When considering the L.A. revival of the Beefsteak dinner under Eric Wareheim, Matt Selman, and Cort Cass, we admit, our skepticism ran high. After all, does Hollywood really have the stomach to gorge until it “comes out of your ears” or throw temperance to the wind when a drive on the freeway looms on the end of the night? Debauchery, much like democracy, cannot be imposed upon a populace. Still, we jumped on the invitation to St. Vibiana’s, which may have never looked more saintly than on Saturday night, packed from the confession booths with hundreds of chairs and starched whites awaiting chaos and bliss at dramatically drawn-out tables. In the spirit of those beefsteak dinners of yore we’d read about, we committed to eating anything that passed our eyes and drinking as much of anything as we could get our hands on.
Had the “Big One” struck Beefsteak 2012, a thick circle of indie cred would have been rattled. Tony Hawk held court with friends at the center table, BJ Novak and Mindy Kaling sat side by side at the northernmost table, while Kristen Schall and the angry Samoan-looking guy from Workaholics were spotted separately on the right. Patton Oswalt cut a low-key figure in his finest tweed haberdashery, while Wareheim stood about a foot above the rest of the crowd in an all-white tux.
Bourbon injected into a veal stock foam greeted guests at the door. Appetizers were passed. Kidneys wrapped in bacon and chicken hearts on a stick, prepared by Jason Travi in a modern nod to beefsteaks past, made the rounds. An ice sculpture of a full steer slowly wicked away under the lights, by bartenders ladling out tequila punch and Old Fashioneds designed by Josh Goldman and Julian Cox, Angel City witbier and IPA, and bottles of a label-less red. Energetic mingling merged with gluttonous anticipation. Old-timey rock and bluegrass were drowned out by chatter and a building buzz.
The dinner bell rang. No one necessarily needed more food and tanks were teetering full with evil spirits. But we were game to tear our fingers into endless plates of steak, wipe the grease off on the nearest soft surface, and stuff our faces until the features blurred. Out came the fingerlings, out came a plate teeming with garlic-tossed rapini, out came platters of dark pink sliced steak with bowls of red wine reduction and horseradish cream. The steak and its companions, like most everything Neal Fraser touches, was remarkable, an easy euthanasia to eat oneself to death with.
A bespectacled table-mate looked uneasy, his wife uninterested. We started throwing back the meat with a neighbor so thrilled by the evening’s prospects, he was considering Beefsteak ink on his forearm. We ate as if no one was watching. We watched as guys dangled meat over their mouths so Instagram and Facebook could witness their embrace of overindulgence. We suddenly shrieked in horror that much of the meat was not being consumed. Vast trays of beef littered the tables unmolested and unwanted. Fingers went unsullied, the tablecloth supernaturally spot-free.
Then, like some Tim & Eric B-side sketch, Wareheim conducted a staged wedding between a “meat troll” and his “meat trollette,” as only he could. Butts came out of seats and it was obvious: There would be no more meat after round one. No overindulgence. No Excess. No guilt. No danger. No Appetite for self-destruction.
The steak-eating had apparently already hit its pitch. The crowd was stirring. The spell broken. No one would sleep on the table. No one would, alas, allow the meat to come out of their ears. Hell, no one would even dance. Crowds headed for the doors and the patio, back to mingle, in shape to gab, in shape to drive.
We were full. We were faded. We were having fun. Mission accomplished. But, we had to bury just a twitch of remorse. Is there anything as sad as a beefsteak apron as bleached and blemish-free as when it was first folded?