Anyone that knows me reasonably well can attest to the fact that I am Ferrari-obsessed. Sure, Ferraris are high-priced objects of conspicuous consumption, clad in a sexy design, sumptuous leather, and artful carbon fiber. But what sets them apart from other poseur sports cars is what lies beneath: the engine. Sure, they are beautiful cars, but they also deliver on the driving experience. Wrap it in an ugly skin but leave the engine intact and you’ll still be grinning ear-to-ear when you park it. I don’t have a Ferrari; a new one is way out of my league but, as a car enthusiast, it’s the pinnacle of automotive achievement.
So why am I talking about $250,000 sports cars as they pertain to Modern Steak, the much-hyped new venture from Fox Restaurant Concepts? Modern Steak has the good looks, the sumptuous interior and all the pretty people but someone forgot the most important component: the food. And, for that matter, the service left a lot to be desired as well.
It all starts with the indifferent trio of hosts and hostesses at the front desk, all seemingly more concerned with their own vanity than greeting patrons. Forgive me, but I’m sorry that I bothered you by showing up, and I had not realized that you landed the most important job in Scottsdale. And if it is the most important job in Scottsdale, can’t you at least put a smile on your face? Would you love me more if I wore an Ed Hardy shirt?
The room itself is truly breathtaking; white brocade ceilings, bathrooms that my wife raved about, a bustling bar, comfortable seats and a large exposed kitchen towards the back of the restaurant. But our table, located near the kitchen, was repeatedly wafted by the strong smell of fish. Yuck.
We started with the Poached Wild Caught Shrimp as well as a Margherita Pizza. We also ordered salads – a Romaine Salad with Caesar Vinaigrette for me, the Hot & Cold Wedge for my wife, and one of us had soup. Considering that the Shrimp and Pizza were clearly ordered as “starters,” I was a bit confused when our soup and salads appeared first.
Moments after sinking my teeth into an over-salted, over-dressed Caesar Salad (with shredded lettuce, no less), our appetizers arrived. The onslaught was overwhelming, and very poorly timed. Modern Steak has been around long enough to get these details right. It’s not like Fox has never opened a restaurant before.
The table could barely hold all the food and the server made a confused attempt at trying to find space for everything. No one acknowledged the error in timing; they just put the food down and disappeared. Although my wife loved her Hot & Cold Wedge salad, I thought the dressing tasted distinctly like barbecue sauce. I’m glad she liked it but it’s not something I have any desire to try again. The Poached Shrimp were tasty but otherwise unremarkable and the Margherita Pizza wasn’t even as good as the pizza served as Fox’s value-priced concept, Sauce.
In my opinion, this wasn’t a very good start, and I was counting on the steak to salvage the evening. After all, it’s called “Modern Steak,” right? Obviously, the person ordering the meat went to the same school of indifference as the hostesses, because my 20 ounce Dry Aged Bone-In Rib Eye was a sad waste of a cow. Kudos for the rich, dry-aged flavor that simply cannot be replicated by wet-aged beef. And the fat around the perimeter had a great, marrow-like flavor. But the rest of the steak was marred by an overabundance of strange connective tissue that was tough and chewy. Getting to the meat required a surgeon’s deft touch at dissecting the connective gristle. When you finally got there, it tasted good. But I gave up two-thirds of the way through it. I know that a rib eye is a fatty cut of meat, but this was downright weird. The onion relish served with it was nearly ice cold.
I didn’t even want to take the bone home to gnaw-on the next morning, as I usually do with the extraordinary Cowboy Rib Eye at BLT Steak. My experience wasn’t unique; our friends ordered the Filet and deemed it “okay” but not better than what they have had at Mastro’s, The Palm, or elsewhere.
I recognize that, like most of you, I’m just a guy with an opinion. But it would seem to me that you should order the best beef possible and perfect its preparation when you’re going to put the word “Steak” in the name of the restaurant and charge premium prices for the privilege of dining there. No one every came by to ask if our steaks were prepared correctly, but they were quick to sell us more cocktails when our glasses were empty.
There were some positive elements to the food. The Mascarpone Creamed Corn was delicious and my wife raved about her Maple Bacon Glazed Scottish Salmon. (Maybe they should have called it “Modern Fish” instead?) But the Sautéed Asparagus was limp and overcooked and the Yukon Gold Potato Puree, while flavorful, was barely emulsified with the Vermont Butter and on the verge of breaking completely.
Dessert consisted of a Cupcake Sampler and a Key Lime Pie. My wife enjoyed the cupcakes, but I thought that the frozen Key Lime Pie at Trader Joe’s is better than the one served at Modern Steak, albeit less pretty.
As would be expected of a restaurant that is as much about the drinks as the food, the cocktails were well crafted and beautiful to look at. The “Retail Therapy,” consisting of Vodka, Grand Marnier, Fresh Strawberry Puree, Basil and Lemon Juice was a work of art in a glass.
Will Modern Steak succeed in spite of its culinary and operational ineptitude? Although I am often quick to defend Scottsdale as something other than the shallow caricature that it is often portrayed, the fact remains that hoards of cougars, wannabes, and posers will still flock to Modern Steak. Just take a look at Olive and Ivy across the street. Despite my experience at Modern Steak, I'm generally a fan of Sam Fox's restaurants, although they tend to plateau quickly. Greene House was awesome and is still a great spot for a business lunch. North is where my wife and I had our first date, and Sauce is a consistently good value. It's not that I'm anti-Fox; I'm just anti-bad.,
I realize that Fox Restaurant Concepts is in the business of making money for itself and its investors. And given how full the restaurant and bar were, I’d venture to say that they’ll be delivering a handsome return on their investment for a while. But attention spans are notoriously short and the hype will subside and people who actually care about what they are eating, as opposed to where they are eating it, will go somewhere else.
If you’re going to build a sports car, make it the best driving experience in the world. If you’re going to write a book, make it one that the reader cannot put down. And if you’re going to patronize a high-priced prostitute, it’s great if she’s beautiful but better if she knows her way around the bedroom. Good looks are nice, but you probably won’t remember her face.
Photos of the meal can be found at www.ericeatsout.com