Nick & Stef's Steakhouse
330 South Hope Street, Los Angeles CA 90071 (map); 323-465-8500; patinagroup.com
Cooking Method: Grilled
Short Order: A professionally executed burger that shines when eaten it its simplest form
Want Fries with That? Yes; the shoestring fries are professionally rendered and the sweet potato version get a nice blistering
Prices: (Lunchtime) Steakhouse burger, $14 (served with regular fries or sweet potato)
Notes: Consider trying this high quality burger without many of the condiments for an excellent and simple meat, cheese, bun experience
A portion of the downtown Los Angeles restaurant culture seems specifically designed to cater to the needs, tastes, and billfolds of the professional community who fill the handful of skyscrapers of this decidedly low-rise landscape. It's easy to forget that Los Angeles has industry beyond "The Industry" (a.k.a. Hollywood), but the truth of the matter is these folks (lawyers, bankers, real estate developers) make up the lion's share of the fine diners in this city and they don't have agents telling them to watch their waistlines. This means there are number of high-end restaurants that are classic, decadent affairs that live amongst the steel and concrete towers.
One of the best of this breed, Nick & Stef's Steakhouse sits in a small plaza between hi-rises that carry the names Wells Fargo and Bank of America across their facades. Of course, it was the excess of corporations such as these that have made bargain lunches the norm for the rest of us, but the professionals who fill these buildings still have business lunches to which they must attend (I just wish the weren't doing it with our money). I decided to take a weekday lunch excursion to see how this other half eats their burgers.
Nick & Stef's is part of Joachim Splichal's Patina Restaurant Group, which means one can expect, at the very least, a very, very good meal. Splichal has long been among the most important chefs in Southern California and now his reach stretches across the country. Named after Splichal's children, Nick & Stef's is, like most of his restaurants, a decidedly contemporary take on a classic that feels two parts fine dining, one part approachable eatery.
Despite arriving for the burger, I couldn't resist sampling a few dishes off the menu. My lunch consisted of a burger, a wedge salad, some barbecue shrimp served cocktail-style, and both regular and sweet potato fries. It was the extravagant order emblematic of the excesses of an empire in decline, but when in Rome...
Okay, I'll go on. The wedge salad, a steakhouse standard, was nicely executed with a creamy blue cheese dressing that doesn't overpower with sour tang. One little twist was the addition of a grilled green onion. I looked at the string of onion suspiciously, but was completely won over by the additional complexity added by its simple charred sweetness.
The grilled shrimp had a powerful smokiness that found a lovely balance against sweet barbecue sauce and a spicy slaw lurking below. It's one of those appetizers that makes you wonder if you shouldn't be having it as your entrée. Of course, when a burger is on its way, my wonder is short lived.
The burger arrived looking beautifully constructed accompanied by some gorgeous fries that were dusted with a healthy (yes, healthy!) helping of salt and parsley. The architecture of this burger is a hybrid of styles as the steakhouse standbys—a hefty eight ounces of Black Angus set atop a high-end challah bun—meet pure Southern Californian drive-in. It comes topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, Thousand Island, and aged cheddar. That last ingredient is a bit of a twist, but the reference to this regional and classic preparation is clear.
The burger was a satisfying melding of flavors. The meat was beautifully charred and expertly cooked to my favorite temperature/coloring, but more than that, it was seasoned with abandon. There was a bold (and entirely appropriate) salt-and-peppering lurking underneath all of these flavors that was pure pleasure. A heavy fat content, while noticeable, was by no means overpowering.
The meat was juicy and properly portioned against the mass of toppings, but I found myself gnawed at as I gnawed through it. Although the toppings were all high quality, I removed the lettuce, tomato, and onion since I wanted to simplify this affair. The meat is of such high quality and so professionally prepared that it shines when placed into a simple meat, cheese, bun (and a bit of ketchup!) construction. That said, I did take issue with the choice of challah as it seemed to be an unnecessary sweet note considering the pile of toppings.
The fries are—no surprise—a professional preparation. The simple salt and parsley seasoning is exactly as I'd have them. A crisp, blistered skin gives way to a slightly creamy center despite the slim cut. As for the sweet potato variety, the preparation is the same sans the parsley. To be honest, I don't much care for a sweet potato fry, but these are very nicely executed.
The burger at Nick & Stef's is what I'd expected from such a consistent and highly functioning restaurant group like Patina. It's not a transcendent experience, but it's certainly delicious. The presentation and quality are, like the clientele, professional. Thankfully, these leaner times haven't called for leaner meat.