In a sea of specials and featured dishes and staff favorites, the catch of the day stood out: a simple fillet of red snapper atop a bed of eggplant and tomato risotto in lemon butter sauce dotted with capers. Drizzled on top, an oily, spicy pesto, and thrown in for good measure but definitely not an afterthought, two crunchy fried oysters.
It seemed incongruous, this mixture of Southern-style oysters with Italian risotto and French beurre blanc. It seemed incongruous, and so I wanted it, if only to confirm my suspicion that it was too much of a good thing. When it came to the table, last of all the orders to arrive, I felt my skepticism justified. It was a nondescript pile of food, mushy-looking aside from the oysters. I dug into a steak burger, content to let a friend explore the fish for a moment before I gave it my time. After I'd taken only one bite of the burger, though, my friend pushed the plate toward me.
"You have to have this. Try this. No, get the sauce, too. Wait, put some oyster on top. Yes, now it's the perfect bite."
And it was. For all my cynicism, the fish — and the chef — had made a believer of me. The risotto was perfectly cooked, still a bit chewy but not underdone. The stewed eggplant and tomato slices married wonderfully with the vinegary beurre blanc sauce, all of it coating the snapper without detracting from its naturally briny flavor. And the oysters...I'll be damned if they weren't some of the best fried oysters I've had outside of Louisiana. I was very pleasantly surprised.
It's not that I thought the chef incapable of greatness. Nor did I think the ingredients would be subpar or a special dish not fully considered. I was startled to find the fish of the day so wonderfully alluring because I was smack-dab in the middle of a meat mecca.
At 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, meat is the main attraction. The "ranch-to-table" restaurant focuses on high-quality Akaushi beef, burgers, steaks, and the occasional chicken or pork dish. It's cowboy cookin', y'all, and cowboys eat meat.
But though it's ranch-style dining, this is still the type of place for which you change into slacks and heels and hire a babysitter for the evening. It's rustic in some ways and luxurious in others. It's cowboy cuisine with a kick. It's homey, family-style dining with a killer wine list and even better seafood. This is a place where it helps to be known.
Yes, on this ranch, there are far more than 60 degrees. In the course of a single meal, you can experience a 180-degree shift — from steak to raw seafood, from playful fare to serious eats, from zero service to exceptional service. Some of that depends on what you order. Some of it depends on who you are.
When 60 Degrees Mastercrafted opened in November, the first thing that got people talking wasn't the prime space on Westheimer just on the outskirts of Upper Kirby. Nor was it the chef, Fritz Gitschner, a Certified Master Chef (more on that later), originally from Austria. It wasn't even the unusual "ranch-to-table" concept featuring all the high-quality beef you can eat. No, it was the name. 60 Degrees Mastercrafted.
Press releases explained a link to geometry and the angles of an equilateral triangle. There's a small note at the bottom of each menu, too, explaining the somewhat nebulous reasoning behind the moniker: "The idea for '60 Degrees Mastercrafted' derives from the three angles of an equilateral triangle, 60 degrees each, representing the three angles of a complete dining experience: quality ingredients, creative and innovative food, and friendly service in a comfortable atmosphere. The triangle plays a prominent role in the company's branding serving as a reminder to both staff and patrons of the restaurant's promise."
Quality ingredients, innovative food and friendly service are the foundations upon which the very Texan restaurant was laid, and now, nearly eight months after introducing Houstonians to the concept, they seem to be catching on, even if the foundation is still a bit shaky. Quality ingredients can be relied upon. The other two "angles of a complete dining experience"? They're there, but perhaps to a lesser degree.
Take service. Generally friendly, yes, but friendlier still if you appear moneyed or important. During one lazy Sunday brunch, I sat alone at the bar for half an hour before the bartender finally decided to take my brunch order. The restaurant was far from full, and, growing increasingly hungry, I had asked a waiter if I could order from him. "The bartender will be happy to help you" was all I got, and even after hearing this, the bartender went about polishing glasses. It wasn't until I inadvertently made eye contact with someone who works there — someone I know in passing, someone who knows what I do for a living — that the service made a 180.