Mastro's Steakhouse - Costa Mesa - Review with Photos
Beneath the shadow of the elegant curved glass and chrome edifice of the Plaza Tower, sat Mastro's, a steakhouse by which to measure all others.
European autos lined the driveway, seemingly fresh from a run on the Autobahn and arranged by the valets so that the costlier models are nearest the entrance.
Walking inside, past a stretched entryway with walls of textured sandstone, the hostess -- a rail-thin twentysomething co-ed -- directed her colleague to escort us to our table, her voice icy and precise with a bit of put-on haughtiness. We were led to a table dressed in crisp white linen and plush high-backed chairs.
It was the early evening, but the sunlight could not reach into our seating area, even in that pre-sunset hour. The room's primary source of illumination came from vertical panels lined with a glimmering fabric, dramatically backlit to exude a honey-yellow glow. Dimly lit and sultry, the space was conducive for intimate conversation, but unfortunately not for food photos*.
In front of us, a glass wall with columns of wine bottles reached beyond the limits of the ceiling. They looked like jewels; a cascade of emeralds and onyx. In Vegas, this is the kind of sight which panders to the tourist hordes, in a showy display of one-upmanship over the last glitzy restaurant to open in town. But here, in Costa Mesa, it comes across as measured, dignified, even purposeful.
The servers, in starched white tuxedos, were models of efficiency and masters of prose, regaling us with pitch-perfect recitals of the night's specials. And as with any establishment where dinner for two easily reaches into triple digits, they used crumb scrapers.
We produced the crumbs to be scraped as we nibbled on crusty bread and crackers. Notable in the artfully arranged basket was the pretzel bread, a burnished mini-loaf with the dark color of pumpernickle and a crusting of salt. Yet another standout was the crispy planks of toast, which were tangy and bubbled with parmesan cheese.
But the point of the evening was steak, and lots of it, so we saved our appetites until our orders arrived.
The sixteen ounce New York Strip ($36.95), was not a strip of meat as much as it was a gold-brick-sized section of cattle. Served on a plate which was heated past the temperature of magma, the hunk of charred flesh sizzled and sputtered in melted butter. Slicing off the first chunk was an effortless task, with the meat offering little resistance to my blade. The core was cool crimson, surrounded by a perfect perimeter of pink and a seasoned outer crust of beautiful brown and black.
I pierced the cut piece with a fork, held it up, blew on it, and then ate it. It took no more than one chew for me to realize that this was the best steak I've ever had. There were no fibers to masticate, no connective tissue to gnaw. It wasn't just tender, it surrendered upon contact with my teeth, like Jell-O. The result was an unobstructed taste of red meat, of blood and of flesh. This was the purest essense of beef; a pristine core sample of the beast worth its weight in gold.
Twenty days of dry aging had done its duty, concentrating the flavor and tenderizing beyond where any mallet or marinade can take it.
The sides were offered a-la-carte and served in ample portions. Gorgonzola Mac & Cheese ($9.50) came highly recommended by Chowhounds who came before me and was deserving of the praise. It's heaped into a deep metal bowl -- enough to feed a family of three on its own -- and adorned with a burnt, bruleed top, which only added to its appeal. The heady concoction was redolent with the mild penicillin tang of bleu cheese and stretched-out in mozzarella-like webs as we brought it to our mouths.
The Sauteed Asparagus ($7.50) were green and crisp-tender, slicked with olive oil and flavored with minced garlic. Our choice functioned as a palate-cleanser against the heavier dishes, but the woody, fibrous stems of the asparagi should have been trimmed off prior to cooking.
As I looked around the room, I took stock of my fellow diners. Along with my lovely dining companion (who, by the way, treated me for this carnivorific feast) and I, there were women decked out in their newest South Coast Plaza couture and birthday celebrants with deep pockets. But because it was midweek, there were quite a few groups of young professionals on expense accounts and executives who've descended from their high-rise boardrooms to have supper.
Mastro's was a fitting refuge for these hungry lions of industry -- a place to toast the day's business conquest with glass of scotch and chomp on a bloody steak.
633 Anton Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
The service was exceptional. Our server was a gentleman in his mid twenties with slicked back hair who looked like a combination of Josh Lucas and Paul Bettany. He was professional but warm and friendly with a ready smile. He seemed happy to be there, which is more than I can say for the server who waited on us at Morton's a few years ago.
If I can describe the service at Mastro's in one phrase, it would be "white-gloved". Water glasses were refilled without asking. The manager came by twice to check on how we were doing. And although we didn't take our server up on any of his suggestion menu items, he still treated us like royalty.
Okay, I am absolutely not trying to start a bi-coastal steak war, but I have not been to Mastro's yet and count Peter Luger's as my personal holy grail of (barely) cooked animal flesh. When I hear someone say Mastro's has the best steak they've ever eaten, I've just got to know: has anyone gone to both and liked Mastro's better? In which case, I'm going tomorrow.
re: Mrs Fang
Being a born and raised New Yorker I will shed some light on the Peter Luger "mystique"... Yeah, they have a nice steak, but I've been to Ruth's Chris in Garden City, NY, and have had steaks that border on the supernatural. The other thing about Ruth's Chris is the staff has been outstanding each and everytime I went there. I love hearing people speak about the "gruff" attitude of the waiters at Luger's as being part of the "mystique". When I pay that kind of money to eat a piece of meat, I don't need an attitude from the staff. The experiences I have had at Ruth's Chris have been great. The waiter just knew his stuff hands down, and he did his job with a great attitude. The attitude made the dining experience that much better. I enjoyed that interaction of wine suggestions, and meal combination suggestions. In my opinion, for the money, Ruth's Chris puts Lugers to shame in quite a few catagories. Don't get me wrong, Lugers makes a nice steak, but it's not a holy grail. Part of the problem with being around a long time is you get complacent. Luger's should take that to heart. On Mastro's... I agree 100% with this review. It was indeed outstanding. One thing I will not call Mastro's is "A Peter Luger's of the West Coast". Thats because the steak I ate there was far and away better. Mastro's has a good thing going for it. Hope this helps.
re: Mrs Fang
I've had both, and Mastro's is hands down the best steak by a long shot.
I do still love Peter Luger's steaks though, and it is one of my favorite restaurants. But it's a different experience, more of an old-school atmosphere. I had great service there, although I was dining with a very powerful NYer and Luger regular (he even had the Peter Luger credit card thing). And I love their sliced tomato & onion with their special sauce appetizer - I think Mastro's also has a version of this, but I haven't tried it, and they couldn't possibly have the Peter Luger sauce anyway.
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Elmo, after OD'ing on a massive rib chop in the Bay Area this past weekend, I know that if I clicked on the link to your blog today all I would be doing is succumbing to a misguided act of self inflicted maschoistic torture. I ain't gonna look at your pictures today... Maybe another day, when I am feeling beef deprived.
Wayne, you're in luck! Since the restaurant was so dark, most of my pictures didn't come out at all. Although there is that photo of the hunk of meat that I brought home that I had for a midnight snack, glistening and still drool-inducing (at least for me) on a fork. It'll be there for when you go through the red meat withdrawals later today!
I've been to both many times. Peter Luger and Mastros are entirely different experiences -- neither is better than the other when you get down to it. But Mastros does make Luger look cheap, which is not easy to do. Not to mention that part of what makes Luger so great, like Musso and Franks, is the tradition that oozes from the room. And Mastros is the Disneyland version of that. But that said, as much as I love both PL and M&F, and really want to hate Mastros on some level, it's impossible. It's just that damn good.