Of all the evolutions and revolutions that have shaken American dining in the past decade, none has been more profound than the remaking of that once-thought-timeless classic, the steakhouse. All the major players in this hypertraditional category have added younger, hipper, less stuffy and, yes, less expensive siblings in recent years, and the change has surely felt like an aging couple with the kids finally in college—who suddenly turn up pregnant.
Steak 48, the Phoenix-born carnivore concept that opened recently in tony River Oaks District and has Chicago in its immediate future, might be part of this new generation. Or it might, if you ask me, be an even newer one.
At the very least, brothers Jeffrey and Michael Mastro (of Mastro’s Steakhouse fame in the Southwest) have updated their take on every one of their genre’s current trends, and much of their effort swirls around the word “replace.” Most notably, they’ve replaced the standard dark wood and plush carpet—think old fat cats puffing cigars in the corner—with a wide-open space surrounded by huge windows that fill the dining rooms with sunlight in daytime and then a mix of passing headlights and foot traffic after dark. It’s a buzzy place with a see-and-be-seen crowd, and the bar gets double-deep with stylish folks grabbing drinks, talking business or out for a date night.
Truth is, there aren’t many restaurants in Houston that can serve 500 people at once, spread over 17,000 square feet. Still, if that sounds like a cavernous dining hall associated with a grand hotel or an old-fashioned cruise ship, the Mastros have replaced that too. Almost all dining areas are dolloped out by the spoonful, from the raucous tables near the bar (you may leave hoarse from shouting, a personal pet peeve of mine) to the quieter minisuites that deliver a view of kitchen frenzy through floor-to-ceiling glass. It’s like a private booth that isn’t private at all, yet another clever and fascinating inside joke at the expense of steakhouse tradition, so long linked in popular culture with clandestine business or pleasure.
Before your steak, which is cooked under 1,500-degree broilers, you should let chef Jeff Taylor not merely activate but excite your taste buds with the likes of crispy shrimp with sweet Thai peppers and garlic aioli; deep-fried deviled eggs; and prime meatballs made of beef, pork and veal. We’ve also enjoyed his trendy shishito peppers, given a pleasurable twist by smoked sea salt and shaved Parmesan. If you’re extra-smart, you’ll order something from the ice-covered raw bar that you’ll probably walk past on your way somewhere. The supercolossal shrimp starter is eye-popping, as dramatic for size as the Hawaiian-style poke is delicious.