Too many “luxury steakhouse upgrades,” flaunting foodie doctrine, have opened in recent years. This has driven many a confused carnivore back to the plebian dining rooms of Ruth Chris. Opened in 2006 in Beverly Hills (and since expanded with outlets in Las Vegas, London and Singapore), Wolfgang Puck’s lauded CUT remains the exception. Sleekly designed by starchitect Richard Meier with curving glass, a contemporary open kitchen, lots of light, and mod, swiveling seats, CUT still soars above these stabs at steakhouse greatness by artfully revising the paradigm on the plate and beyond. Set in the famed Beverly Wilshire hotel and known for an A-list Hollywood clientele, it effortlessly makes other attempts at upscale steakhouses seem like strip-mall Outbacks.
Here’s what CUT does right: Everything. A new cocktail program this spring literally renders Mad Men classics unnecessary – not because of novelty names but because of taste. Our choice is the “Papa Doble aka Hemingway Daiquiri,” which blends dark Zacapa Sistema Solera 23 Rum with grapefuit and lime notes. It’s a boozy anti-martini for any red-faced marlin fisherman confident enough to enjoy the acidic fruit. Or go with a rare Austrian red wine unavailable at merlot depots.
There are a bevy of starters for a steak temple – a big-eye tuna tartare with Wolfgang’s Cal-Asian twist, Kobe steak sashimi. But the real winners uplift the concept of the steakhouse appetizer with innovation: a savory and unbelievably rich bone-marrow flan, and a tender veal tongue salad with artichokes, cannellini beans, and salsa verde, a year-round paean to Spring.
CUT’s servers, who are meticulous and impressively conversant on food issues, and unusually friendly for any kind of restaurant, not least a steakhouse, bring diners a platter with the evening’s available “cuts.” These are presented, wrapped in fine linen, so that you can focus on the cross-section colors, and choose your desired level of marbling. On any given night, you can go with various house-aged cuts of 21-day Illinois Prime, 35-day Nebraska slabs, or a Washington State 28-day sirloin. Or you can experiment with various cuts from two types of Wagyu: American, from Idaho’s Snake River farms, which melds a leaner midwest-style meat with Japanese tenderness; or crazily rich Australian Wagyu, which comes from Japanese A-5 Kobe cows who live down under, where they eat chocolate, enjoy massages, and come to America tasting like the beef equivalent of foie gras.
CUT also treats its meat with more care than other steakhouses: There’s a tangible, crunchy, smoky tier of char unavailable at other steak dens, not to mention a uniquely Indian-spiced Kobe short rib. We also love the way Puck’s chef Lee Hefter lightly douses the special Wagyu porterhouse with deeply browned butter, thyme, and garlic, to say nothing of all the many available sauces and toppings, our favorites being a grapey violet mustard, wasabi-yuzu kosho butter, and, yes, again, bone marrow.
Creamed spinach is elevated here to a lighter, fresher affair topped with an organic fried egg that oozes yolky goodness through the leaves, and wild field mushrooms with Japanese shishito peppers offers more veggie worldliness. It’s California, the heartland, Europe, and Asia all in one; it’s unique meaty depth; it’s Puck and Co. at their finest. And it has completely rewritten the template for a fine dining restaurant that celebrates steak and the many accoutrements that make it transcendent.