Chicago has a number of world class steakhouses, some of the very finest you'll find anywhere. When I've had people from Focal Loudspeakers who have traveled with me to Chicago, they always want a great steak. When Focal's export manager, Jean-Philippe Fontaine, met me in Chicago a few weeks ago for a series of meetings, his first request was, "Can we get a steak tonight?" We stayed downtown at the Hilton Garden Inn in the River North area (my favorite downtown Chicago hotel) and just down the street a block to the west is Mastro's Steakhouse, part of an upscale chain of steakhouses and restaurants based out of Southern California.
Mastro's Steakhouse actually got their start in Scottsdale, AZ in 1999, but the lineage goes further back. Dennis Mastro was the owner/proprietor of a popular Scottsdale restaurant called What's Your Beef. It featured, naturally, steaks on the menu. In 1991, Dennis Mastro and his son, Michael, opened Maloney's Tavern in Scottsdale. Maloney's eventually grew to six locations in three states. The family also started the Marco Polo Supper Club in the Scottsdale area - an upscale international restaurant that featured Chinese and Italian food, as well as imported lamb from New Zealand, seafood and steaks.
The Mastro's then opened Cocomo Joe's, an American/Mexican food restaurant in the Phoenix area. Michael Mastro then partnered with Scott Troilo and his father to open the first Mastro's Steakhouse, an upscale place that quickly became a favorite for people in the Valley of the Sun. They opened their second Mastro's location in Beverly Hills in 2001. Mastro's City Hall Steakhouse opened soon thereafter in Scottsdale, as did Mastro's Ocean Club, a high end seafood restaurant.
In 2007, the Mastro's and Troilo sold their Mastro's restaurants to an investment group headed by Mark Levy of Chicago-based Levy Restaurants. The new company - Mastro's Restaurants LLC based out of Southern California - began to expand with more Mastro's Steakhouses in Southern California and Las Vegas. The Mastro's Steakhouse in Chicago opened in October 2010 with great fanfare and glowing reviews. (The Maloney's Tavern locations, as well as the Marco Polo Supper Club restaurants were all shut down not long after Mastro's Restaurants LLC took over majority interest in the Mastro family of restaurants. Cocomo Joe's is still open, however.)
It was a hot summer evening when Jean-Philippe and I made the two minute walk down Grand to Dearborn Street and Mastro's (see map). I had picked him up earlier at O'Hare Airport and I was casually dressed in a pair of khaki shorts and a polo shirt. Jean-Philippe had been in North America for a week and had lost his luggage somewhere between France and Canada. He had to go buy a couple shirts to help him through his travels until he was able to have his bag catch up to him. (It was eventually found in Seattle and forwarded back to Montreal. But he didn't get it in time for his flight from Montreal to Brazil later that week.) So, we weren't dressed up by any means.
We went into Mastro's and asked if we could get a table for two. The hostess said, "We can seat you in the lounge." I thought it was sort of strange that she didn't offer to take us into the dining room until I saw a number of nicely dressed people in there on our way to the bar area. I figured that the dining room must have some sort of dress code. The lounge was nice, but not as elegant as the dining room (pictured right).
Jean-Phillipe and I were seated at a table on the wall opposite the large bar in the lounge. The lighting was very subdued and I had trouble reading the menu. Our server for the evening - Mary - greeted us and asked if we'd ever been to Mastro's before. She proceeded to tell us about the restaurant and what they're famous for - aged steaks, primarily.
Mary was very pleasant, in her mid-to-late 40's and probably said, "Thank you" more than any one person I've ever been around. When she handed me the wine list, SHE said, "Thank you", like she was thanking me for taking it from her. When she brought out a basket of bread and set it on the table, she said, "Thank you." After each time she conversed with us, she ended it by saying, "Thank you", even when a "thank you" wasn't warranted. I don't know if she was overly polite or laying it on thick to get a big tip.
Mastro's in Chicago features a dozen different types of steak on their menu. They have two sizes of filets, two sizes of bone-in filets, two sizes of Porterhouse steaks (including a "double-cut" 48 oz. Porterhouse), as well as ribeyes and strip steaks. They also had chicken breasts, pork, lamb and veal chops, and seafood. They also had an extensive list of appetizers and an equally large list of sides that you can order with your meal.
The wine list at Mastro's was very impressive and actually rather reasonable. I was able to find a 2007 Franciscan Cabernet for $54 bucks - pretty damn good for a high-end steakhouse in Chicago, I thought.
It doesn't matter which European I've ever been around, when they come to America they want steak. Dominic Baker, the former export manager for Focal, ate steak every night we traveled together about four years ago. Even at an Italian restaurant in St. Louis, he ordered steak. And the Europeans like their steak cooked rare. Jean-Philippe was no exception. He ordered the bone-in ribeye, a 22 oz. steak. He also got a salad to tide him over.
I got the 16 oz. Peppercorn New York Strip, rare. I got a wedge salad and we ordered a side of Mastro's signature Lobster Mashed Potatoes. One order was more than enough for both Jean-Philippe and I.
The wedge salad I had was just outstanding. Usually, restaurants will use processed bacon bits on their wedge salads. Mastro's actually had chunks of real bacon on theirs. The bleu cheese dressing was great and the lettuce was ice cold. It was one of the best wedge salads I've ever had.
By the time the steaks came out, I was ready. I couldn't take a picture of my steak because it was so dark in there and the flash was so bright that it blurred the picture. But take my word for it - the steak was just outstanding. It was smothered in cracked black peppercorns and cooked to a perfect rare with a cool red center. Jean-Philippe attacked his steak like it was his last meal. He was in ecstasy. "We just don't get beef like this in France," he said, echoing the exact words I heard from Dominic Baker in his previous trips with me.
The only average thing about the meal was the lobster mashed potatoes. They were OK, at best. I mean, they weren't bad, but they didn't knock my socks off. I knew I should have gotten the gorgonzola mac and cheese or the wasabi mashed potatoes.
I had asked Mary if they had any ground horseradish to go with my steak. She brought out a little bowl of horseradish and cautioned us that it was very hot. She said, "I believe they call this Atomic Horseradish." I immediately perked up when I heard that.
I said, "The same Atomic Horseradish that you get out in Las Vegas?" She said she thought it was, but when I took a taste of it, there was no way it was the real Atomic Horseradish. It didn't overwhelm me and clear out my sinuses the way Atomic Horseradish will do. But, still, it went fine with the steaks.
After we finished our meal, Mary came over to tempt us with nearly a dozen different types of desserts they featured at Mastro's. In addition to creme brulee, key lime pie, pecan pie ala mode, and something called chocolate sin cake, their signature dessert is a butter cake, served warm and drizzled with a sweet frosting. I about came unglued when I saw that. But I was so stuffed from the meal that I couldn't eat another thing.
But during the meal, I was telling Jean-Phillipe about Templeton Rye, the Iowa-based rye whiskey that has become overly popular and hard to find. I asked him if he wanted an after dinner scotch and he said, "Do you think this place would have that rye whiskey you talk about?" We asked Mary and she said that they did, indeed, serve Templeton Rye at Mastro's. Jean-Philippe suggested we retire to the bar proper for a Templeton Rye.
The bar at Mastro's was well-stocked with liquors of all types. It was also well-lit with a back light that offered a colorful kaleidoscope of lighting at the bar. We both ordered a Templeton Rye, but when the bartender went to pour from the bottle there was - maybe - a little less than 2 oz. left in the bottle. He poured a couple out for us into a glass - I took mine with a little ice. Another bartender took off to the basement to fetch another bottle of Templeton Rye. He came back about five minutes later and said, "Man, I was sweatin' this out. I couldn't find any more, until I looked behind a couple other bottles. This is the last one we have." This time, the bartender gave us both a healthy shot of T-Rye.
Jean-Philippe loved the Templeton Rye. He said, "My family were wine makers in France and this has a lot of the similar foundations. It's somewhat earthy and very full in the taste." He immediately understood why it was tough to get because it tasted so good. I told him that I'd gind a bottle of Templeton Rye and bring it to Indianapolis for the annual CEDIA Expo in early September. (I was able to find multiple places in the Chicagoland region that had Templeton Rye and not only did I get a bottle to take to Indy with me, but I also stocked up on T-Rye to make sure I had a good backstock going into the fall and winter months.)
Everything I'd read and heard about Mastro's Steakhouse was that it was one of the finest steakhouses in Chicago. After eating there, I can certainly attest to that. The steaks were killer, the wedge salad I had was outstanding, and even though the lobster mashed potatoes weren't eye-poppingly great, they were still pretty good. I certainly couldn't bitch about the price of a bottle of the Franciscan Cabernet, either. The only thing that sort of took me aback was the price of two Templeton Rye's after dinner - $18 bucks each. Ouch! (But, then again, we had the first one one the house since it was the end of the bottle.) Thankfully, Jean Philippe paid for the drinks after I picked up the check for dinner which was over $200 bucks after a nice tip for the overly polite Mary. But in many ways it was worth it. I can't recommend Mastro's enough for a high-end dining experience on a trip to Chicago when you want to splurge on a meal.