Walking into The Famous, A Steakhouse on a recent Wednesday evening, you would never know we’re in the middle of hard economic times.
The polished, dark leather booths hummed with the conversation of well-heeled diners leaning over slender martinis and rotund globes of red wine. Waiters all in black, whisked by bearing trays of steaks thick as dictionaries — some loaded with shrimp or crab. The clink of glasses at the bar mixed with the lilt of the piano, which was playing a song that never goes out of style: “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss …”
The Famous is as timeless as the song. It opened as an upstart high-end steakhouse in 2002, but the swank dining room, with its dim glow and din of dishes and discussion so soothing that it could be sold on iTunes, looks as if it has always been on the corner of Kiowa and Tejon streets.
In the nine years since it opened, little has changed but the smoking policy. It is comfortable and sophisticated, lavish and private, and always in style. The only thing that ages here is the steak.
And that steak. It is gorgeous, marbled USDA Prime — the best money can buy. Only 3 percent of beef qualifies. It is aged to bring out the flavor and slapped with just a hint of seasoning. The Famous has other entrees — perfectly nice chicken and fish, lamb and pork — but better versions of those can be found elsewhere in the city. If you come here, it’s for the slabs of beef.
The Famous is unapologetically pricey. A 10-ounce filet mignon runs $37, a 20-ounce Kansas City Strip runs $48. Neither include sides. I’m almost certain the $50 porterhouse is the priciest steak in the city. The restaurant is aimed at the people and occasions that hard economic times rarely touch.
But is it worth it for the rest of us? Believe it or not, yes. While The Famous costs a bit more that other good local steakhouses, it serves better beef, and since a salad and bread are included in the meal, it’s unlikely anyone would miss the sides. If you are going to splurge on steak, this is the place to go. Your wallet might regret it, but you won’t.
And, of course, if you are splurging anyway, you might as well really indulge yourself. A good place to start is a half-dozen raw oysters ($13), served quivering in their rocky shells on a bed of ice. Most oysters available locally are dull gulf oysters with little flavor beyond what you put on them. These are from the briny fjords of British Columbia, and have a tart, metallic zing that tastes like kissing the sea.
Another option is shrimp cocktail ($16), a martini glass weighed down with four enormous prawns. On our visit they were a bit too firm — possibly overcooked — but the fresh, real horseradish in the cocktail sauce made up for the mistake.
After appetizers, enjoy handmade rosemary-flecked bread that you tear apart with your hands while you wait for those steaks. And, oh, those steaks. You can smell them as they go by to other tables. You can see the perfect ebony sear from the grill. You twiddle your knife in your hands. You almost can’t bear it.
Then they arrive. An oval plate holds the steak and just the steak, sitting in a hot puddle of its own juices. To the fork it is just slightly tough and crusty on the outside, then yielding and silky and pink inside, the press of the tines releasing dribbles of hot blood. (If you don’t like your steak rare, it’s a waste to eat prime beef.) You lift it to your mouth, and it tastes so heavenly that you’re sure it’s sinful.
The Colorado natural rib-eye ($36) is juicy and fatty and messy, a true meat-lover’s steak. The New York strip ($42) is more refined and tidy, but just as delicious. The filet is almost pudding-tender. You can’t go wrong.
The sides, if for some reason you crave more than meat, are also quite good. Creamed spinach ($8) somehow steers clear of being glop — the pulverized greens are barely cooked, almost crisp, in their creamy sauce. The mashed potatoes ($8) are simple and rich but not overdone. The green beans are a needed shot of health food in a sea of artery-clogging choices. All are served family style — plenty for two or three diners.
Beyond beef, The Famous offers a few supporting entrees. A salmon steak ($30) swims in a rich sauce of wine and butter with sautéed mushrooms and crisp bacon bits. The fish is moist, well-cooked and deliciously wild. (As with the oysters, you can taste the sea.)
A double pork chop ($29) in an immensely rich pan sauce was supremely juicy, but a tad deceiving. The menu said it was from White Marble Farms. When I asked our server what White Marble was, he said it was a Northern California farm known for great pork. In fact (thank you, Google) it is a premium brand from restaurant-supply juggernaut Sysco. If The Famous wants to get in on the boutique-pork game, it should switch to Niman Ranch.
Desserts are fairly good, if undistinguished. A huge slice of New York cheesecake ($8) was light, firm and pleasantly tart. A crème brulée ($8) was a tad underdone, with too much burnt sugar on top, as if it had been rushed. But no matter, you don’t come to a steakhouse for dessert, and if you order the right steak, you don’t have room, anyway.
Nothing on The Famous’ menu is particularly novel or creative. There are no frills. This is just timeless, premium steaks done well — the type of thing that, hard times or not, never goes out of style.
THE FAMOUS, A STEAKHOUSE
4 STARS out of 5
Address: 31 N. Tejon St.
Contact: 227-7333, thefamoussteakhouse.net
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 4-11 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Vegetarian: Seriously? No, just sides
Alcohol: Full bar
Credit cards: Yes