J., my fiance, and I believe in celebrations. Big celebrations. We also love food. So, the two go together hand in hand. Since it was our 5th anniversary, we decided to celebrate even bigger. Well, to be honest, I decided to celebrate big.
J. didn’t know what I had planned for our celebration. I live in Phoenix. J. lives in Orange County. I did the planning. J. was in the dark.
It was important for me to get everything together perfectly for our anniversary weekend and I had been wondering about where to take J. for dinner on Saturday night. I couldn’t help but notice all the praises of Mastro’s on the L.A. Chowhound board, so I threw caution to the wind, made my 8:30 PM reservation and hoped that the praises were correct.
Our hotel was two blocks from Mastro’s and we took the leisurely walk in the cool, April night and found ourselves passing by the string of BMWs, Lexuses, and Benzes. The front of the restaurant was dark and sultry. Lots of sharp dressed people were hanging outside, waiting for car or looking pretty or both.
We entered and noticed the darkened interior and the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. I was in awe when I saw the see-through glass walls with the hundreds of bottles of wine from floor to ceiling. We approched the hostess station, gave our name, and were immediately taken to our table by a host who inquired as to why we chose Mastro’s and offered us a tour of the restaurant. We declined, but the thoughtful gesture was noted.
As we walked to the back of the restaurant, I noticed that Mastro’s was broken into several different dining rooms and the bar. The private rooms, banquet facilities and bathrooms were upstairs. The noise level was fairly high. However, because of the small size of the individual dining rooms, the noise was completely manageable.
Our table was nestled next to a small window. I was pleased that we were seated at a table for four, and from what I saw, there were few, if any, tables just for two people. The chairs were incredibly comfortable and the table crisply decorated with white linens, a nice table candle and appropriate place settings. Our host offered us black napkins to replace the white ones and save our clothing from a lint attack.
We were given menus and had a few minutes to explore the choices. Due to the dark interior, I was straining to see my menu, but a member of the bus staff was ever so kind to give me a mini flashlight to assist me in my review of the menu. Within a few moments, our server arrived and told us of the specials (and gave the price of each one… THANK YOU!). We were so overwhelmed with the menu, we hadn’t even thought about drinks and our server told us to take as much time as we wished.
She returned a few minutes later and I ordered a Gin & Tonic ($9.50) with extra limes (free) while J. decided to try the Mastro’s Cosmo ($15.00).
Shortly after our server departed, a bus staff member presented us with a huge basket of breads. In a metal basket lined with a cloth napkin, several styles of bread stood upright. J. was partial to the Pretzel Bread and I was attacking the Garlic Parmesan Toasted Flatbread. All of the breads were fresh and delicious. My only complaint was that the butter that accompanied was very cold and, therefore, rock hard. Still, we managed to chat away while devouring the bread.
Our drinks were presented and I was taken aback by the size of my Gin & Tonic. The glass was nearly the size of a small stadium cup and held just about as much gin, with a splash of tonic and about five limes hugging the rim. Our server told me the drinks at Mastro’s were strong and gave me an extra bottle of tonic water to help with the gin. There was easily two full-sized gin and tonics to be had by the time I finished. I tried my drink and, while strong, was smooth and I knew the gin was top shelf, even though I ordered it from the well. I later discovered that if you order the well gin, you get Tanqueray. I was not unhappy at this.
J.’s Cosmo was a surprise. I medium-sized shaker was presented and we smiled when J.’s drink was poured and it produced a fog from the dry ice specks in the shaker. The Cosmo was perfect. Sweet, bold, strong, with a hint of orange and cranberry. I knew J. was having a blast. The best part was that J.’s shaker held another two full servings of the wicked brew and each gave another blast of fog for effect.
By this time, we were ready to order. To start, we decided to pass on appetizers and have salads. I was being the traditionalist and chose the 1/2 Caesar Salad ($6.50). J. wanted to spice things up and had the 1/2 Mambo Salad ($6.50) which was the Caesar Salad, but wasabi had been added to the dressing.
I am weak-kneed when it comes to peppercorn anything, so I couldn’t pass on the 16 oz. New York Strip Peppercorn Steak ($36.95). J. was debating between a steak and the lamb and ultimately gave into the 21 oz. Lamb Porterhouse ($39.95). I also couldn’t help but order the Gorgonzola Mack & Cheese ($9.50) and we decided to also split an order of Creamed Spinach ($7.50). I also ordered a Diet Coke ($2.00).
About five minutes passed when our salads arrived. A good-sized plate of salad was set before us. We seasoned our salads with fresh pepper and dove in. I was immediately struck by the fact that Mastro’s had tried hard to maintain a traditional Casear dressing, complete with a dose of garlic and a hint of anchovy. The Romaine leaves were small and tightly wound and held the dressing well. Two garlicky toasted cheese rounds accompanied the salad and were quite tasty. J. enjoyed the wasabi dressing and said it added a nice kick without drowning out the other flavors of the dressing.
I cannot remember the time frame between the salad course and when our entrees arrived as I was too involved with enjoying the atmosphere with J. However, it wasn’t too long before our server arrived with a large tray and began to set down our platters. And platters they were. My New York Peppercorn Steak sizzled and hissed as it was set down in front of me. I could smell the meat, the butter and the pepper and it made my mouth water instantly. Before I could begin, however, the servers graciously served up scoops of our side dishes and added them to our plates.
I cut a small piece of the steak, blew on it to bring it down to a palatable temperature and took my first bite. It was juicy, tender and perfectly cooked. The peppercorns enhanced the flavor even more and I was off in some far away steak heaven as I savored each bite. The steak was fantastic and if there was anything negative that could be said about it, I couldn’t find it.
J.’s plate was surreal. After it was set down, the servers provided J. with the same level of service given to me and put some of the pasta and the spinach on the plate. They had to squeeze them on because J.’s platter housed three 7 oz. portions of beautiful lamb. The lamb was tender, quite juicy and had a wonderful char from the cooking. J. couldn’t get enough of the rich meat, but had enough lamb to take home for two more meals. J. was happy as a clam with the choice of the lamb. Bah! Who needs cow anyway?
The side dishes were not – thankfully – throwaways. These were top notch all the way around. The Creamed Spinach was simple and yet delectible. The spinach was substantial and the cream sauce did not outshine the green leaves. It was well executed and a great way to balance out the meat and starch. The serving portion was gigantic and could have easily fed 3-4 hungry people.
The winning side dish, though, was the Gorgonzola Mack & Cheese. Wow. Just wow. The macaroni was firm and the five-cheese sauce was the stuff of chowhound dreams. The bubbly top had crusted a bit and provided a nice texture to the dish. J. and I were absolute gluttons when it came to the mack and cheese and we offer no apologies. This was an exceptional dish and we would have it again at Mastro’s in a heartbeat.
We ran out of steam after finishing only about a third of the food on our table. The portion size as Mastro’s is somewhere between huge and colossal. We ended up taking home about four pounds of food, enough for J. to have a few more Mastro meals at home.
As full as we were, however, we wanted to try dessert. Our server suggested the All Butter Cake. This was an obviously ploy to shut our arteries down for good. We were good little diners, however, and chose the Creme Brulee with Fresh Berries ($8.95). J. polished off the last of the Cosmo and I finished my Gin & Tonic.
No more than five minute passed and our dessert ariived. On a large plate, a sizeable ramekin of the creme brulee was seated next to a small mound of fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. A colorful orange slice and a sprig of mint finished the dish. Also served was a dairy factory sized portion of fresh whipped cream. It was larger than the brulee.
I put a dollop of the cream on the berries and then cracked the crust of the brulee with my spoon. I took out a small amount and tasted it. Creamy, full-bodied and a nice crunch from the top, this was a grand finale to our wonderful meal. In what could have been some cheap imitation of creme brulee, this was a nice, pleasant, delicious production. The berries and whipped cream were also fresh and flavorful. All in all, a very nice dessert.
We finished up our dessert, asked for some refills on the water and waited for our bill. Our server was ever present, but not overbearing and our bill arrived in a minute or two. I held my breath as I opened up the bill cover. Our meal, including tax, was $159.85. I was more than satisfied with the amount and was even more pleased that J. had a great evening. I did as well.
So, we left Mastro’s and slowly walked back down Anton Boulevard to our hotel, leftovers in tow. We passed the giddy people and the nice cars and talked about how soon we could return to Mastro’s. Every thing I had heard about it was true and I was pleased that we got to celebrate our anniversary in a great setting with an almost perfect meal.
Mastro’s is arguably the best steakhouse in Southern California. I know that I preferred it to Morton’s, Fleming’s and Ruth’s. Others may disagree, but this was a great meal, suitable for an anniversary dinner or for a night out on the town.
J. and I know we will be back. Anniversary or not.
633 Anton Boulevard
Costa Mesa, CA
Dress: Business casual on up
Notes: Make reservations early. A new location may be opening up in Thousand Oaks.