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REVIEW: Mastro's Steakhouse, Costa Mesa

"Mastro's Costa Mesa, may I help you?" drawled the voice on the other end of the telephone.

"I'd like to see if I can make a reservation for Monday at 6:30 PM, party of two."

"Certainly, no problem. Are you celebrating anything?"

"Our anniversary."

"Oh, congratulations. Tomorrow at 6:30 PM, party of two for Ubergeek, bring your appetite."

...bring my appetite? What kind of sign-off is that? Weirdos.


At 6 PM tonight, my wife had not yet got home and I was freaking out -- would we lose our table to the vagaries of the 55? But the traffic gods were smiling and we zipped -- nay, FLEW -- to South Coast Plaza, where we found...

...Mastro's, wrapped in construction fencing. A small sign assured us they were open, though, so we persevered. Make the next right on Ave. of the Arts for the parking, both valet and self.

We were seated immediately in the only room in the entire restaurant with any natural light in it, which made me happy, because even with the late afternoon sunlight streaming in, it was a DARK room. Clubby. Full of executives from the surrounding office buildings and salesmen trying desperately to wine and dine them into multimillion dollar deals, and travelling road warriors with flexible limits on their corporate cards. Dark, lit with orange panels, and the most impressive wine storage I've ever seen -- the stairs are made of wine storage.

Dress nicely. Ties are not needed, nor are jackets, but men, you're going to feel out of place if you wear jeans and a t-shirt or flip-flops or any of that. Titans of industry dine here; they do not wear Alpine Star t-shirts and baseball caps.

The menu is pretty short. A lot of seafood appetisers, an impressive list of enormous hunks of aged prime beef, a list of fruity freshman girl drinks in martini glasses (they also serve martinis), and a very nice wine list, including at least three dozen wines by the glass, and none of that "quartino" upsell bullcrap like at Mozza that I've been reading about.

We enquired about lobster mashed potatoes. Sadly, though I was tempted, the description of how large a portion it is put me off -- what on earth are we going to do with six plus servings of delicious but ticking-time-bomb seafood potatoes? I was bummed for quite a while about that, but for $33 (it has well over a pound of lobster, and we saw a portion being delivered -- it is a veritable PLANET of food) we want to go back with a larger group and have it.

We ended up splitting a Caesar salad (the non-spicy kind), the Mrs. got a petite (8 oz.) filet and I got the 12 oz. filet on the bone, we had creamed spinach, and I ordered a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon to be served with the meal.

The Caesar salad was delicious and the dressing was obviously made by hand (real Caesar salad is tossed with its dressing's ingredients one at a time), but the complaint there was that it was shockingly overdressed. Still very tasty -- the dressing had a great tang -- but it could have used half the dressing for the same effect. The bread basket that came with it was delicious as well, though we ate the pretzel bread and nibbled on the flatbreads but left the rest.

The steaks -- wow, my God, the steaks. First of all, they really understand what the temperatures of steak are. Rare is, in fact, cold red centre. Medium rare, then, is warm red centre. We punted and ordered medium-rare, though I debated the waitress' recommendation of "rare plus", cool red centre. Second of all, that is the second tenderest beef I've ever had (Kobe wins) and the most tender MASSIVE HUNK OF MUFFERTHUNKIN' BARELY-SCORCHED DEAD *COW* I have ever put in my mouth.


You knew there was a "but".

But... I liked my wife's petite filet better than the much-vaunted "house speciality" bone-in filet.

You see, in my head a filet has essentially no connective tissue. It is a single piece of delectable, so-tender-you-can-cut-it-with-a-spoon meat, the ordering of which past medium-rare ought to be a crime. Such was the case with my wife's steak.

My steak, though it was more flavourful (maybe that malarky about the bone creating more flavour wasn't such malarky after all), had a nasty wedge of connective tissue holding the filet to the bone, and the flavour was so good that despite the rarefied surroundings, I picked up that bone and GNAWED IT... except that horrid wedge of gristle. And though I forgot to request no butter, the amount of butter used was (dare I say it) proportionate -- not floating in an entire stick the way Ruth's Chris does it.

The creamed spinach was good -- "iron-y" the way spinach should be, with the right hint of nutmeg and white pepper, and good rich manufacturers' cream and salt, and nothing else.

After dinner, forks were re-laid and we waited, patiently, for the dessert menu.

It never came. Instead, a gargantuan slice of three-layer carrot cake with fresh fruit arrived, along with a chilled metal dish of creme Chantilly. On the side of the cake plate was written, "Happy Anniversary". It was -- delicious. The cake didn't have nuts in it, which is the kiss of death to my wife (she doesn't like the combination of warm spices and nuts and raisins -- charoset is anathema to her); they were on the side of the cake and it was delicious.

The service was great. One of the differences between Mastro's and, say, Ruth's Chris, is the service. Ruth's Chris has good service, don't get me wrong -- but they don't have great service, and it tends to reek of "chain training", if you know what I mean.

So many "fancy" restaurants start off on the wrong foot with the icy, appraising once-over at the desk and the distant, distasteful "Of course, sir..." from the waitstaff. This wasn't the case at Mastro's. The front desk was demure and spoke sotto voce to the maitres d', and we did get a quick once-over, but when we arrived at our table, it was obvious why -- the tables are set with white linens, and if you are wearing dark clothes, as we were, you are offered black napkins so you don't get white fuzz on your clothes.

They've even found a non-offensive way to do the Great Restaurant Water Ripoff -- "Would you like ice water, or bottled water?" asked the waitress. Upon hearing we would like ice water, there was no pregnant pause, no raised eyebrow, no minuscule hesitation. I got the distinct feeling that they get quite enough menu from the sale of their excellent beef that they don't feel the need to stick it their customers by trapping them into expensive water.

When I ordered wine, they were out of the wine I had ordered ($20 a glass -- not cheap) and the waitress didn't know, so they offered me a taste of a similar, but more expensive ($25 a glass) wine -- and when I accepted, they only charged me the price of the wine I had ordered in the first place.

Service continued as it should -- and those of you who have read my diatribes on the woes of casual California service know that when it comes down to it I am unbelievably picky -- when the salad was delivered on chilled plates and *with a chilled fork*. Crumbs were wicked away after each course, glasses were unobtrusively refilled, and -- I can't believe it, I thought this was dead -- appetisers were plated at the table from dishes. VEGETABLES were served and the dish left on the table for seconds. Service order was remembered, so that my biggest single pet peeve in restaurant service -- the auctioning off of the food because they can't be arsed to remember who ordered what -- was not awoken. The only misstep was that my espresso was delivered to my wife by the runner. Oops. Darn.

There is one service item that made me angry -- and that is the ridiculous service of the steak itself. The runner came RUNNING out with a tray and used three napkins to set the platters on our table. "Four hundred degrees," he murmured, "please be careful." I thought it was hyperbole, until another runner arrived with our creamed spinach, which he served onto our plates. It boiled INSTANTLY and FURIOUSLY -- if you have ever been served Korean soondubu in a ripping-hot dolsot (stone pot), you know exactly the effect.

And this would have been fine had we ordered, say, mashed potatoes, which would have had a nice appealing crust on the bottom (I'm one of those people who deliberately burn rice so I can have the tadig, so...). We didn't -- we ordered creamed spinach... which boiled violently and splattered onto my hands and sleeves. I was not a happy camper. By the time it was cool enough to consider eating, it had reduced too much and was slightly gloppy. I might not have cared elsewhere -- but you have to pay a la carte for your sides and I felt foolish and barbaric eating it directly from the serving dish so I could actually have some without searing my insides.

My wife left the fork on her plate while she was talking to me, and it was so hot she burned her fingertips slightly when she went to go pick it up again -- she had to flag one of the many servers in the room to bring her another, and they had to retrieve the overheated one with a napkin.

Honestly, give me a break. I know that a ripping-hot platter means that your meal will be hot through to the last bite, and that's a nice idea, but I shouldn't have to pay $43 for a steak AND another $5 to my dry cleaner so they can get creamed spinach off my cuffs. I mentioned it to the waitress and she laughed it off -- fine, OK, I get it, but what if, as I often do, I'd leaned down to smell my food?

That was -- honestly -- the only negative experience in the whole night. The food was absolutely delicious, the place is very well-designed (it holds 580 people -- a truly huge restaurant -- but each room holds perhaps 40 people), the service was damn near impeccable, and though (very) expensive, I felt I got what I paid for.

The night's tally was $162 out the door. Expensive? Yes, but I feel I got what I paid for, and it's not like we eat out at $162 restaurants every night or even every month. It's definitely the nicest steakhouse I've been to on this coast, and we spent only slightly more than what we did at Napa Rose, though to be fair, we drank more at NR.

Mastro's Steak House
633 Anton Blvd, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

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  1. Your experience mirrors mine at the BH location last July. I was really impressed with the service. I felt as if we (me, my wife and our 16 year-old) were treated with the same degree of respect and attention as their much fancier, more well-known and well-heeled regulars.

    For sides like the creamed spinach, though, it sounds like they should bring you a separate dish from which to eat.

    1. Hi Das Ubergeek,

      Very nice review! Thanks for the always insightful information. :)

      The filet sounds delicious, and I loved your description of it being so good you "GNAWED" the bone, hehehe (^_^).

      It's unfortunate about the beyond boiling hot plate and the creamed spinach. That's really excessive IMHO, and like you said, now you have to pay for dry-cleaning on top of the great food (and ruined side order).

      Besides that, the rest of the service sounded great. It's nice to know a place like that still treats all its customers with the same level of respect.

      1. I go to Mastros every now and then when im in the mood for the best steak ever. I have been going here for the past 2 years and can honestly say that i love it every time i go. I used to go to Flemings, but Mastros stole the show after one visit.

        The 18oz bone-in, seared ahi, chopped salad, sweet tater fries, and buttercake are simply amazing. All the other sides ive had, every veggie and special, are totally awesome as well.

        Im glad that you had a great anniversary and dining experience.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Robert Hobbs

          Here is my GF and I, the filet, and buttercake.

        2. Wow, really great review, very nice. I went about a year ago and we all had a wonderful experience - your review makes me want to go again, very soon.

          1. Great and truly informative review, Das Ubergeek. The detailed description of your experience really conveys the story of your evening and allows the reader to make an intelligent decision about whether Mastro's will be a good choice for his or her own celebratory meal. One question about the superheated plates: I can understand their purpose in keeping the food hot (and supplying dramatic effect) but at such a high heat, didn't they actually cook the steaks? Especially your wife's petite filet -- was it cooked to medium within a few minutes?

            1. Informative review, as usual. You even answered the Q I had in the back of my mind as I read: how was it compared to Napa Rose?

              I'm not inclined to order steak or dine @ a steakhouse b/c it's so easy to make it better @ home than what most restaurants serve. However, your detailed review has my curiosity salivating. I guess I'll have to take Mr OCAnn on our next special occasion. Thank you for the write-up.

              1. Thanks for the review. I've been wondering about Mastro's. So how does it compare to Morton's, and Ruth Chris for food alone?

                Actually I love my steak sizzling off the platter, so that won't bother me. Having grease/food splatter all over one's clothing isn't so cool, however.

                5 Replies
                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    Thanks for the input. I think either Mastros or the new BLT steak next time I have the carnivore cravings. I assume they broil the steaks, not grilled over wood?

                    1. re: notmartha

                      I believe they cook it in a pan at Mastros....soaked in tasty butter:)

                  2. re: notmartha

                    Though Ruth Chris, Flemings, and Mortons are all VERY good, Mastros takes the win in my opinion. I used to swear by Flemings Filet until I tried Mastros.....was just a different ball game. Oh and the sides at Mastros are insane.

                    PS- the one side that is amazing from Ruths that I miss is the sweet potato casserole.....amazing:)

                  3. $162 is not bad. I paid more than that at Morton's once, just for myself, and nearly that much again a second time there (granted, I had more wine and a cocktail, and I guess you probably didn't have to pay for your dessert, but still). *sigh* My friends seem to love Morton's at least.

                    1. It was based on the strength of this review alone that I made plans for our belated Valentine's Day dinner. Thank you Dave!

                      Going out on Valentine's Day is a mess, so I--yes, I--like to take Mr OCAnn the day before or after. In the style of the Japanese V-day, it's women who give men dark or milk chocolates; instead of chocolates, Casa OCAnn does restaurants. In that same vein, we practice the Japanese "White Day" where men reciprocate by returning three times the value of the chocolates with white chocolates; so next month, Mr OCAnn will take me out to a nice restaurant (we joke that it will be three times the cost of where I take him).

                      He started off with the Patron Pomegranita ($18). We also had the oysters on the 1/2 shell presented in a seafood tower (with clouds coming from the dry ice underneath the cocktail sauce); three each of the Blue Points and Quilcene ($18). They were delish! But warning on the horseradish: use only a touch! The horseradish here is much more potent than anywhere else.

                      Mr OCAnn debated on the Porterhouse or the Chef's Cut Bone-in Ribeye; the Ribeye ($51) won. Me, I couldn't decide between the petite filet or the rack of lamb ($42); our server suggested the lamb. Both were ordered medium rare. Though my lamb was good, I've had better elsewhere. I should've gone for the steak (since it *is* a steakhouse). Now the Ribeye was SUPERB! Crusty and flavourful on the outside and warm red in the middle. Oh, it was the best steak I've ever had; even better than home-made (which we thought was impossible). Mr OCAnn's steak was so huge, that we brought it home where I gnawed on the bone in the privacy of our home. There was so much food, that we brought my dinner and the sides home too.

                      Mr OCAnn washed his steak down w/some beer (Fat Tire, $7); I had my usual: poorman's free-flowing water. We went in knowing one of our sides was going to be the Gorgonzola Mac-n-Cheese, but that night, they had Lobster Truffle Gnocchis ($25)...we looked at each other, drooled and went with that. Our other side was Sugar Snap Peas ($9, which were really good too). But the one to write home about was the gnocchis. Yes, they're just dumplings, but these were goooood dumplings. Even at $25, I'd be tempted to order a two of them so we have more to take home next...it's that good!

                      Service throughout was excellent: it was smart, snappy, professional yet friendly. My personal preference for dinner out is going during off-peak (before 18:00 or after 20:30). We noticed that our service, compared to our neighbours, was more a touch more attentive and peppered with jokes. After our meal, one of the staff cleared our table and handed us dessert menus. Our server came, looked ever so slightly frustrated and said "no, this won't do" and took it away. I was nonplussed...but I guess I knew what was coming: dessert on the house! He brought us their signature Warm Butter Cake (normally $12) topped with ice cream, with a huge side of fresh whipped cream. I love chocolate, but this was better than most other chocolate desserts served up in OC. The outside, like the steak, was nice & crusty; the interior nice and warm (and yummy with the melting vanilla ice cream). My only minor negative with the whole evening was that they didn't offer or ask about coffee service with the dessert. =( But I'm being petty.

                      They boxed up what we didn't finish in pretty black boxes and bagged in a huge Mastro's bag. And along with our bill, they presented me with a little red box containing two chocolate truffles (one dark, one white). What service! Maybe leftovers from Valentine's Day? Who cares!

                      I loved this place. It's Mr OCAnn's new favourite. Compared to NR, it was much cozier, more intimate; service level is equivalent. The only factor in deciding between the two is whether we want steaks or something else. Our total bill was $185 before tip. And another $6 for valet (if you want non valet-parking, you'll have to park @ SCP and walk over). Again, DU, thank you for putting this on the map for Casa OCAnn!

                      One more thing: they called the next day to thank us for joining them at Mastro's and they hope to see us again.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: OCAnn

                        Mmmm... steak! I know Mastro's gets knocked sometimes, but I love it and it's my usual place to send people who are on expense accounts. Glad you enjoyed it so much!

                        Funnily enough, we had our V-Day dinner at Xanh, but on Friday, because in Das Uberhaus, V-Day is a Jewish holiday and therefore starts at sundown the day before, which prevents us paying too much for a set menu cooked four days in advance and warmed over. Funny how that works. :)

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          What say you on Xanh? Is a review forthcoming?

                          1. re: OCAnn

                            I hear Xanh is wonderful. An upscale Vietnamese restaurant.

                            1. re: OCAnn

                              Oh, I've already reviewed it as part of the Explorations on Brookhurst. I bumped it on Saturday so you should see it if you look back a few pages.

                        2. Mr.Ubergeek,

                          Entertaining review, but I have to say I balk at the though of the "bone-in filet". Seems like an oxymoron.

                          Please try Spark in Huntington Beach next time you want a really nice dinner. No pretentiousness and not the "standard" steakhouse. Original cocktails, really creative (and delicious) appetizers, high quailty and perfectly cooked beef (I had a dry-aged KC bone in rib eye and gnawed the bone with pleasure) and superb service. Plus a romantic atmosphere and ocean view. If you have cocktails, appetizers, entrees, wine and dessert, it will set you back about $100 per, but definitely worth it for a special occassion.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: janetms383

                            I didn't like the "bone" part of the bone-in filet but it was a pretty hard sell. Definitely tastier than a normal filet but that connective tissue... yecch.

                            I've been to the original Spark in Studio City -- used to live nearby -- and don't like it. The pizzas they serve are so thin-crusted that they're cold by the time the runner can be arsed to get it to your table; more or less everything else is so salty as to be just about inedible. I thought it was a bad night but I've been several times (others' choice, not mine) and it's consistently over-salted.

                            Not sure about the HB branch but the Studio City branch also has the tables spaced so closely together than you're nearly always being buffeted by servers trying to get past. Just a series of thoroughly underwhelming experiences followed by overwhelming bills. Is the HB branch not like this?

                            For $100 per I can eat at Napa Rose, or at Tradition by Pascal, or Marche Moderne, or Bluefin, or Park Ave., or the Hobbit, or Shibucho.

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              They don't have pizza on the menu in HB and you don't get that LA attitude either.

                              I think the dining room is quite spacious and they have a large enclosed patio with heaters if you want to dine outdoors

                              1. re: janetms383

                                You got off easy at $162, as great as there steaks are, wait till you try the seafood tower appitizer. The biggest shrimp you ever seen and will add at least $90 to the bill. It worth every penny. All the sides at Mastro's is a 10.