Not SINCE the puppy mill scandal at Posh Puppy has Beverly Hills been so alive with drama: Wolfgang Puck (Spago, Cut) recently filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against New York restaurateur Wolfgang Zwiener for naming his new 90210 eatery "Wolfgang's Steakhouse" and tacking on the crucial distinction "by Wolfgang Zwiener" in munchkin-sized letters. According to a news release issued by the Puck camp, Zwiener is taking "unfair advantage of the reputation and enormous good will developed over the last 32 years by Wolfgang Puck and the Wolfgang Puck brand."
Semantics! What really counts is the food. Is Wolfgang's Steakhouse a viable threat to the Puck empire? To find out we made reservations at both steakhouses on a lazy Tuesday night and ordered similar menu items at each.
Wolfgang's approximates a traditional New York-style steakhouse. Wood floors, nouveau wagon-wheel lights and vaguely disinterested waiters with foreign accents who look like closet bookies contrast sharply with the flat-screen TVs at the bar. We were seated in a chilly glassed-in wine depository that was inexplicably lighted with -- cringe -- fluorescent lights. The menus were laminated (like at Applebee's) and the toilets were Toto Neorests (like Leo DiCaprio's!). When we asked the bartender if people confused Wolfgang's with Cut he told us, "It happens but the confusion doesn't last very long. It's good for us because we get to talk about ourselves."
The food at Wolfgang's is no-frills old-school fare. We ordered a cold seafood platter consisting of lobster, shrimp and crab; a New York sirloin; a filet mignon; mashed potatoes; sauteed spinach and a Caesar salad. Our jumbo shrimp was mushy, our crabmeat dry, our lobster as flavorful as tofu, our bread cold, our salad limp, our spinach overcooked and our drink order brought to us after we'd finished eating. Our potatoes appeared on our bill but never at our table. The only upside in this $300 ice storm? The steak. The buttery but chewy texture, the mildly sweet finish, the ruby-red center and the pleasantly charred exterior practically played a sonata in our mouths.
Two hours later, inside the modernist Cut in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel surrounded by Martin Schoeller's portraits of George Clooney and Cate Blanchett, we felt instantly relaxed and assured that we were in better hands. (Our martini, after all, came with blue-cheese stuffed olives and our cheese bread puffs were warm.)
Wolfgang's is "for tourists," our debonair and witty waiter assured us; nobody from L.A. would be fooled. Cut's unlaminated menu is more pointedly gourmet than Wolfgang's. We ordered a crab and lobster Louis cocktail (with seafood so fresh you could still taste the sea), a fava bean salad (featuring vegetables seemingly wrested from the soil that very morning), light-as-feathers potato puree, sauteed spinach, petit cut filet mignon and bone-in New York sirloin. The only disappointment in this $300 joy explosion? The steak. The filet was so crusted in salt that we became dehydrated, and the sirloin was sandblasted in pepper so fiery that we lost our power of taste.
Therein lies the rub (and not just the salt rub). Cut likely had an off night but a Wolfgang Zwiener steak by any other name would still taste as sweet. However, as with many Beverly Hills couples, these two steakhouses will likely have to cite irreconcilable differences. Wolfgang's Steakhouse, 445 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, (310) 385-0640; Cut, 9500 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 276-8500