For those impressed by flashy displays of wealth, Mastro’s Ocean Club is the place for you. There is bound to be a Bentley or Porsche parked near the valet stand, and when diners enter on a weekend night, chances are they’ll be blasted by a wall of noise and dazzled by a parade of jewelry and expensive timepieces, along with bodies and features that have been nipped, tucked, enhanced or injected by the latest that modern science has to offer.
When a visiting friend and I entered Mastro’s on a recent Saturday, the bar was packed, the lounge area was full and the dining room — decorated in 1980s high-Mafia mode with gray-and-black carpeting and walls and columns that featured thin strips of red LED lighting — was bustling. This was Fort Lauderdale in all its gaudy and ageless glory. We looked up to see an intricate, glass-blown chandelier and an impressive, temperature-controlled wine wall. My friend, from Oregon, appeared to be in a state of culture shock. We approached the hostess stand to check in, on time for his reservation.
“Right this way,” our hostess said. She proceeded to walk us outside, into the hot and sticky night, straight to what status-conscious diners might call Outer Siberia. She gestured us toward a table at the far end with a banquette facing a canal, crammed next to a party of four.
I shook my head in disapproval. “Do you have anything else?” I asked.
It wasn’t the horrible location — we didn’t even rate the prime Intracoastal deck? — that bothered me so much as the question that was not asked before we were led to the table.
Six little words at the hostess stand would have done the trick: “Would you prefer inside or outside?”
Or: “I’m afraid we don’t have any availability inside at the moment. We can seat you immediately outside or, if you don’t mind, you can wait for an inside table. One should be ready in [fill in the blank] minutes.”
This should be Customer Service 101, particularly at an upscale chain that touts itself on “unsurpassed service” and a “paramount dining experience,” as Mastro’s did in its press release before opening in July.
We wound up at a small table with wicker chairs, along a window that espied the dining room. We didn’t press for an inside table because it was so darn loud, particularly once the band started playing. The noise-meter app on my phone measured readings in the 77-to-81 decibel range when I ventured inside to the restroom. That’s too loud for conversation.
We settled for perspiration. The seating episode left a bad taste, one I never could rinse from my mouth no matter how much high-priced beef, seafood and wine passed through my lips on a luxury trip that ended two hours and nearly $500 later. Our tab was more than $300 for food alone (I pick up my own wine). And that’s without even ordering one of the triple-digit seafood towers (which dramatically emit “smoke” from hot water poured over dry ice), the $38 mashed potatoes with lobster side dish, or any of the Australian or Japanese Wagyu beef entrees, which cost $115 to $200.
And matters were not helped by the opening spiel from our server, who told us Mastro’s only served “the best of quality everything.” He told us about the A5 Japanese Wagyu, “which you can’t find anywhere.” (Uh, this is South Florida. I’ve seen it on many menus and can order it from Sunshine Provisions wholesale meat purveyor.) He also was guilty of upselling, steering us to a $48 Alaskan halibut (plain and fine) after we inquired about local fish such as grouper or snapper ($36 each).
Mastro’s, a chain that started in Arizona and took over the former site of Chart House, suffers from a classic case of overpromising and underdelivering.
Did we have a decent meal? Yes. Our 33-ounce USDA Prime “chef’s cut” rib-eye ($75), wet-aged for 28 days and sliced by the kitchen, was tasty and cooked perfectly to the ordered medium rare, served over a red-wine reduction. Our appetizer of raw hamachi ($25) with puffed rice and crispy onions was pristine. Our scalloped potatoes ($14) were luscious and creamy (perhaps too creamy) and could have fed four (I later learned a smaller portion is available). The signature warm butter cake ($16) was a fun exercise in excess, a mound of crunchy, crumbly yellow cake topped with a scoop of high-butterfat, vanilla Homer’s Ice Cream of Illinois, drizzled with raspberry sauce and a scattering of strawberries and accompanied by a separate plate of fresh whipped cream.
But was everything the best? The beefsteak tomatoes for my tomato-and-onion salad ($8) were flavorless and simply should not have been offered. Jumbo black tiger shrimp from Asia are used for shrimp cocktail, but I could think of better and closer product (Gulf shrimp or South American). A crab-cake appetizer ($19) was ordinary, and my first bite contained a bit of cartilage.
Chef Rocco Nankervis and his kitchen crew do an admirable job cranking out up to 600 meals daily and working in the confines of a tightly controlled corporate chain, and the food is fairly straightforward. Nankervis is a South Florida native (Miramar High) who once worked at the Fort Lauderdale Ritz-Carlton before joining Landry’s, Mastro’s corporate parent, where he traveled the country learning the ropes at Morton’s Steakhouses (another Landry brand) and Mastro’s in Chicago.
Many of the little touches were right, including an abundant bread basket with soft butter at the start, proper Bormioli Rocco stemware for our $120 ZD Carneros Pinot Noir and Chef & Sommelier cutlery for the steaks
But did we leave fully satisfied or get our money’s worth? On that, I’d have to say no. There was entertainment value in watching some of the clientele lay waste to the dress code spelled out on the Mastro’s website, the one that supposedly prohibits “excessively revealing clothing.” Tell that to the blonde who walked past our table wearing a see-through mesh front white dress with vertical strips strategically placed over her nipples, the outer edges of her areolas exposed.
But as high-end meals go, Mastro’s is not particularly exciting. I could assemble a meal of comparable quality at home for a fraction of the cost. When my friend and I went to Council Oak Steakhouse at the Seminole Hard Rock two nights after our Mastro’s visit, our experience was tastier and far more pleasant, apart from no view. Mastro’s is for people “who like the finer things in life,” Nankervis explained when I met him for a follow-up interview and photo shoot, but it’s also for people who don’t particularly care about cost, value or creativity.
“ZD — you know that it stands for ‘Zero Defects,’ ” our server intoned when he poured our ZD wine.
Mastro’s Ocean Club has a way to go before reaching that lofty standard.
Mastro’s Ocean Club
3000 NE 32nd Ave., Fort Lauderdale
954-561-4800 or MastrosRestaurants.com
Cuisine: American, featuring premium steaks and seafood
Cost: Very expensive. Soups, salads and appetizers cost $8 to $38, with seafood towers costing much more. Entrees $32-$200. Sides $13-$38. Desserts $12-$16.
Hours: 5-10 p.m. daily (until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday), lounge opens 4 p.m. daily
Reservations: Accepted by phone and online
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full liquor with extensive and expensive wine list
Noise level: Loud in dining room, louder in lounge, conversational on patio
Wheelchair access: Ramp to entrance
Parking: $5 valet or limited metered street