Like a handful of things – macaroni and cheese, pizza, chocolate chip cookies – which, even at their worst, can never be bad, so too is the Iceberg Wedge something I will almost always eat and enjoy. Unless the lettuce is rotting into a vegetal brown algae-like slime, the dressing in rancid, or blue cheese is, well, doesn’t count because blue cheese is moldy to begin with, an Iceberg Wedge can never be bad.
The experience of eating an Iceberg Wedge, however, can be bad. Given the perfect alignment of some certain atmospheric conditions that include, but are not limited to lighting, seating, service, climate, and clientele, and Iceberg Wedge can go from being refreshingly crisp and creamy with a powerful pungency to typical, substanceless, and over-accessorized with unnecessary superficialities.
We went to Republic Steakhouse, partly on a whim because we chose it no more than two minutes before we got into the car, and partly planned, because it is on my To-Dine List. We drove up La Cienega, and as soon as we pulled up to the valet behind a luxury SUV that poured three girls onto the curb who had to pour themselves into their tiny club dresses, I knew it was going to be – how should I say this? – interesting. Republic is a “modern American steakhouse.” Were these girls really going to eat steak? Were they really going to eat?
Without a reservation, we ended up taking a corner spot on the low leather seating in the lounge, where the full menu is available during dinner hours. The atmosphere in the bar and lounge area is dark with nothing extraordinary in terms of aesthetics. A large star on the deep red wall against which we were sitting seemed to be a subtle reminder that Republic is an American steakhouse. If there is one thing that completely turned me off, it was the large flat-screen tv mounted on the wall in the front corner. TV screens in bars do two things: 1) they scream “sports bar!” and 2) they seem to imply that your dining companions might not be interesting enough so the restaurant needs to provide some other form of brainless entertainment.
Our server brought us cocktail menus, which I politely opened without any intention of reading. I ordered Sarah’s signature cocktail, a Citron/soda. Either our pretty little waitress had ignored my order and went on instinct and brought me a vodka/tonic, or she had confused “soda” with “soda” and brought a vodka with Sprite. I pointed this out to her, she apologized, and in what appeared to be an effort to compensate and hopefully earn her full tip back, brought me Citron/soda garnished with three lemons. It was cute, but I couldn’t help but feel like they were making fun of me.
Starters, which they call “First Impressions, were amusing, but didn’t have any sort of focus. “Modern” comes in with Lobster Corn Dogs, “American” comes in with Shrimp and Grits and Mini Pulled Pork Sandwiches, and of course, no restaurant in LA can go without some version of raw tuna with an Asian flair. Republic does it with Mesquite Seared Albacore Tuna with Lemon Ginger Guacamole and Soy Gastrique, a garbled mouthful that made me want to laugh out loud. We skipped the starters.
We opted instead for a salad because if there is a Wedge on the menu, I am going to order it, though I was torn. Republic’s Caesar Salad, while it didn’t say it had anchovies, had hush puppies. I was curious, but in the end, the Wedge won out. Given my current love affair with macaroni and cheese, and the Republic’s claim that their Smoked Cheddar Mac n’ Cheese is “Oh! World Famous!” we had to order it. French fries would have been a no-brainer, but I was reluctant because Republic had to go and taint them with a truffle scent. I gave in, mostly because none of the other Accompaniments interested me.
Some time during the course of our menu deliberations, Republic had gone from comfortable lounge to three decibels away from chaotic club. The lights had been dimmed to even lower than they were when we walked in and the music got louder. From our perspective, Republic’s lounge was a fluid scene of the same elements, almostbeautiful people, diffusing across the space, filling in every spare square foot available. There really was no need for the TV in the lounge because the scene was entertaining enough to observe – PYTs perched like parakeets on barstools, parading to and from the Ladies’ Room, not because they have to primp, but because they have to parade. If it weren’t Republic, it could have been a runway show for Rachel Pally jersey minidresses. Wait, I think I might have been wearing one, too.
The Wedge was plated on a giant square plate that was far too big for tiny 2′ by 2′ wooden block that was our lounge table. I was disappointed, not by the Maytag Blue cheese dressing itself, which looked suspiciously like Thousand Island to me, but that the dressing apparently was enough to almost completely replace actual Blue Cheese on the salad. Sure, there were a few obligatory crumbles, but what is a Wedge without an obscene amount of Blue Cheese?!?! The light drizzle of balsamic vinegar was a nice touch, but I couldn’t help but feel betrayed.
It was becoming clear to me that sitting in the lounge for dinner is a bad idea. The table was too small to accommodate the rest of our meal. French fries were served in a standing wire-framed cone that took up less space, but with the arrival of Macaroni and Cheese in a cast iron skillet that came with a burn-potential warning and a Republic of Texas-sized plate with a steak, we were teetering precariously on the edge of a mess. The fries were crisp, with only a faint scent of truffle, which was to my benefit since truffles smells like dirt, but would be a disappointment for anyone who expected “truffle!” for $8 French fries.
If Republic’s Macaroni and Cheese is World Famous, I had to wonder for what quality it received the honor. Though the crumb topping held promise, it was surprisingly bland for being made with smoked cheddar. It needed a healthy dose of salt and perhaps a kick from hot sauce. The orecchiete were too al dente for a sauce that was too runny. Like some certain celebrities, perhaps the Macaroni and Cheese is famous for no real reason other than, well, nothing.
The biggest disappointment, however, came from the steak order. The steak was fine, and I applauded the kitchen’s respect for “rare.” However, I was a little more than offended by an accompanying head of garlic. I understand that in a restaurant that size, burns happen. However, I could not believe that something that horribly burnt to black would make it past cooks, an expeditor and a runner, out to the public. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and hunted through the cloves encased in papery peels that were two steps away from being ash, but the lone clove I found that had any semblance of its former life as garlic was so bitter I had to spit it out, and honey, I almost never spit.
We skipped dessert, because if the kitchen prepares salads and steaks with the expectation that no one will really eat it, then I have to assume that there would be even less attention paid to sugar shocking, fat-laden desserts. Chocolate Souffle and chocolate-infused Bread Pudding studded with fruit can never be bad, but at Republic, I wasn’t so sure.
650 N La Cienega Blvd (just north of Melrose)
West Hollywood, CA 90069