A meal in a steakhouse is a wild little spike on the EKG of our mortal pizza lives.
Steakhouses are a place for birthdays with zeroes in them and wrap parties for long careers. They’re where big-deal clients are ornately wooed. They’re home to proposals both sacred and profane, where trusty anniversary gin is properly dirtied. All our various big life things are toasted, individually but simultaneously, through blood and bottle, under a single roof with a lot of butter.
In other words, more than the usual or recommended amount of emotions are pinned to dinner at the new Steak 48 in Del Mar. It’s a house of cheers and tears.
Sure, some come just because they’re hungry and like nice things. There are regulars who, through achievement or the natural flow of money down a bloodline, can casually dine in this strata of $500 checks and $100 tips. You often see them at the bar, their radiant epidermises the result of skin creams rare and exotic, some combo of shea butter and narwhal breath that’s illegal in many countries.
The rest of us have not yet victoriously pinned NASDAQ to the mat, are not collectors of infinity pools. But we’d like to try that on for size for a moment, and that’s important for the steakhouse. We’re middle-class Janes and Joes who have socially agreed to suspend economic disbelief for one night of carnivore dinner theater. In our daily lives, we responsibly count and monitor the outflow of our chits and eat our crucifers. Tonight, we take capitalism for a fleshy joy ride.
There are moments of pause. For instance, the waiter suggests my wife, Claire, try a Bernie Madoff–priced glass of Dom Serene Evenstad pinot ($68). I politely tachycardia.
Not because I’m cheap—I am cheap, but my cheapness knows its place. Looking for deals at a steakhouse is like trying to score drugs in church. Tonight, we’re gonna spend like we’re all launching SpaceX from our porticos at dawn.
All of this is why the most important thing about a steakhouse is the hospitality. Most of us spend our lives dutifully attending to demands, be it from bosses or banks or our lord-savior smartphones. At steakhouses, we’re splurging to be obsessively yet unobtrusively taken care of.
And Steak 48—the new arrival from Scott Troilo and the Arizona-based Mastro family (brothers Jeffrey and Michael and father Dennis), which first made its name with the wildly popular Mastro’s before selling it to Landry’s in 2013—are determined to serve you within an inch of your life.
A million people work here. Four attendants greet us at the host stand—less a welcome than a help ambush. You are swept up in a mild tornado of excellently trained wish caddies.
I recognize the bartender; she used to manage one of San Diego’s Michelin-starred restaurants. She’s getting her PhD, she explains—but, the point is, few restaurants have bartenders who used to run a Michelin.
Another night, our server is exactly who a steakhouse server should be—formal but not taxidermied, opinionated in all the right ways, a Vegas kinda funny. He has memorized every menu item and the perfect preparation and most common alterations. He may have invented steak.
Near the end of our meal, I ask if they’ve got the warm butter cake—Mastro’s famed dessert—and he says, “Have you ever opened a cease-and-desist letter? We have the warm vanilla cake, sir.”
The dude is a delight. And Steak 48 will win every service award.
Perched on the corner of Del Mar Highlands Town Center, Steak 48 is massive (12,500 square feet), with a wing built for corporate buyouts that includes its own bar and video screens. You enter first into the sunken main lounge, past a wall hung with hatchets, which is the edgiest thing about the design.
I’m a fan of minimalism or maximalism; Steak 48 casts their vote for in-betweenism. It won’t wow or offend. Granted, this place once housed Burlap, which was designed like a burlesque dinner party trying to entice a vice raid. Pendulums gotta swing.
There is a glass booth that stares directly down the line of their cold bar, which gives you a nifty view into the kitchen. The lights in the main bar and dining area are set to deep dusk with a billion LED candles. It’s like dining in a midnight Catholic prayer service, which sets a dreamy mood.
You know the Steak 48 concept—apps, chops, raw bar, caviar, “other” mains (Chilean sea bass, lamb, veal, scallops), potatoes five ways, volume-play desserts. A 3,000-bottle wine cellar (heavily West Coast reds and international whites and sparklings, both little-knowns and superstars like Opus and Quintessa). Their pours are benevolent and house party–sized (nine-ounce glasses of wine, five-ounce martinis—and they make a perfect dirty).
Your dinner plate lands at 300 or 400 degrees—the idea being that your first bite is as warm as your last. (But the reality being that any nicely pink cut of meat set down will not sear but turn a boiled-gray hue.
This is a longstanding hole in this approach—because, while I’m sure this next sentence will unsettle plant-based friends, I need the sight of blood on my steak. It activates something ancient in my marrow, and that lizard-brain bloodlust makes the steak taste better. Gray steak just looks like a mistake that only presidents prefer. Plus, just-warm beef is better than hot beef.)
We order the New York strip, their base model. Anyone with a heating surface can make a Miyazaki A5 Wagyu taste like euphemisms. The trick is working magic with the lowly gateway steak. And it’s good, seared and cooked to temp. Steak 48 specializes in corn-fed steaks— which are more marbled, sweeter, and richer than grass-fed (your mouth will always say yes to more fat).
We top the meat with soft, whipped truffle butter. It’s the river Styx of Steak 48: Whatever you dip in it becomes a bit closer to godliness. The greatest sauce, though, is “officially” served with seafood, but you should use it everywhere—olive oil with herbs and tomato.
Sides are hot and cold. The crème brûlée corn is topped with turbinado sugar, torched and caramelized. It is soup candy, a delicious bugle call to insulin manufacturers. Also try the whipped praline sweet potatoes. Again, they are a dessert in an appetizer costume with mascarpone cheese, candied pecans, and streusel crisp.
The wild mushrooms aren’t sautéed nearly enough. If not sizzled into submission, the forest sponges retain their bland, unseasoned moisture. And the creamed spinach would be more honest if named “spinached cream”—too heavy on the gloop.
That speaks to a weakness that pops up a lot on Steak 48’s menu. The big hits are so dependent on cream, butter, cheese, and sugar. The Maine lobster escargot is very tasty, but you’re not really tasting lobster or anything except truffle mornay sauce (to be fair, escargot and lobster are both traditionally drowned in butter). The other issue Steak 48’s gotta figure out is temperature.
Our red wine comes so cold. It is cabernet served like it’s sauvignon blanc. Red wine should be stored at 57 degrees Fahrenheit but served closer to 68, just below room temperature. I throw no shade at how people prefer to drink their wine. If you love Screaming Eagle with a couple ice cubes in it, I’ll grab the ice tongs for you. You like it with just a touch of salt and a dash of cigar ash? Cheers, weirdo.
But if you just enjoy red wine in the missionary position, as I do—good juice near room temp in a clean glass—then order your wine an hour before you come to dinner at Steak 48 and ask them to let it sit out on the bar for a while.
Same with the crab salad. Ours arrives nearly blast- chilled. Cold temps bury flavors. That’s a good thing when serving sorry ingredients or college beer. But this is very good crab. We ignore it and let it warm a touch, and it’s delicious—lumps of meat atop fresh avocado (another food that should never be served cold) and a slice of heirloom tomato, seasoned with a little basil pistou.
Get the hasselback potato, a 1950s Americana staple that was wrongly left for dead. It’s a whole spud, partially sliced so that it resembles an extreme-sports armadillo, baked until the exterior edges are crisp but the middle is tender and doused with truffle butter and chive cream sauce. Also order the hamachi crudo (served at the perfect temp) with hearts of palm, tapenade, and white soy.
Steak 48 isn’t out to set a new frontier for the genre. The steakhouse is a classic American song, one unexpected in San Diego, where our eating habits strike fear in the hearts of plants more than steer. But in times of uncertainty—as we finally normalize viral pandemics only to watch the formless mothership of AI ingest not only our roles in society, but our cultural identity and basic uniqueness as a species (no biggie)—an old song can soothe souls.
And Steak 48 sings it decently.