Hollywood's Steak Wars

6:00 AM PST 04/30/2012 by Degen Pener
Courtesy of Wolfgang's Steakhouse

The knives are out as the town's chophouses compete for the allegiance of the industry's biggest dealmakers (and their expense accounts).

In Hollywood, steak always has been the power meal of choice: Alfred Hitchcock once ate three in a sitting, while Orson Welles preferred to enjoy his two at a time served rare, with a pint of scotch. Today's most carnivorous players continue the gout-defying tradition. Nothing signals that you have a stomach for tough negotiations like tackling a 33-ounce rib eye at Mastro's ($60) or says you're flush like ordering the sirloin sampler of Kobe-style American beef, dry-aged Prime and Australian Wagyu at Wolfgang Puck's Cut for $135.

A handful of steak houses make the cut as tops among the industry crowd. "I've made a lot of deals there," says Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Tom Sherak of his favorite spot, The Palm (9001 Santa Monica Blvd.), which counts Bryan Lourd's long-time partner, Bruce Bozzi, as a corporate executive and draws regulars such as Alan Horn, Bob Evans, Jim Wiatt, Rick Nicita, Richard Lovett and Jerry Weintraub. "I'm there at least three days a week for lunch, maybe four," says Sherak. "It's a very social place. When you are there, it feels like part of being in the business."

As the weather grows warmer, ICM's Jack Gilardi favors the patio at sexy-mod BOA (8462 W. Sunset Blvd.), which also lures Ryan Seacrest, restaurant neighbor Elton John and Courteney Cox, who gave the staff her father's favorite steak-sauce recipe to prepare whenever she requests it. Gilardi, who can be found chowing with producer Avi Lerner, calls the spot a favorite of agents. "I do stop and talk -- 'Where's that script you're supposed to send me?' -- but I love the food," says Gilardi, who prefers a petite filet ($37), no sauce, butterflied.

NBC Broadcasting chairman Ted Harbert orders his 28-day dry-aged Kansas rib eye served medium at Wolfgang Puck's Cut (9500 Wilshire Blvd.), designed by Getty architect Richard Meier. Beside the quality of the steak and his allegiance to waiter Danny D'Amicol, Harbert supports Puck's place for one reason: "I can hear the person across from me!"

Valley execs like ABC/Disney group president Anne Sweeney hit Morton's (3400 W. Olive Ave.) in Burbank, and while it's not a full-on steak house, Dan Tana's (9071 Santa Monica Blvd.) is an honorary member of the club with its cult-favorite 16-ounce New York steak ($57), beloved by Clint Eastwood. Meanwhile, BLT Steak (8720 W. Sunset Blvd.) still attracts them, partly because of the amazing warm popovers that come to the table.

Wolfgang's Steakhouse (445 N. Canon Drive) has developed a following among CAA's Rick Kurtzman, Paramount's Bill Todman, WME boss Ari Emanuel, Steve Carell and Magic Johnson. Mastro's (246 N. Canon Drive), with its leather banquettes and glam blue-glass front doors, pairs 12 steak entrees with martinis poured over dry ice. (It's also where, in 2005, Omar Sharif allegedly punched a valet and was later ordered to pay a $318,000 civil judgment.) Hard-core carnivore Jeffrey Katzenberg frequents many of the town's hot chophouses and is said to give instructions to staff that he never be shown a bill and that generally a $100 tip be added.

Given the small number of elite steak places, it's no surprise how competitive they are. "What makes Michael Jordan a better player than all the others?" says Wolfgang Puck of his CUT. "We have the best talent in the kitchen, and we pay more for it. The rest have limited talent." Parries Lee Maen, whose first Boa opened on Sunset Boulevard in 2001: "We were the first of the modern steak houses. When CUT opened up, Wolfgang was calling us for advice and for chefs. Yet it was great that he was kind of taking our trend because he's the man."

Paparazzi magnet STK (755 N. La Cienega Blvd.), which recently poached chef Liran Mezan from Laurent Tourondel's BLT empire, draws Jerry Bruckheimer, Ashley Greene and Dr. Dre. Producer Randall Emmett, who likes his beef "extra, extra well done," appreciates that his preference is taken in stride. "I tell them no pink or living, or I'll send it back," he says. "Some chefs might get offended, but they always welcome my extreme ordering." Such loyalty is the norm. Sherak recalls that after a Palm regular, James Bond screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (son of Joseph L. Mankiewicz), died in 2010, the staff set aside his table for the day. "They had a candle with a tablecloth and one setting," he says.

Raw Japanese beef is a specialty at Totoraku (10610 W. Pico Blvd.), hidden on the Westside with no sign. Insiders go for yakiniku, or grilled meat dishes, from cow's tongue and throat to short rib and skirt. The only way to get a reservation is from chef Kaz Oyama or via a regular like 20th Century Fox Television chairman Gary Newman, who has been spotted there.

Capturing steak's importance in projecting alpha status in Hollywood was the "Frenemies" YouTube sketch that went viral in December. Enver Gjokaj (Dollhouse) and Brian Henderson played dueling agents at lunch, each one-upping the rareness of the other's steak frites order until both are presented with comically disgusting plates of bloody-rare beef. The industry laughed in recognition, and Henderson -- until then in search of representation -- found himself an agent in short order.

-- Additional reporting by Lesley Balla

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