Either I'm becoming a Chow Grouch or I am going through a funk of suboptimal dining lately....
The corporate account was kind enough to allow us to splurge at CUT. We were fortunate enough to get a 7PM reservation (there was a cancellation) for our party of 6. It was our first time there. Before going, I did my homework, checked out the Chow board, and looked (& salivated) at Perceptor's review & photos. My experience is as follows:
Seating: I was well aware that the seating policy at CUT was quite strict. All members of the party must be present before seating can even be considered. Tables are held for only 15 minutes beyond reservation time. The dining room was almost full when we showed up promptly at 6:55PM. I noticed P.Diddy was walking around, with entourage trailing. All 6 of us were on time and seated at 7:10PM without delay. (N.B.: Valet Parking at CUT is $15 with validation)
Service: Attentive, crisp, but SLOW! We were given plenty of time to peruse the menu and order beverages. PLENTY of time. The server scored points by recommending a nice pinot noir (Breggo 2006, $75) - Very nice. Big nose.
Bread: Mrs. J.L. loves cheese bread - she said the version at CUT was 7 out of 10 (for reference, she gave the pao de queijo at Fogo de Chao a perfect 10). The focaccia was decent.
Appetizers: LOVED the bone marrow flan. The Maine lobster & crab "Louis" cocktail was so-so. The maple glazed pork belly was very tasty, but way too huge a portion to be an appetizer (we took most of it home).
And now for the steaks:
The presentation of raw meat was nice. The marbling of the Japanese cuts was impressive, especially when compared side-by-side with the American wagyu. Mrs. J.L. chose the Japanese rib eye, medium rare ($160). I ordered the "Tasting of NY sirloin" (a 2 Oz. Japanese from Saga Prefecture, a 4 Oz. American Wagyu from Snake River Farms, & a dry-aged USDA prime from Nebraska) for $130. For $35 extra, I chose to top my steaks with Italian summer truffle (which was a mistake, since the truffles were quite dull and did not add to the taste at all).
The steaks came about 45 minutes(!!!) after they took our plates from the finished appetizers. I didn't push the issue, since our group was having a nice time chatting anyways.
Mrs. J.L. likes her steaks medium-rare, and ordered it so. Her $160 steak came medium-WELL - a big gaff on the kitchen's part. My steaks were also medium-well (which was OK with me). I did indeed enjoy the Japanese steak the best, by far. It was juicy and very fatty. Mmmmm... The truffle topping was generous, but the taste was weak. I won't be ordering those truffles anytime in the future. Also, for those who like their steaks a bit on the "red" side, I warn future CUT-goers to remind their servers to "keep an eye" on the rare-ness of their steak. I have a suspicion that our steaks were neglected and overcooked.
Sauces: Lots to choose from. Bottom Line: Try your steak with their Peppercorn sauce. Definitely.
Sides: Small portions, but well-executed. Each was served "family-style" by the servers. Carmelized summer corn was good (but Houston's corn is better). Creamed spinach with fried egg was OK, but nothing to write home about. Wild field mushrooms with Japanese shishito was by far my favorite of the sides we picked.
Desserts: We shared 4 desserts: Strawberry Baked Alaska, creme brulee "baby banana" cream pie, Vahlrona dark chocolate souffle, and a pear&raspberry almond crumble. The souffle was very fresh and tasty, but my favorite had to be the Baked Alaska - a tough dish to pull off, but very well executed by the pastry chef. Bravo! Coffee & coffee service were flawless.
Ambiance: CUT is indeed quite a scene. Bentleys & Rolls-Royces galore pulling up. Sadly, I feel that the food takes a backseat to the scene. Noise level was high, with Bruce Springsteen blaring from loudspeakers (?!)...
Overall, I felt CUT was just not the food-intensive experience S. Irene Virbila made it out to be. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy my Japanese steak immensely, but for the price, the experience should have been more comprehensively excellent. Maybe the restaurant's focus has changed since its glowing review in the LA Times many moons ago.
Luckily, the corporate card absorbed all the damages. Mastro's retains the tile of "King of SoCal Steakhouses" in my book. BUT I've yet to try Wolfgang's...
...maybe my luck with chow will improve....