It’s not quite metrosexual, but when Joachim Splichal of Patina fame opened Nick and Stef’s in 1999, he did deliver a new grace to the traditional masculine clubby steakhouse. Ensconced in the Arco Plaza, a cement arcade in the bosom of highrises, this serious restaurant manages to blend a testosterone-amped view and food with contemporary decor and sophistication.
The restaurant’s an obvious choice for show-goers with the theater center just a few blocks away, and the early evening crowd also gets a boost from Staples Center fans, and that can make the early evening bustling. After curtain or tipoff, the remaining armani-clad firm partners and the comfortably dressed hipsters combine to give the place a smart upscale feel.
The views catch my attention right away. From the dining room’s wall of windows I see the beauty of downtown LA as it continues to mature as a living space. Inside, the aging room displays prodigious cuts of cow through its glass walls. Next is the wine room, with Napa cab magnums aggressively standing guard.
Despite the crowd, I can hear my dining partner and the waiter, and it seems to be the angled blonde wood ceiling and carpeted floor that is allowing this. Smart design.
Of course I’m going to have steak, how can I not with those pink bovine muscles hanging there like sirens, teasing me with their prime marbling. But this is a cultured dining room, and there’s a well-laid path to follow before main courses. With a dozen appetizers, a dozen side vegetable dishes, a dozen potato choices and a dozen sauces, the purview of choices obliges discerning tastes.
At tableside, crisp romaine is tossed with raw garlic, lemon, mayo, anchovies and a few peppery flavors for a caesar salad that brims with assertiveness. I’m grateful for the basket of fresh La Brea breads on the table to wipe clean my taste buds. Just in time for the fois gras. A grilled slice of cantaloupe adds a charred sweetness to the in-season huckleberry sauce, all the better to harmonize with the smokey earthy goose liver. A half dozen oysters makes for another pearly beginning. Oysters at any of Patina’s restaurants are excellent in my experience.
The summer beans with almonds and the forest mushroom medley sides arrive, and they are a decisive step up from the over-salted mushy veggies I associate with steakhouses. Then there’s my aged prime rib-eye with amazingly fresh watercress. Marbled and served a reddish pink, it’s the killer combo of carmelized protein with those umami finishes that makes being a carnivore so hard to give up.
The wine list offers ten choices of reds by the glass and I experiment around until realizing the obvious, the Clos du Val cabernet is the compliment to the dish I need. While the Zaca Mesa Syrah and Coppola Zin are fair, neither has the chops to match the mettle of my dinner.
I try several of the sauces, a dijon mustard, a red wine, a carmelized onion and blue cheese, but the steak really doesn’t need any of them. In fact, I think the sauces take away from the meat’s aged flavor. However, I admit, I love dipping my garlicy fries in the sauces.
A quick glance around at other tables confirms that while lobster and wild king salmon are other strong choices on the menu, everyone’s eating steak, especially New York strips and porterhouses. This has to be one of the best places in the city to do so.