The bone-in rib eye arrived in fine shape.EXPAND
The bone-in rib eye arrived in fine shape.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

Steaks Please and Ambience Disappoints at Steak 48

The eight ounces of Wagyu petite filet arrived still sizzling on the plate, no frills, no sides, just the meat rubbed with the house spices, in a small pool of clarified butter and its own meaty juices. After I recently experienced certified, Japanese-imported A5 Wagyu, it was difficult not to compare it to this domestic, American-raised Wagyu bite for scrumptious bite that all but melted in my mouth. Had my palate been untouched by the ethereal beefy heights of an A5 Wagyu, I would think the Steak 48 filet was the cut by which to measure all other steaks. In its own right, it was superbly executed.

Phoenix-based Steak 48 opened to much anticipation on June 14 at 4444 Westheimer in the River Oaks District high-end shopping and fine-dining center. The restaurant mirrors the look and feel of its parent, Steak 44 in Phoenix (named after its address on 44th Street). A second Steak 44 was to open in this space, but after rebranding, co-owners Michael and Jeff Mastro chose the number “48” to honor the Arizona roots of the restaurant, in homage to that state’s being the 48th to join the Union.

Walking into Steak 48 is a bewildering experience. Diners are greeted at the door with a floor-to-ceiling display of vintage butcher knives and four little-black-dressed hostesses delivering a hello and a smile. The decor is unpredictable, with chandeliers, dim lighting, bright lighting, a fireplace, cream-leathered barstools, plush booths, small round cocktail tables, high-tops and sections of dining space divided by panels made of glass blocks and dark-colored, wooden-planked walls. The restaurant aims to provide a multitude of experiences, but its efforts to reach everyone create problems. The steak and raw bar definitely deserve the oohs and ahhs, but most everything else about Steak 48 is disappointing and a bit annoying when cost is a consideration.

Reservations are highly recommended since the restaurant seems to be busy every night. On the initial visit, we were seated at a table that felt like an afterthought, situated behind the wall of a private area with enough passing space for one person to the open side of our table. The space against the opposing wall was a dedicated ice-bucket station; we were essentially in a hallway. Multiple “dining suites,” as Steak 48 likes to call these semi-private areas, dominated the downstairs. The main dining room is filled with tables not more than two feet apart from each other arranged around a magnificent three-sided bar.

At night, the place fills up with diners.
At night, the place fills up with diners.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

Voices carried throughout the space. At moments, the combination of the music, chatter and laughter from other tables was amplified above the comfort level, making it more of a communal, rather than intimate, experience.

The menu and the warm, garlicky monkey bread were welcome distractions. The description of the Chef’s PB&J read “pâté, fig jam and Woodford Reserve bourbon.” I’m a sucker for a cute name and a good pâté, but the addition of the figs and bourbon pushed it into must-have land. The wooden plank arrived with a mini ramekin of pâté, layered with fig jam and presented with crostini. We half expected the bourbon to arrive separately in a glass when neither of us could taste or smell any bourbon in the mixture that was dominated by the sweetness of the jam.

With so many high-end menus including a version of poke, we had to give this one a try. The Hawaiian poke was offered with either ahi or salmon and prepared with cucumber, Thai chile and togarashi sauce. A very generous portion of ahi poke arrived, beautifully presented on a thin white plate. Unfortunately, we could eat only a few cubes of the tuna. My first bite tasted great; the seasoning was spicy but not too hot, and the cucumbers were crisp and thinly sliced. Unexpectedly, the second and third bites tasted mushy and grainy, breaking apart almost immediately in my mouth. My date concurred that the texture of the tuna just didn’t seem right, so we opted not to finish the appetizer.

The seafood tower contained super colossal shrimp, Alaskan king crab and a half dozen P.E.I. oysters.
The seafood tower contained super colossal shrimp, Alaskan king crab and a half dozen P.E.I. oysters.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

On a follow-up visit, we chose to order a few items to complete a seafood tower in order to check out the quality of its raw bar. The tower turned out to be a table-length oblong serving dish of ice mounted with our selection of super-colossal shrimp, Alaskan king crab and a half dozen P.E.I. oysters. The shrimp spanned the length of my palms and were fat and succulent, and the meat of the crab was sweet and tasted straight-from-the-sea salty and fresh. The oysters were a bit on the small side, but delicious and satisfying nonetheless. The combination of the atomic horseradish and house cocktail sauce were outstanding, but the overly tart vinegar-champagne sauce didn’t belong.

The entire bottom portion of the menu is devoted to an abundance of sides, 18 to be exact. The corn brûlée was a playful twist on creamed corn with a top layer of torched and caramelized sugar that turned out to be overly sweet. A few spoons were scooped onto my scorching-hot plate, right next to the beautiful fillet, before I could motion “no, thank you.” I think it’s a part of the Steak 48 protocol for the servers to divvy up the sides onto diners’ plates upon arrival. The uninvited sugary syrup mixed with mushy corn oozed all over the plate and continued to boil, hardening into a messy, pale-yellowish puddle around the steak.

The creamed spinach suffered a similar fate when placed on our plates. Sadly, it too was slightly sweeter than it needed to be and perhaps in need of more spinach and less cream.

Another server carried a cast-iron pan filled with a small mound of creamy pasta and cheese, topped with pieces of Alaskan king crab and shrimp to a table nearby. In a spontaneous fit of food envy, we ordered one of our own. I didn’t remember seeing this item on the menu, only a side of creamy mac and cheese for $9. How much more expensive could it be, right? Try three times the cost. At a whopping $27, we immediately felt this mac and cheese needed to exceed all expectations of mac-and-cheesiness. Unfortunately, it did not. Although the few pieces of sautéed king crab and sectioned pieces of shrimp looked incredible stacked upon the mound of creamy pasta, the dish was more or less seafood tossed in a pan and scattered atop a $9 creamy mac and cheese. Separately, the crab and shrimp tasted great, while the mac and cheese was not particularly memorable, but together in the same bite, it just didn’t work.

Our steaks were delivered on 500-degree heated plates. The sizzle was pretty cool, but we wondered what the excess heat would mean for the fate of our medium-rare steaks. Having the benefit of a thick cut, the Wagyu filet remained perfectly cooked throughout the meal. The server recommended the steak farina, a bone-in petite filet mignon presented with a sunny-side up fried egg atop the meat. Both steaks arrived with a charred, crispy surface, seasoned with the house steak rub and cooked to our desired medium-rare temperature. The marblization of fat in the Wagyu was impressive. Our server told us that all the steaks on the menu are wet-aged for 28 days when they arrive from Seattle’s Mishima Reserve, which is known for its premium 8+ Ultra rating (on the Japanese grading system of marbling), and butchered in-house daily in the on-site butchery upstairs. At the market price of $9.75 per ounce, the Wagyu tasted worthy of its price tag. The egg was an unnecessary addition and only continued to fry completely through while on the plate.

On another visit, the 22-ounce bone-in rib eye arrived, already cut and ready for sharing. When a rib eye is cooked just right, the deckle (cap) of the steak is possibly the most perfect bite of tenderness, fat and flavor. The rib eye delivered to the table was cooked flawlessly, only, unlike the filets that were thick enough to endure the 500-degree heat of the plate, the rib eye continued to cook and cook and cook. The first bite revealed an evenly seared outer edge around a medium-rare center. I’m so happy I went for the deckle first. This was a close-your-eyes and savor-the-magic-in-your-mouth kind of moment. Subsequent pieces were cooked from the bottom half that rested on the plate. The final bite exhibited a 50/50 cross-sectioned hue of rosy-pink and grayish-brown.

Venturing off the steak path, we ordered the Colorado rack of lamb, which was highly recommended by the server. Alas, the only thing remarkable about the lamb was the market price of $78.

The restaurant offers an extensive list of wines, spirits, single malts and cocktails. The brandy old-fashioned tasted incomplete. The cocktail arrived unceremoniously, missing the luxardo cherry and the orange twist. The bartender just plain forgot to finish making it. My Italian blood orange cocktail was poured into a martini glass and the remainder left in the shaker at the table. It looked pretty enough, but again overly sweet.

The warm vanilla caramel cake was topped with a scoop of vanilla gelato and sprinkled with praline pecans.
The warm vanilla caramel cake was topped with a scoop of vanilla gelato and sprinkled with praline pecans.
Photo by Chuck Cook Photography

The meal is heavy and large. We could have easily just shared an entrée and an appetizer and still had leftovers, but on one occasion, we gathered enough gumption to order dessert. They all sounded fantastic, so we let our server bring us his favorite. He delivered a warm vanilla caramel cake topped with a scoop of vanilla gelato and sprinkled with praline pecans. The parts of the cake softened by the gelato were delicious; otherwise, it was a bit dry and boring. The gelato itself was wonderfully smooth and the praline pecans added a nice, down-homey Southern touch.

We were pleased with the steaks and the raw bar. Steak 48’s menu is interesting, but there were so many little things that just didn’t fit the hefty bill. Tables are too close together; my chair was bumped several times by both my neighbor behind me and passing servers. There was the unfinished cocktail; the noise level; the unbalanced sweetness in a few of the dishes. Super-hot plates, while a great presentation gimmick, may not be the best for all steaks. When a restaurant like Steak 48 struts into a city bearing a River Oaks price tag, it should own it. Tighten up the menu, spread out the tables and turn down the volume.

Steak 48
4444 Westheimer, Suite A100, 713-322-7448, steak48.com. Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.

Chef’s PB&J $12
Hawaiian poke (ahi or salmon) $28
Domestic Wagyu petite filet, 8-ounce (MP) $78
Steak farina (bone-in fillet with sunny-side up egg), 12-ounce $55
Bone-in rib eye, 22-ounce $53
Colorado rack of lamb (MP) $78
Customizable seafood tower (Alaskan king crab cluster, MP; P.E.I. oysters, MP; super colossal shrimp, $8/each) $72
Crab and shrimp mac and cheese $27
Corn brûlée $10
Creamed spinach $9
Vanilla caramel cake $8
Brandy old-fashioned $16
Italian blood orange $16

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