personally can't conceive of eating an entire Kobe beef steak all by myself.
Not that the other steaks are shabby. Rosenson, a veteran of Spago's kitchen, first sears them in the 1,200-degree broiler to seal in the juices, then cooks them slow over a hardwood and charcoal grill to infuse the meat with that ineffable smoky edge that sends hard-core carnivores over the top of the moon.
If you crave a traditional steak, prime and corn-fed, Cut has plenty on offer. I watch a friend open his eyes wide with astonished pleasure when he takes a first bite of his filet mignon. It's not my favorite cut, but this one -- Illinois corn-fed beef, bone-in, wet-aged 21 days -- is superb, with more texture than you usually get with a filet, and a subtle flavor that seems the essence of beefly goodness.
For my money, the best steak in the house is the 14-ounce prime Nebraska corn-fed New York sirloin, dry-aged for 35 days. Heavily charred, the meat is a deep rose at the center, and despite the dry-aging that gives it so much complex flavor, it's still juicy and utterly satisfying.