although many fellow hounds had suggested we go somewhere else, i foolishly chose to ignore the warnings, and a friend treated me to dinner at mastro's for my birthday on tuesday.
normally i don't make much of these things. birthdays just aren't a big deal to me. but this one was significant...i've been a vegetarian for over 20 years, but i just started eating meat again about a month ago...and this was going to be the first steak i've had in two decades.
a lot of pressure, i know.
anyway, here's the down & dirty...
our table was actually ready on time for our 8:30 reservation. we had asked to be seated downstairs where it's [usually] a bit quieter. the first thing i noticed when we entered the dining room was the DEAFENING noise level, and the uncomfortably stuffy air quality. i'm usually freezing everywhere, and it was too warm in there even for me.
now, i've been to mastro's several times in recent years [everyone who comes to visit is a carnivore], and i definitely don't recall the tables being crammed so ridiculously close together. i was practically sitting in the lap of the woman next to me...which might not have been such a bad idea considering that as soon as i sat down, i discovered that the cushions were COVERED with crumbs, drippings, and remnants of earlier diners' meals. of course murphy's law dictates that this had to happen because i foolishly chose to wear off-white jeans.
this did not bode well, but...
moving on to the service & the food.
we received menus immediately, and one of the busboys was kind enough to offer us water after a few minutes. our waiter stopped by after about 5 minutes to say he'd be right back...and finally resurfaced about 15 minutes later. we had both already decided what we wanted, but let him run through his specials spiel anyway. he tried to sell us on the lobster mashed...no dice, i've been warned not to bother.
i'm a pretty light and very healthy eater but my friend is not, so we opted to order separately instead of sharing things. she ordered a petite filet, butterflied & well done, and a side of gorgonzola mac n cheese. i ordered a petite filet medium rare, NO BUTTER, and requested it on a cold plate [i don't understand that sizzling plate gimmick. all it does is continue cooking the meat, which renders the point of ordering it to your preferred doneness pretty much moot]. i also ordered the chopped salad and a side of steamed spinach [i know, i know. leave me alone :)].
he took the order, turned to leave, and i had to call him back to remind him that he hadn't even bothered to ask if i wanted anything to drink. [i opted for a glass of sterling cab...pretty standard fare for me, always a satisfactory choice].
my salad arrived within minutes and it was wholly unremarkable. despite the claim that it contained several varieties of lettuce, it was basically all iceberg, with a measly sprinkling of rather tasteless pimento on top, and a smattering of what i finally determined to be equally tasteless shavings of artichoke heart.
fortunately i hadn't expected much from the starters or sides, i was really only interested in getting to my filet. i didn't even bother making a dent in that useless & underwhelming mound of shredded iceberg. just bring on the steak!
when the steaks & sides arrived - my filet was, in fact, on a cold plate, yay!- i cut into it to check the doneness...nice & red, perfect. i took my first bite...and basically got a mouthful of butter. i couldn't even taste the meat.
i hate to send things back in a restaurant. i've worked in them, i know how much it sucks when diners are difficult, but i honestly couldn't eat this steak. and it wasn't me just being some pain in the ass health nut, i know a little butter wouldnt kill me. but i've been thinking about this rediscovery of the flavor of a good steak for weeks now, and that was NOT what i had hoped for.
so i VERY apologetically & politely asked the waiter if they could do something about it. he took it away and put in an order for a new one...,and removed the rest of the food to keep it warm while we waited...and waited...and waited for my new steak.
after about 25 minutes, i called him over to ask how we were doing on the food...and he snapped at me that it would take a while because 'they HAVE to make you a new one.'
well excuse me!
so about 5 minutes after this exchange, my new steak arrived...on a HOT plate. the waiter noticed and had to send the busboy off for a cold one to make the transfer.
by the time all the food was finally returned to the table, it was about 9:45. at this point i had basically lost my appetite, but i was determined to enjoy that steak.
the good news...it was once again cooked perfectly, this time without butter. and the meat really was delicious. i did notice, however, that the second one was a much fattier cut that the original, and was also at least an ounce smaller [trust me, i can tell. i'm a nutritionist - portion sizes are my business].
the waiter didn't bother to come by to see how everything was. nor did anyone even once throughout the meal refill our water glasses - we had a bottle of sparkling & had to do the pouring ourselves all night. nor did anyone ask if i wanted another glass of wine or if my friend wanted another drink. instead, the waiter stopped at the table a few minutes later to inform us that he was turning us over to someone else who would be taking care of us for the remainder of the meal. seriously? well then, good riddance, mr. crankypants.
my friend was perfectly happy with her steak, and we both agreed that the steamed spinach, as lame as it sounds, was very tasty. she wasn't exactly over the moon about her mac n cheese, and i couldn't try it - i'm gluten intolerant, so no noodles for me. but i'll take her word for it.
anyway, by the time we finished eating our entrees, it was 10:15. our new server was very sweet, eager & accommodating, but much to her disappointment, neither of us was interested in coffee or dessert, we both just wanted to get home.
bottom line. when i FINALLY got the steak the way i wanted it, yes, it was tasty. but certainly not worth the relatively hefty tab my friend had so generously offered to pick up. i had been looking forward to this meal with great anticipation, and the overall experience was a major disappointment. it pretty much sucked the 'happy' out of what had been a very good birthday up until then...i spent the day at the spa, and this meal killed the zen i had achieved during the day :(
so, i think it's safe to say that's the last time i'll bother with mastro's.