STK Los Angeles
I confess to approaching any restaurant chain franchise with trepidation – blame, if you will, some latent hipster foodie prejudice buried deep within my subconscious – so it was with a vague sense of resignation that I made my to STK Los Angeles in its newly relocated Beverly Hills outpost for supper (first world problems, distilled.)
Judging by STK’s website and, I confess, affiliated Instagram posts, I was anticipating just another LA venue in which poseurs reign supreme and food is a mere afterthought – falling loosely behind light-fittings and selfie-friendly backdrops. Its Google blurb didn’t exactly abate matters of prejudice either (“Branch of a boisterous steakhouse chain with a lounge-like vibe, celebrity sightings & DJs.” Ugh.)
As is evident above, being of a sometimes haughty manner, I do love to be proved wrong and taken by surprise. And there was such pleasurable surprise (and the subsequent humbling of my inner snob) at being genuinely blown away by the fare at STK Los Angeles. As a dedicated and intrepid LA diner, STK has even secured a hallowed place as one of my favourite eateries for all-round satisfaction and unfalteringly superb food. And I didn’t once witness a single selfie (oh wait, there was one. But I was so absorbed in my plate I didn’t care.)
I defy anyone (vegans excluded) to not be delighted by the offerings of the STK Los Angeles menu. A superb and imaginatively rendered fusion of meat and seafood, innovative salads and quirky deserts will please one and all. I would call this the LA dining jackpot, also imbued by Nobu, in which dedicated health freaks and unbridled hedonists may happily dine united (for the record, I am a bit of both).
An excellently curated menu is one thing, but delivering on execution and produce sourcing is a different matter entirely – and something at which STK Los Angeles chef Robert Liberato excels. The subtle flavours and nuances of fresh produce are wholly respected in Liberato’s cooking – they take the forefront of dishes, with additional seasonings and ingredients playing a pleasingly supportive role. Flavours and combinations are imaginative and intuitive; meats and fish are seasoned delicately, and cooked to perfection. Notably he is passionate about the sourcing of excellent produce, championing locally sourced and seasonal ingredients, and only serving oysters with a remarkably swift ocean-to-kitchen turnaround.
Perhaps a credit to his background as a photographer, Liberato’s presentation is also superb – serving a double-whammy of visually beautiful dishes that also delight the palate. Dishes that appear ‘too good to eat’ taste even better than they look, and the sumptuous art on your plate is deftly devoured with rapture.
The entrees alone are a delight to the senses. The crispy lobster tail with papaya slaw is essentially the dish of my dreams. The slaw is a California rendering of tom sum, Thai green papaya salad – also, incidentally, my death bed meal. The lobster is tender and impeccably fresh, with a popcorn-tempura crust, fried to finite perfection. The burrata in truffle is a velvety delight, and the lobster ravioli with pecorino crema is just so perfect it may even usurp papaya salad in my estimation.
Mains are as aptly carnivorous as the moniker would suggest, with any steak – including Japanese wagyu – in any which way you may desire, served with the option of a plethora of decadent toppings and sauces, from truffle butter to bone marrow. STK’s take on the LA staple Ahi Tuna is standout, perfectly seared and served with shiitake ponzu, and the shellfish platter yields remarkably fresh-caught oysters.
Savoury is definitely where STK excels, however the sweet potato donuts with bourbon maple glaze are rather special. The serving is correctly modest (bucking a national trend) and therefore the perfect punctuation when served with espresso.
Given the aforementioned “lounge-like vibe”, the cocktail bar and offerings are a focal point at STK Los Angeles. A self-confessed light-weight, the offerings are dangerously fragrant and deceptively delicate, enticing a curious palette with a hefty punch of liquor. The pleasingly named ‘Hottie with a Lot of Body’ gets my vote, with zest, vodka and chilli all in one. Whisky aficionados will find solace in ’The Bruiser’ which was frankly too rich for my blood – a global barometer by which one can identify good malt.
The service also deserves an honourable mention. Generally west coast American service is beyond the realms of British comprehension anyway (most London hotspots generally seem to serve a de rigeur side of surliness), however the service at STK is exemplary, with highly personable, attentive and knowledgable waiting staff and sommeliers. This not only remarkably bolsters the overall experience, but also serves to comfortably facilitate the dangerous transition from menu to cocktails and… Hey, forget the 6am start tomorrow, let’s make a night of it. Whilst obscure dining destinations may score higher in the hipster stakes, service tends not to be high on the agenda, and I adore quintessentially American service (read: bubbly, enthusiastic and served with a smile). Pleasingly, STK has it in spades.
So snobbery, be dammed. STK Los Angeles is a hidden gem regarding foodie haunts. I highly recommend taking an evening to linger on the menu to sate both palette and appetite. And if the food and cocktails become just too enticing, it is conveniently housed in the Beverly Hills W Hotel, so never mind the Uber. You will probably dream of your supper.