Monday, January 21, 2008

LA Dining: Pacific Dining Car

I always make it a point to stop in at the original Pacific Dining Car located downtown in Los Angeles when I am in town. While I am always on a quest for new experiences PDC is such a delight that I can't help but visit it. You can read my prior post here.

I have eaten at PDC on numerous occasions and have had a chance to try almost all of the cuts on the menu. One steak that had thus far eluded me was the "baseball" steak, a massive hunk of sirloin, a cut that you don't see on too many steakhouse menus because it tends to be a bit tougher than porterhouses, strips and rib eyes. However, when taken from prime steer, dry aged and cooked with care it can be every bit as wonderful as other steaks. And this is exactly what PDC does. The steak is juicy and deeply flavorful with that unmistakable musky tang that dry aging imparts. It is also massive, probably big enough to share. Coincidentally I ate a sirloin at Keens Steakhouse in NYC only a week before but this was a Japanese Kobe sirloin that cost $150. The PDC steak, while fittingly falling short of the Kobe in terms of tenderness and succulence, never the less held its own in terms of boldness of flavor and it did have that wonderful dry aged tang that Kobe does not have as the latter is wet aged. And the PDC sirloin is a third of the price and three times the size of the Kobe variety.

The steaks at PDC are grilled over mesquite. As I noted in my original review I was initially a bit weary that the mesquite would over power the beef but this is not a problem.. The subtle sweetness imparted by the smoke is delicious. The appetizers and sides at PDC are also excellent. While not the equal of the cuisine at Cut it is definitely well above most other steakhouses. A new addition to the menu since my visit here last year was a delectable beet salad with goat cheese. I have eaten a lot of beet salads lately as it seems to be quite a popular menu item and this one was as good as any I have had.

The interior of PDC is simply charming and very plush. Because PDC started off life, as its name implies, as a train car it its expansion created a rabbit warren like structure of interconnecting rooms. Despite the fact that this is a steakhouse it feels more like a tea room.

In addition to the wonderful steaks, which are available 24 hours a day, PDC serves up a magnificent breakfast as well as an afternoon tea with scones and sandwiches. I am sure the latter is unique amongst steakhouses in the US, or maybe anywhere but for the Ex Pat from the UK it is most welcome. In addition to the wonderful cuisine PDC has some of the most professional, polite and effusive service imaginable. It also boasts an impressive wine cellar. Highly recommended.

Pacific Dining Car
1310 West 6th Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017
(213) 483-6000

LA Dining: Tommy's Hamburgers

I recently waxed poetic about the delight of In N Out burger. I hoped that Original Tommy's another long time California burger institution with several locations would offer me a similar experience. Given that the original location on Beverly and Rampart Boulevards still remains in business over 60 years later I figured that they must be doing something right. I am a sucker for vintage restaurants, especially from the mid century era. Back East White Manna and All American Drive In, two restaurants that have been making burgers as long as Tommy's are my favorite burger spots not just because the burgers are superb but because the buildings they serve them out of and the atmosphere they foster are pure Americana.

I visited both the Tommy's at its original location on Beverly and the one at 5873 Hollywood Blvd. While the former at least has some vintage charm and produced a decent although not world beating burger the Hollywood location, which looks like a generic fast food restaurant, is far harder to recommend.

Note that a "cheeseburger" at Tommy's includes a heaping helping of their "homemade" chili by default. It must be a California thing but I don't for the life of me understand why you would turn a burger in to what amounts to a very Sloppy Joe. The burger itself is on the lean side, being skinnier than an In N Out Burger patty, and the meat is not especially flavorful.

A cheeseburger without the chili from the original location. While it was not a spectacular burger, easily bested by In N Out it was not terrible either. The beef had a nice char although it was a bit too lean. Certainly there was no stinginess with the condiments and pickles. I wouldn't drive too far out of the way for this burger but I would not avoid it either. The Original locations at least has plenty of nostalgia.

The grill at the Original Tommy's.

While I found the burger from the Original location to be decent if ordered sans chili I cannot recommend the Hollywood Blvd location and I would imagine that the same holds true for the other restaurants in the chain. There was nothing special about the burgers at the latter, they were just average fast food drek. Tommy's tag line is " If you don't see the shack, Take it back." How true. If you don't see the original shack, don't bother with Tommy's.

The Original Tommy's

Multiple Locations

LA Dining: In N Out Burger

In N Out burger is miraculous. It is not that the burgers are so superior to my local favorites here in NYC. In ultimate terms a handful of establishments within walking distance from my house - Goodburger, Shake Shack and even the wildly schizophrenic Blue 9 (itself a virtual carbon copy of In N Out) generally offer a superior burger experience. However considering the sheer number of In N Out stores and the volume of business they do and then considering that only fresh ingredients are used and that your burger is almost cooked to order, and that the finished product is wonderful, well that must at least qualify as a minor miracle.

In fact just mentioning In N Out burger in the same breath as far pricier boutique burger establishments such as the aforementioned Goodburger and Shake Shack is a testament to the superiority of In N Out. It should really be compared to MacDonald's and Burger King as it is ultimately fast food. And while I have not eaten at any of the national fast food chains in years I can tell you, there is no comparison.

Standard In N Out Burgers come dressed with lettuce, tomato, "spread" (otherwise known as Thousand Island dressing) with onion slice optional on a delicious white bun. I should note that the beef is really very good. A quick perusal of the companies website reveals why:

"Our hamburgers are made from fresh, 100% pure beef. They are free of additives, fillers and preservatives of any kind, and we buy only chucks, the front ribs and shoulder. No other parts are ever used. Our butchers carefully hand-cut and grind the beef in our own facility at which point the patties are shipped directly to our stores in refrigerated trucks by our own drivers. This way we have total control over the production of every burger."

This is music to the beef aficionado's ears. If only all burgers received such devotion. I think the beef is so good that I prefer my In N Out burgers with just cheese, pickle and a dab of ketchup, forgoing the lettuce, tomato and creamy dressing but fully realizing the flavor of the patty. However, almost any combination of ingredients on an In N Out burger is delicious. Indeed, in addition to the posted menu there is an almost dizzying number of "secret" menu items:
  • M by C -M meat patties and C slices of cheese (for example, a 3 by 3 or a 2 by 4)
  • Triple Meat - Three meat patties without cheese.
  • Animal Style - In addition to the usual condiments, mustard fried on the meat, pickles, extra spread and grilled onions are added.
  • Burger & animal-style fries.
  • Animal Style Fries
  • Animal Style Fries - Fries with cheese, spread, and grilled onions.
  • Double Meat -Two meat patties without cheese.
  • Extra Everything - Adds extra spread, tomato, lettuce, and onions (regular or grilled).
  • Flying Dutchman -Two meat patties and two slices of melted cheese.
  • Extra Toast -Bun is cooked longer so it is extra toasted.
  • Fries "Light" -Almost raw fries that are cooked for less time.
  • Fries "Well" -Fries that are cooked longer to be extra crisp.
  • Fries with cheese -Fries with two slices of melted cheese placed on top.
  • Grilled Cheese -Two slices of melted cheese, tomato, lettuce and spread on a bun, with no meat. There is also a Grilled Cheese Animal Style (grilled onions are added).
  • Choco-Vanilla Swirl Shake -Chocolate and vanilla flavors combined in one shake.
  • Neapolitan Shake -All three shake flavors (strawberry, vanilla and chocolate) combined in one shake.
  • Root Beer Float -Vanilla shake with root beer combined.
  • Protein Style -Instead of a bun, the burger is wrapped in lettuce.
  • Veggie Sandwich -A sandwich without meat or cheese.
  • Spread -Extra packets of refrigerated Thousand Island dressing in packages marked "Spread".
  • Lemon up -1/2 lemonade 1/2 7-up.
  • Animal style cheeseburger

    Animal autopsy

    I cannot recommend In N Out Burger enthusiastically enough. If you have yet to try one it should definitely be on your radar, do not think that this is typical fast food, if you have then you already know what I am talking about.

    In N Out Burger
    Numerous locations

    Friday, January 18, 2008

    LA Dining: Cut

    I had the pleasure of dining at Cut, Wolfgasng Puck's celebrated steakhouse, while in LA. I was most impressed when last I ate here and once again I had a memorable meal, although I am perhaps not quite as star struck as I was on my last visit. It is not that the effusive service, sleek decor and Kobe beef are not first class it is just that the domestic steer is not quite up to the best available. However, the food in general is so good that you could not even eat steak and still have a gourmet meal here. I don't know of to many steakhouses were that is possible.

    Maple Glazed Pork Belly, Asian Spices, Sesame–Orange Dressing, Bartlett Pear Compote

    Maryland Blue Crab & Maine Lobster “Louis” Cocktail, Spicy Tomato-Horseradish

    A carefully crafted wine list does not suffer from an overabundance of choices but successfully covers a broad range of tastes and budgets. This bottle of Luca Malbec was a bargain at $70, and was far cheaper than the steaks that it accompanied.

    Clockwise from top left: American Wagyu ribeye, American Wagyu filet mignon, Japanese Wagyu filet mignon, Japanese Wagyu rib eye and Japanses Wagyu NY strip.

    The steak offerings at Cut are a carnivores delight. Here is the complete beef menu:

    U.S.D.A. PRIME, Illinois Corn Fed, Aged 21 Days

    Porterhouse 34 Oz (For Two) Per Person $51
    Bone In New York Sirloin 20 Oz $51
    Bone In Rib Eye Steak 20 Oz $53
    Bone In Filet Mignon 16 Oz $53
    Petit Cut Filet Mignon 8 Oz $44

    U.S.D.A. PRIME, Nebraska Corn Fed, Dry Aged 35 Days
    Rib Eye Steak 16 OZ $61
    New York Sirloin 14 Oz $58
    Petit Cut New York 10 Oz $46

    American Wagyu / Angus “Kobe Style” Beef From Snake River Farms, Idaho
    Porterhouse 34 Oz (For Two) Per Person $65
    Filet Mignon 6 Oz $60 ($20 each additional 2 ounces)
    New York Sirloin 8 Oz $70 ($20 each additional 2 ounces)

    True Japanese 100% Wagyu Beef from Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu, Japan
    New York $120 6 Oz ($40 each additional 2 ounces)
    Filet Mignon $130 6 Oz ($40 each additional 2 ounces)
    Rib Eye Steak $160 8 Oz ($40 each additional 2 ounces)

    All steaks grilled over hard wood and charcoal then finished under a 1200 Degree Broiler.

    Interestingly the Illinois corn fed steaks are not dry aged although they are certainly priced as if they are. I am a big advocate of dry aging, while one can certainly achieve tenderness by using a wet age, dry aging imparts a complexity and depth of flavor beyond what can be achieved with liquid. A wet aged steak will have essentially the same flavor regardless of which part of the steak you eat. Dry aged beef will offer a range of flavors as you sample different sections of the steak.

    The Nebraska steer is dry aged for 35 days, longer than the average chophouse but I did not find that this helped develop more flavor than I get from any number of my regular chophouses back East. Certainly it paled in comparison to the 35 day dry aged "Kansas City" strip that I enjoyed so much at Primehouse recently. The American Wagyu on offer at Cut, which is a mix of the true black Wagyu steer of Japan and domestic Angus steer, receives similar treatment to it Japanese cousin in terms of being fed beer and massaged with Sake. But because the American Wagyu is free range it develops more muscle and consequently lacks the intensity of fat content that the Japanese Wagyu steer exhibit. While it is unfortunately not dry aged it is never the less wonderful stuff,. I was able to compare Nebraska Prime, domestic and Japanese Kobe strips as there was a sampler on offer when I ate there.

    NY Strip sampler, from left to right 2oz Japanese Wagyu, 4oz American Wagyu and 4oz American Prime.

    As for the NY Strip sampler the Japanese Wagyu was absolutely beyond reproach, commiserate with its hefty price, I found the US Prime to fall behind the best that NYC''s top steakhouses have to offer. The American Wagyu was less definitively ranked. Certainly it was tender, more so than USDA Prime can hope to be but because it is wet aged it fell short of its ultimate potential. It did have the best preparation of the steaks sampled, exhibiting a lovely char. . The sampler, or "flight" as certain other more pretentious establishments might call it (think Kobe Club NY) is an interesting experiment, especially for a food blogger, but I recommend that you just order a whole steak, either the American or preferably the Japanese Wagyu varieties.

    The American Prime, although dry aged lacked the deep flavors I expect from prime steer. Also be warned that by default the steaks come dusted with pepper and salt. I recommend asking for the steak to be served sans the pepper to fully realize the flavor of the beef.

    10oz Japanese Wagyu rib eye, $200

    As the menu indicates the Japanese Wagyu is true Kobe from the Kagoshima Prefecture, Kyushu. The rib eye steak is utterly exquisite. Intensely marbled, brimming with flavor it is by far the richest, most decadent cut of beef I have eaten. While I usually order my steaks black and blue true Japanese Wagyu is so dense with fat I prefer it medium rare. Over the course of the last year or so I have sampled true Japanese Wagyu on numerous occasions and I can definitively say that Cut offers the finest incarnation. I appreciate the fact that the steaks are served whole, with a decent amount of char and with out embellishments.

    Cut is not fantastic steakhouse, it is a fantastic restaurant. The service is personable and professional, more congruent with the type of service one receives in fine dining restaurants. The Richard Meier designed room is beautiful but more importantly the cuisine is outstanding and while I did not find the domestic steer to be the equal of the best examples of the breed the Japanese Wagyu is the finest I have had. In many ways Cut is the most ambitious and also the most successful reinterpretation of the traditional steakhouse that I have eaten. at. In NYC the restaurants that come closest to Cut at least in spirit are Craftsteak and Dylan Prime. But while I liked both, especially Dylan Prime they are not quite in the same league as Cut, which is indeed a cut above. Highly recommended but deep pockets are required.

    Cut By Wolfgang Puck
    9500 Wilshire Blvd
    Beverly Hills, CA 90212
    Phone: (310) 275-5200

    Thursday, January 17, 2008

    LA Dining: Philippe

    Legend has it that back in 1918 French immigrant to Los Angeles Philippe Mathieu was preparing a sandwich in his deli that he had opened 10 years earlier when he accidentally dropped the bread into a pan of beef drippings. The result was the now ubiquitous "French Dip" sandwich, so called because of Philippe's heritage. Almost 90 years since that happy accident Philippe's continues to churn out the signature sandwich.

    Celebrating its 100th year this year Philippe's is an iconic institution. In many ways it is the quintessential American Delicatessen serving an ethnically and economically diverse clientèle, there is a real sense of egalitarianism here as both rich and poor line up for 10 cent cups of coffee and the famous French Dip.

    The "original" French Dip sandwich

    While Philippe's is not the sole claimant to title of "originator" of the French Dip in Los Angeles they are the only one still open. Coles P.E. located on East 6th street also laid claim to the title but it closed as of March 2007.

    Although the beef is cooked all the way through it is sliced thinly enough to remain tender. The spongy French bread becomes delightfully soggy with the rich beef au jus but remains intact enough to hold together. While the Beef Aficionado would love to try a rare version of the sandwich the way it is served is delicious.

    The pancakes at Philippe are amazingly good, a crispy golden exterior gives way to a fluffy, airy interior. The generous butter and side of syrup make for a decadent breakfast, especially with the side of extra crispy bacon.

    While the corned beef hash is tasty it appears to be canned, too bad because with all the roast beef Philippe's sells they could make a spectacular roast beef hash from scratch.

    Ham steak

    While the main draw at Philippe is obviously the French Dip sandwich I was also impressed with the breakfast, especially the pancakes. Of course you can have the best of both worlds since you can always get the French Dip at Philippe, it is served from 6AM onwards.

    1001 North Alameda Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90012

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    LA Dining: Izayoi

    I would have probably avoided Izayoi were it located in a similar environment in NYC, sharing the same block, as it does, with a Quizno's and an Office Depot in a new, rather poorly designed strip mall. However, this is LA and the strip mall happens to be in Little Tokyo. I have heard that even the Nobu in Malibu is situated in a strip mall so I suppose I should not judge a book by its cover.

    The unassuming, spartan interior is comfortable but certainly won't win any design awards

    Shrimp and Scallop Au Gratin macaroni

    Izayoi is a " izakaya" style restaurant, offering Tapas style fare along with a full sushi bar. Of course this is Beef Aficionado and there is plenty on the menu to satisfy the carnivore.

    Beef Sashimi

    The Beef Sashimi was served in wrap form around lettuce, the beef was lightly seared and then finally sliced. It was not ultimately the most tender sashimi I have eaten, expectedly falling behind the Kobe Wagyu variations, but it was tasty enough.

    Beef Tongue Steak

    In Japan beef tongue is far more prized than it is in the West were it is often treated as a second rate lunch meat. Indeed in Japan they have restaurants that specialize in serving tongue, even going so far as to dry age it. After sampling the tongue at Izayoi my interest is seriously piqued as it was delicious. A sweet, sticky sauce forms a crunchy shell on the tongue which in contrast is very tender. The flesh itself is cooked through and has a consistency not unlike smoked brisket. This was a wonderful dish.

    Beef liver

    Another cut of beef that receives short thrift on Western menus these days is liver, again usually making its way in to lunch meats and hot dogs. At Izayoi liver is treated with more reverence and the results are delicious. The delicate, tender flesh virtually melts in ones mouth imparting a mineral rich flavor. I find it curious that gourmets will pay top dollar for Fois Gras but will avoid beef liver. The latter can offer an equally sumptuous experience as is evidenced by the offering at Izayoi.

    Tempura ice cream

    Izayoi, perhaps best known for its Sushi, which apparently has inspired a bit of a cult following, also offer some exciting and unique beef dishes at a reasonable price. Recommended.

    132 S. Central Ave.
    (bet. 1st & 2nd Sts.)
    Los Angeles, CA

    LA Dining: Pann's

    I am visiting LA for a week and my fist stop out of LAX is Pann's diner on La Tijera Blvd. Even if you have never been there chances are you have seen Pann's as it has been featured in numerous films including Pulp Fiction.

    The interior is a wonderfully preserved example of the classic mid Century diner aesthetic

    Chicken Fried Steak and country gravy, breakfast style with eggs and potatoes

    The Chicken Fried Steak is wonderfully tender with a crispy peppery crust that somehow manges to resist becoming soggy under the envelopment of the velvety country gravy. This is the perfect treatment for potentially tough cuts of beef such as cube steak. While the eggs were a tad over cooked the potatoes had a crispy shell that gave way to a creamy buttery interior. The steak is also available for lunch and dinner and is served with side items in place of the eggs and 'taters.

    House Specialty Chicken and Waffles

    Bobcat Bite Burger

    Inspired by the famous Bobcat Bite in Santa Fe, New Mexico this fresh ground USDA Choice burger comes piled high with Ortega green chilies on a home made bun. The Bobcat Bite was featured in George Motz' seminal film Hamburger America. While I have never had the pleasure of dining at the Bobcat Bite I have tried the chilies directly from the Bobcat Bite itself thanks to George Motz who had a secret stash at a screening of his film a few years back. I seem to remember the chilies from the 'Bite to be quite spicy, in comparison the Pann's incarnation had far milder chilies. Never the less I can certainly recommend the Pann's version of the sandwich, it was very tasty.

    Pann's is a wonderful restaurant, beyond the alluring design the food is delicious. It is the perfect pit stop after flying in to LAX but it is more than worth the trip from much further afield.

    6710 LaTijera
    Los Angeles CA 90045