Taking fresh lobster meat and stirring it into mashed potatoes is the culinary equivalent of putting rims on a Ferrari: It’s indulgent, absurd and not a little bit tacky. This is why “lobster mashed potatoes,” listed for market price on the menu, are the signature side at Mastro’s.
If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.
The prices actually listed on the menu? They won’t put you much at ease. Vodka martini: $18. Three crab cakes just a bit smaller than hockey pucks: $29. Twenty-ounce New York Strip: $49. Before you shake your head and huff off to the Rock and Roll McDonald’s, hear me out on one thing: If you’ve got these kind of funds at your disposal—and on an elbows-to-Balenciaga-draped-elbows–crowded Friday, I left with the distinct impression that many, many people actually do—Mastro’s is the place to blow them.
That martini is shaken with dry ice and poured tableside. As it’s poured, a cold fog emanates like magic out of the glass. The vodka bubbles like a cauldron. There is nothing to do except watch it. And watch it. You’re still watching it. Is this thing ever going to stop fuming?
That $18 isn’t just for the show. It’s for the “second drink” that will come out of the shaker later, that will carry you so sufficiently through the first course that when the waiter explains to you that the signature dessert is something called “butter cake,” you’re just a little too woozy to realize that you are about to refresh yourself after a meal of lamb chops and gnocchi (comically and wonderously buttery and cheesy, the tender dumplings tossed with—what else?—a very generous amount of lump crab meat) by eagerly consuming entire sticks of butter.
Oh yeah, they also serve steak here. It comes out on a plate for which the word “hot” seems like an insult. When the food runner scoops those lobster mashed potatoes onto it, the plop of excess sizzles on impact. On one visit, every measurable surface of my steak was perfectly medium-rare, and around that beef was the type of crust by which steakhouses live and die. On another, about a third of the lamb chop was more rare than medium-rare, but in a room this dark and with spot-on seasoning, I quickly forgot.
Entrées are easily enough for two, and it’s just one small example of Mastro’s unbelievably high standard of service (on display from the superhuman bartenders to the welcoming hostesses) that this practice is encouraged. When our waiter saw us splitting our appetizers (a wedge salad, i.e., half a head of iceberg lettuce; sautéed scallops, unexciting but cooked properly), he apologized for not having known (and therefore split them himself) with a sincerity that reminded me of the time my Alinea server suffered a mild anxiety attack upon realizing he had gone half a dozen place-settings without noticing my friend was left-handed. Umm, don’t worry about it?
But this is Mastro’s, where everyone has already worried about everything. They will provide you with a flashlight for reading the menu when you arrive. They will serve you an entire bowl of whipped cream to accompany that stupefyingly simple butter cake before you leave. It is absolutely unfeasible to eat all this whipped cream. It’s indulgent, absurd and not a little bit tacky. You have got to love it.