Thursday, August 18, 2011

When Is a Restaurant Not a Restaurant? When It's a Jar

There's that old line, "Simple is not always best but the best is always simple." I guess I believe that about 75% of the time, which leaves me room for the dazzle of Hearst Castle, the prose of Joyce, and moles of infinite ingredients known only to the wisest of abuelas. Then there's steak. It would seem easy to do one well, just get a high grade cut of beef, season, cook to temperature. But if that were true, why do some steaks sing, and others make you question why you want to chew cow slabs about three-and-a-half bites in?

I'm not sure I have the answer to that, being a writer second and cook third, but as an eater first and foremost, I know 100% sure that the best steak I can get is at Jar in Los Angeles. Part of that is the room, no doubt, swank as all get-out with its non-ironic paneling, b&w photos and color swatches adorning those walls, then those simple flying saucer light fixtures, too many of them almost, but always emitting just the right glow. I was there last when it was still daylight outside and the room almost seemed impossible. It says, "Here, you need a martini, dry," and makes you want to call your date a doll. Heck, for all we know, steaks weren't even bad for you in those days.

But the steaks are splendid. That good grill char, but also the pleasure only beef brings, a mouth-watering joy of the chew, but the best never become too much chew--it feels good to sense the food breaking down in your mouth, if that's not too explicit. A Jar steak won't get to that point that mediocre steaks do, when the meat sort of seems to go to pulp--like you can chew the flavor out. (I know I'm making painstaking, and perhaps gross-making, too much out of this.) Part of that is the fat seems incorporated--you want that fat taste, but you don't want its texture too much. (It's like wanting butter in the flaky dough of the croissant, not on top or oozing out.)

In the case of my last steak there, it probably helped it was aged, which means the enzymes do their magical chemistry trick, and the steak gets yet smoother, the fat more integrated, everything better. You almost don't need the lobster Bearnaise or the creamy horseradish sauce, but, of course, you do, as luxury might as well lap in luxury. (I might just eat the sauces on their own.)

But, as for that last steak, it was one not on the regular menu, the oxymoronic bone-in filet (no doubt the bone helped add to the flavor, too). The waiter sold it well, and it lived up to his billing, all 14 oz. of it. But then there was the billing. I really don't get the reserve waitstaff seem to feel when announcing specials--how hard is it to say, "Those lobster and shiitake stuffed squash blossoms are $16," (or whatever they cost--we didn't order them, so we don't know). I guess part of it is, if you're eating at a place like Jar, you shouldn't suddenly get thrifty. I get that. But I also want to know when the steak--and again I must say it might have been the best beef I've ever had--I ordered would set me back $63. That's a good twenty bucks more than any other steak meant for one.

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