I love surprising people.
In fact, I am a master at surprising people. I have a great poker face that allows me to bluff people into thinking that I am not up to something when I really am. For instance, J. hates to be reminded of how I was able to sneak over to Orange County and show up at J.’s place of work for lunch. A pure deer-in-the-headlights moment if ever there was one.
Madge, however, is very intuitive and very clever, so it was a challenge to get her to believe that I was taking her out for her birthday to some modest restaurant when actually I was scheming to get her over to Mastro’s in North Scottsdale for a steak dinner. I was going to take Madge to Durant’s, her favorite restaurant, but Boris beat me to the punch (-2 points).
I told her to dress nice, but modestly because I didn’t think I could stand seeing that fox stole she wears – the one with the head of the fox biting its own tail. I shudder just thinking about it. (My roommate Dave wants to steal it and replace the eyes with new eyes that spin around. Yes, my roommate is a very sick man.)
Of course, it was summer, so I had some wiggle room and I picked up Madge and leisurely drove to North Scottsdale. She didn’t have a clue and we engaged in idyll banter why I made all sorts of turns and stops to throw her off track. We finally arrived and when I pulled up to the valet station under the big Mastro’s ‘M,’ Madge let out a very audible “You’ve got to be kidding!”
Another deer-in-the-headlights moment.
The valet took the car and we entered with our 8:30 PM reservations. The foyer was filled with dark woods and leather seating and a table with copies of the menu about. We approached the host station and were immediately taken to our table.
The interior was broken into several sections, the two biggest being the bar area and the dining room adjacent. There was a live musician belting out a variety of tunes in the bar with his music being piped through the PA system into other areas of the restaurant. Even at 8:30 PM, the place was hopping, especially the bar.
We were seated at a luxurious four-top with wide, comfortable chairs on one side and leather booth seating on the other. Madge took the booth seating and we were there only moments before out server, decked out in a white tuxedo top and black slacks presented us with menus. We were poured water and told we would be given a few minutes to make our selections.
Madge was immediately drawn to the separate martini menu and decided to try a Pomegranate Martini ($14.00) while I heard the sound of the Blood Orange Martini ($15.00) calling my name. We also ordered Diet Cokes ($1.75 each).
As we waited for our server to return, we were presented with a bread basket containing four types of bread: soft pretzel bread sticks, garlic cheese flatbread, pumpernickel bread sticks, and a white yeast bread. The clear winner was the pretzel bread with its excellent flavor and zap of saltiness. The runner-up was the garlic cheese flatbread that had the crunchiness of Melba Toast, but a great garlic and cheese flavor. Unfortunately the pumpernickel and white breads were unappealing as they seemed to have been left out too long and were exceptionally dry.
Our server returned with our martini glasses. In fact, she returned with the martini glasses and the full-size shakers they were mixed in. After pouring our drinks, she set them down and then set the shakers next to them. In each shaker was another two servings. Madge’s Pomegranate Martini was delicious with a subtle flavor but a nice punch of alcohol on the end. My Blood Orange Martini was very bold, with a very strong orange flavor that really knocked my socks off. It was ice cold and completely refreshing.
After nursing our drinks and reviewing the menu, we were ready to order. To start the meal, we went for the Toasted Ravioli ($9.95), one of Madge’s favorite treats. For our salads, I went with the Warm Spinach Salad ($7.95) and Madge had the Mastro’s Iceberg Wedge ($7.95). Our entrees included the Double Pork Chop ($24.96) for me and the Bone-In Ribeye for Madge ($36.95). To round it all out, I convinced Madge that we needed to go for the Gorgonzola Mack & Cheese ($8.95).
We sat back and enjoyed the atmosphere and noted that the noise level, while high, was not oppressive; although we could have done without the bar musician’s rendition of “Copacabana.”
About 10 minutes passed and our toasted raviolis arrived. The serving was huge. The circles of stuffed pasta were perfectly fried and dusted with some parmesan cheese. They were served with a side of marinara sauce. Madge found the ravioli to be perfect for her taste and was gobbling them up at record pace. I thought they were okay, but I am also not a huge toasted ravioli fan as I find them all to be fairly institutional.
Next up to our table were the salads. Madge loved the Iceberg Wedge with its tangy dressing, chopped tomatoes, bacon bits and the chunks of blue cheese. It was quite sizable and I could hear the crunch from the lettuce as Madge cut it with her knife. Madge said the lettuce was very fresh and crisp and the dressing was slightly sweet, which was a nice counterpoint to the bacon and cheese. This isn’t the typical salad that Madge gets, but she was thoroughly enjoying it.
My Warm Spinach Salad was very good. There were plenty of tasty spinach leaves with a very fresh flavor and exceptionally clean (i.e. no sand or grit). The dressing was incredibly rich and was only enhanced that much more with the generous portion of bacon bits and chopped egg. My only complaint was that the dressing should have been much warmer than it was. Mastro’s had heated the salad bowl to give the spinach the wilting effect from that heat source instead of the dressing, but that only hit part of the leaves. Still, it was a very good salad with a pleasing taste.
We made our way through our salads and then some conversation as we polished off our martinis. We were pleased with how attentive the bus staff was as they cleared plates and crumbs with efficient speed.
Our entrees arrived and Madge was in heaven with her bone-in ribeye. The large slab of beef was 22 ounces of pure beef satisfaction and Madge said the steak was cooked exactly to her specifications. She loved the fact the steak arrived sizzling on the plate. Madge cut a piece, let it cool with her breathy assistance and took her first bite. She then had another piece and declared that this was one of the best steaks she had ever had. Whew. I was relieved because there is nothing worse than a bad birthday dinner.
My Double Pork Chop was beautiful. This 2.5 inch thick piece of pig was seared on the outside with some nice grill marks that carmalized the juices from the meat. The chop was tender and gave little resistance to the knife and fork in my hands. I cut a piece and dipped it into the spice apples served along side. It was amazing. The pork was very tender and super moist. While it didn’t melt in my mouth, it didn’t take any effort to chew it either. The flavor was rich and perfectly paired with the apples that were spectacular. My only complaints were minor. First, it was a tad overcooked for my taste, and, second, there should have been more of the apples. Still, I was not unhappy at all with my chop.
Madge and I also were drooling over the Gorgonzola Mack & Cheese. This was served in its own skillet which had been placed under a broiler and allowed to brown on the top. Our server was kind enough to dish our servings up for us and the look on Madge’s face at her first bite told me instantly that this was a winner. And it was. The pasta was great and the cheese sauce was sublime. The creaminess of the dish was the right accompaniment with our meals. I loved this version of Mack & Cheese and could only think about how sad it was that there were still people in the world who like the Mac & Cheese from a box with the orange powder.
We ate our meals until we decided to stop so we could have some dessert. We ended up bringing home over half of our meals because of the size of the servings. The remains of our dinner were carefully boxed up and we were presented with a shopping bag filled with our goodies.
Our server then surprised Madge with a thick slice of Carrot Cake (gratis) with some fruit and a lit candle. The outside of the rim of the plate had “Happy Birthday” written around the edge in chocolate, a very nice touch to the dessert. Madge said the cake was very moist and had a very good spice quotient. She also liked the cream cheese icing, and said the fruit was fresh and delicious.
I decided to go with something light and got the Lemoncello Sorbetto ($6.95) and Madge decided to get a Latte ($4.00) to finish off her meal. When our server departed, the bus staff again flew into action and cleared the table, sweeping up crumbs and clearing dishes while resetting our places and filling water glasses.
Moments later, my sorbetto arrived. This was a huge bowl housing three enormous scoops of lemon sorbet, garnished with a mint sprig. The sorbet was the right choice. It was delicious, with a very strong lemon flavor, only slightly sweet, and a smooth texture. The only problem was that there was enough there to open my own sorbet store. I finished off a scoop and a half before giving up.
Madge was sipping away at her latte and enjoying every mouthful. She said the latte was well crafted and loved drizzle of chocolate on the top and the sugar cubes that were hiding on the saucer.
After doing enough damage for the evening, we requested our bill. The total was $153.18 which included tax. I felt this was a good value because the quality of the food and service was excellent. Our server was very professional, albeit stiff at times, but always seemed to be at our table when we needed her for a request.
I paid the bill and we exited to the valet station to retrieve my car. While we waited, I shared with Madge the differences between the Mastro’s in Scottsdale and the one in Orange County, where I had taken J. earlier in the year. I slightly prefer the one in Orange County because of the atmosphere, which is a bit more romantic and more open than the Scottsdale location. The OC branch also seems to have more of an “old money” feel to it where the North Scottdale branch is more young, hip and new money.
Still, the food was excellent at both and the service was quite good. If I did have one criticism to make about Mastro’s in Scottsdale is that they are far to lax on the dress code. Yes, I know it is Phoenix and it is summer and it is hot, but why a fine restaurant like Mastro’s would seat a man wearing gym shorts and a stained t-shirt still boggles my mind.
We got into the car and headed home. Madge profusely thanked me for a wonderful birthday and seemed genuinely surprised that we ended up at Mastro’s. She said she would make Boris take her there again because she wanted to try a lot of the other items on the menu.
So, it was a success. I am still a master of surprises. However, I know have to work on next year.
I thought about Mary Elaine’s, but I think J. would probably have something to say about that.
8852 East Pinnacle Peak Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85255
Dress: Upscale casual to formal
Notes: Valet is available.
Additional photos for this review can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com