Taylor's Prime Steaks is a dark, clubby sort of place where a bottle of catsup and a $500 Chateau Lafite Rothschild could conceivably wind up on the same table. Despite the high-priced wines on the list, there is no pretentiousness in this old-fashioned steak house, where some customers dress down, all the way to T-shirt and jeans.
Some say Taylor's serves the best steaks in Los Angeles. To test that claim, it is necessary to order from the top of the line. The culotte, porterhouse and New York steaks are marvelous. I would never order anything else. The top sirloin is adequate but not memorable, whereas the smaller piece of top sirloin that came with my steak sandwich seemed ordinary, although it was supposedly a 10-ounce prime steak. The "sandwich," incidentally, is breadless. The only bread that comes with it is the basket of sourdough that accompanies all meals.
Dinners include a choice of green salad or soup (usually lentil or clam chowder), the bread, a dish of old-fashioned, well-cooked vegetables and potatoes. The big, creamy baked potatoes and the cottage fries are terrific, as good in their way as the steaks. The bread, baked for the restaurant each day, is not heated, and for a reason that makes sense. "It is so fresh we don't like to do anything to it," says restaurant owner-manager Bruce Taylor. That restraint is best appreciated after eating bread heated in a steamer until mushy, a regrettable practice at some restaurants.
Forte Is Plain Food
Taylor's is best at plain food. The nearest the menu comes to pretentiousness is tournedos of beef with bearnaise sauce. There, ambition exceeds the reach of the kitchen. The tournedos might pass but the bearnaise is terrible, as thick, chunky and white as tartar sauce.
Such lapses should not diminish respect for what Taylor's does well. Aside from its top steaks, Taylor's deserves praise for making it possible to eat well in a first-class restaurant without spending a great deal. Complete dinners are as low as $7.50, for ground beef with onions. The steak sandwich, which includes soup and fried potatoes, is $7.95. The top sirloin is $10.50. And the special dinner steak, a split filet mignon with onions, is $9.75. The better steaks aren't that much more. The most expensive is the porterhouse, at $14.95 for 20 ounces of meat.
While the wine list may impress with a Chateau Margaux 1961 and several vintages of Chateau Lafite Rothschild listed at $500, it also includes Beaulieu Vineyards burgundy for $7.50 and wine by the glass.
Steak and Lobster, Too
Steaks are the specialty, but there is seafood for non-red meat eaters. That ill-matched but popular combination of steak and lobster is available, too. According to the menu, the beef is USDA Eastern prime or choice corn-fed. Although the restaurant would like to serve prime exclusively, it is not always available, Taylor said. Taylor's is so busy at lunch that an upstairs room is opened to accommodate the crowd. Business people, mostly men, apparently come from some distance to eat there, for the parking lot is jammed. An attendant takes the cars and supervises the lot, a policy most appreciated at night, when the neighborhood becomes dark and uninviting.
For lunch there are hot beef and French dip sandwiches and a hamburger special that includes soup or salad and French fries. A good buy is the pan-fried steak with country gravy, a butterflied filet steak breaded, fried and served with white gravy for $7.85. The more prestigious steaks are available, too, at slightly lower prices than at night.
Taylor's Prime Steaks, 3361 West 8th St., Los Angeles, (213) 382-8449. Lunch Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dinner daily from 4 to 11 p.m. Reservations accepted for dinner. Lunch reservations limited to groups of five or more. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking in adjacent lot.