It was with a feeling of trepidation that I entered the portals of Nick & Stef's downtown steak house on a Tuesday night half expecting the place to be deserted.
The reason for that was because renowned Los Angeles Times food critic Irene Virbila had just written a scathing review of the restaurant, criticizing the food (with a couple of notable exceptions), the service and the overall attitude of the corporate style facility. I brought along horse racing handicapper Jack Karlik with me, a notoriously harsh critic, who had alerted me to the review in the first place.
The restaurant has been open five years and is part of the Patina Group, the restaurant empire built up by German superstar chef, Joachim Splichal. They have also opened two more in Manhattan and Washington D.C. so something must be going right. Irene bemoaned the fact that the restaurant is inhabited primarily by businessmen and tourists, and implied that because of that, standards had fallen to dangerous levels in five years. I have no idea what the restaurant was like five years ago, but judging by the energy and experience manager Phil Gates deftly brings to the venture, I find that hard to believe.
There seemed to be a plethora of bus boys and waiters hovering around, so surely service complaints in my eyes were non-existent. The restaurant consists of two main rooms, plus a couple of private dining areas. There is a spacious feel to the place, and it offers a nice view of downtown, and is particularly effective just about dusk.
Intrigued by some of the comments in the aforementioned review we tried three different appetizers prepared by executive chef Eddy Chin, a Korean American who has been at the restaurant for quite some time. Expecting an Asian fusion feel, we were surprised by the Mexican/South Western style of the first two, both elaborate and a brand new experience for this palate. Roasted beet salad with Humboldt Fog goat cheese, fig tapenade, baby salad and a unique blood orange balsamic vinaigrette ($7.50), can be applauded for the rather diverse combination of flavors, and the Ahi Tuna tartare with avocado mousse, gingered mango, crispy potato cake and micro arugula with a trio of sauces ($14) did not have to rely on the tuna for the bulk of its taste. Standout starter however was the Spicy grilled BBQ jumbo shrimp cocktail on a bed of coleslaw and barbecue sauce ($13). The shrimp have been marinated overnight in order to bring out the barbecue taste, and were a bit of a standout dish, and one of the best sellers in the menu.
However, it is meats that Nick & Stef's is known for, and no surprise the three we tried were of the highest quality. The meat is carefully sourced and kept in a dry aging chamber in the restaurant, a method that is used to tenderize the beef while developing and intensifying the flavor.
The New York strip loin steak was outstanding, with the venison (which is not on the regular menu) another stunning dish. The Kurobuta Pork Chop rounded out our meat selection, so maybe next time we will try the Prime Rib Special, served with Caesar salad, super mashed potatoes, au jus and creamed horseradish. The Prime Rib comes in an 8, 16 and 16-ounce cut. A choice of sauces such as plum and fig chutney in port and Napa red wine sauce accompany the meats, which were of course served medium rare. Side orders were particularly strong, in this case, we had the JBS Yukon gold and red bliss mashed potatoes with roasted onions and apple-smoked bacon and lusciously tasting snow peas.
Desserts are more than just an afterthought, and despite Irene Virbila's claim, I could easily taste the lemon in the Lemon meringue pie, and the chocolate Hazelnut Kit-Kat with Hazelnut Ice Cream was a revelation. The after dinner drink menu is quite exceptional as well, and a nice dessert wine will round off any meal at Nick & Stef's.
Dress: Formal or California casual
Free Shuttle to Staples Center on game nights.
Mike Hepworth September 2004