Until now the most beautiful restaurant I have ever seen was Maxim's in Paris, which I frequented often in the '60s and '70s and where I hosted the world press premiere of How The West Was Won. This week I have been dining in the most gorgeous restaurant I have seen since. And it is right here in Los Angeles on our Sunset Strip. To explain: some people have the golden touch. Not many, just a few. They have in common a unique combination of skill, luck, charisma and restlessness. Warren Buffett and Carl Icahn in finance, Wolfgang Puck and Nobu Matsuhisa in my world of restaurants. Also Victor Drai. You may well ask, 'Who is Victor Drai?' and I will explain that he is very successful Frenchman who has conquered the nightclub world in Las Vegas after a successful run of restaurants and movies. He is building a colossal Drai's Nightclub Beach Club there this Spring, Las Vegas' only rooftop experience. He also owns the famed Drai's After Hours at Bally's Hotel and Casino.
Victor Drai at his new restaurant. all photos by Jay
I have known him for many years and admired him for the numerous exquisite women he escorted (and married) and the very exciting career he engendered. Which leads to today, when he has embarked on another restaurant venture which I strongly suspect will continue his astonishingly successful career. Victor has opened a new steakhouse, RARE by Drai's, on the Sunset Plaza strip in a location (8720 Sunset Blvd., 310-360-1525) which housed some of the best-known restaurants in our city's history. I spent many years lunching daily at Le Dome there, and then had a good number of excellent meals (and popovers) when it became BLT Steak House. But the latter lost its veneer when the original chef (Laurent Tourondel) departed... and Victor swooped in and captured this prime location for... a steak house. He is partnered with ESquared Hospitality, an international restaurant and hospitality group owned by Jimmy Haber and Keith Treyball, the owners of BLT.
The interior is sexy and romantic.
A female disc jockey spins the music of the night.
You may well ask, do we need another steakhouse in a city replete with them, and he -- and now I -- will answer yes, when it has the unique charm and dining chops of RARE by Drai's. As Victor told me recently, "It is our interpretation of today's modern, sexy steak house." Is it ever! Sexy that is. When you walk in the door, you will be met by a buzzy, busy bar scene... and see a woman disc jockey playing the music for the evening, never too loud or too intrusive. But when the hostess leading you to your table opens the door to the main dining room, you will stop.... and your mouth will open in astonishment at what you see. A dining room twinkling with hundreds of candles, art deco paintings on the walls, all flooded with soft light from a score of large circular red chandeliers. The tableware is immaculate, the servers all dressed smartly, and the music a nice background. The second surprise is the food... it is extraordinary. Really.
The whole roast chicken served in a pan is perfectly cooked, crispy and juicy.
...and the Wagyu Ribeye Steak is superb.
I have a theory that most steak lovers could not care less if a steak is dry-aged or wet-aged, corn-or-grass fed for whatever period, as long as it is big, juicy, tender and beefy. But Victor is too smart not to source his meat from impeccable resources. "We take our beef seriously," he said. "It comes from ranches which don't use antibiotics and hormones. Maybe you can't taste the difference, but it's there. We have several butcher's cuts from Filets (7 oz. for $39, 10 oz. for $46, and a 14 oz. Bone-in Filet for $59....to a 10 oz. Prime N.Y, Steak for $44, a 16 oz. Bone-in N.Y. for $55, and a 22oz. Prime Bone-in Ribeye for $56. [Editors note: that's my favorite cut. I always order a steak with the bone in.] Victor went on to tell me about his massive 36 oz. Porterhouse for two ($110) and then praised their New Zealand Rack of Lamb ($42). My waiter, Davaid Robaire, told me that there were several delicious sauces for those steaks. He added. "Béarnaise, Creamed Horseradish, Peppercorn and a Burgandy reduction." I liked the Béarnaise best but you can ask for all four.
The whole Loup de Mer is Victor's favorite dish... with good reason.
The Tuna Tartare starter is spicy and served with homemade chips.
At my first dinner there, I noted a section of the menu listed as Rare Specialties, and it featured several dishes which I suspect will prove to be hugely popular. My companion said that he always ordered beef from Snake River Farms when it was offered, noting that they were small family-owned ranches which featured beef from Wagyu cattle originating in the Kobe region of Japan. He asked for the 10 oz. Wagyu Ribeye for $65, served with roasted shallots. My other friend ordered the Snake River Farm's Wagyu Hanger Steak ($42, with caramelized shallots, a sensational buy.) There is also a 10 oz. filet Pepper Steak here ($48). A plump Whole Free-Range Chicken ($32) is scented with rosemary and thyme, utterly fabulous, with crispy skin and juicy meat. We all commented at once when seeing the two 'rare' specialty side dishes offered: Lobster-truffled Mashed Potatoes ($25) and my choice, the Lobster-truffled Mac and Cheese ($25). Our waiter told us that there are several seafood specialties which can be added to any steak dish: Seared Scallops ($16), Grilled Shrimp ($14) and a Maine Lobster Tail ($24). Exec Chef Patrick Florendo (who has workd with Victor for many years) later told me that his boss was in love with the Whole Roasted Loup de Mer ($44) on the menu, with lemon and thyme and roasted on a bed of fennel; it is served with a wonderful cherry-flavored sauce to be poured over the fish. But my choice was the Pan-roasted Chilean Sea Bass ($38) served with a tomato caper salsa and cress. I know that my date tonight will be eating the Grilled Skuna Bay Salmon ($29), served with baby artichoke, arugula and French green beans. (Wonder where Kuna Bay is? Probably Alaska.)
Another view of the stunning interior.
When I asked Victor why a new steakhouse now, he laughed and said, "In a town where some people think that the dining scene is all about exotic cuisine and tiny ethnic spots, it is really about what most average diners want, which is a wonderful thick steak cooked to perfection. And, surprisingly, it is not that easy to find. That brilliant London food critic A.A. Gill just wrote in Vanity Fair that Michelin Guides are out of touch with what people actually want to eat, whicb is steak. I found that even the more sophisticated clientele at my nightclubs craved a really great steak... and decided to provide it for them. My steaks are sexy!"
The 36-oz Porterhouse Steak for two.
I must admit that my craving for a big, juicy bone-in ribeye often overwhelms me, so on my first visit to RARE that's what I ordered. I am somewhat peculiar in that I always ask for a steak "Black and Blue," which means charred on the outside yet rare in the center....a very hard order to fill unless you have a very hot grill and a skilled hand at it.. They delivered it perfectly! Oh, my, so delicious...and I had enough left over for lunch with Pyewacket the next day.
On my second evening here, I concentrated on many of the cold and hot starter dishes. Always begin with the two tartare dishes....the beef was traditional ($20), with a tarragon emulsion and sourdough wafers, while the tuna was the spicy version ($18), with a touch of chili, shallots, avocado, served with homemade chips.. My date said her artichoke salad ($18) was delicious, with trumpet mushrooms and sherry vinaigrette. There was Crispy Burrata ($16), Roasted Beets & Goat Cheese ($16), and a masterful Caesar's Salad ($14) with just a hint of garlic. But if you are into shellfish, go for the Sauteed White Shrimp ($18) and the Steamed PEI (Prince Edward Island) Mussels ($19). Not yet tried: Crisp Calamari ($16). All of the sides are $11, somewhat pricey, but they are superb...from the Grilled Jumbo Asparagus to Onions and Peppers. Many of the others are succulent, and I could make a meal (and will) out of the different potatoes...from the herb-roasted fingerlings to the sweet potato fries, the Lyonnaise to a huge baked spud filled with all the bad things I love (cheddar, bacon, scallions and sour cream,) I have had my fill of Caramelized Brussel Sprouts but every good steak house must have a splendid Creamed Spinach, and this one has a horseradish cream sauce and sprinkles of nutmeg. Macaroni and cheese, Sautéed wild mushrooms...you get the idea...the sides are terrific.
Get this picture: A charming mature Frenchman, suave and sophisticated, very funny and fun-loving,....and tough as nails in business. When I first met him many years ago he was dating the beautiful young actress Jackie Bisset, and then he married the stunning Kelly LeBrock, the star of his movie, "The Woman in Red." He also produced the very successful comedy, "Weekend at Bernie's." I spent very many a fine evening dining at his popular Drai's Restaurant on LaCienega (now Koi). Yes, this is a fascinating and complex man who will charm you the moment you meet him here. He told me that he wants RARE to be the social hub of this area, with the disc jockey at night and a hot bar/lounge scene. The drinks are by Chris Hewes, who made a name for himself doing the libations at Rustic Canyon. I usually begin every steak dinner with a Bombay martini straight up, but Victor's smart, attractive assistant, Shantel Zorrilla, urged me to try some of the specialty cocktails, and I have thus far had five of them. Get these names: Interview with a Vampire, the K.G.B., Scarlet Liason, Papar Airplanes, and my favorite, On Sunset. They have a very deep and impressive wine list, somewhat expensive but with lots of little gems among them. (No Laetitia Pinot yet but I have hopes.)
So who could have dreamed a French Santa Claus would bring a rare exciting addition to the dining scene of our wonderful city. What a fine present for the holidays....merci, beaucoup, Victor.
They will be open six nights a week (closed Sundays), With the bar opening at 5 pm, they will be open for dinner from 6 pm to 10 pm Monday through Wednesday, and later on weekends. There is a smart private room seating 20 which I know will get a lot of action.
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