When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Steak 44 Location: 5101 N. 44th St. Open: About a month Eats: Steakhouse Price: $30 to $50 a person
Steakhouses are boring. They're outdated. They're overpriced. At least that's what most self-proclaimed enlightened diners would say. In many -- if not most -- cases those generalizations are sadly true.
But they don't apply to Arcadia's new neighborhood steakhouse, Steak 44.
Usually, a steakhouse is as much about the experience as it is the food -- after all, you can get a great steak at a lot of places these days. At Steak 44 you get the best of both worlds: a luxurious experience and (relatively) interesting food.
In addition to such typical steakhouse starters as oysters on the half shell and wedge salads, Steak 44 offers dishes like crispy shrimp with sweet Thai chilies and braised pork belly with herbs and caramelized onions. Even the usual suspects get a little update, like the Colossal Shrimp Cocktail. The dish features the largest, sweetest shrimps you've ever come across served with a tangy cocktail sauce and a dangerously aggressive "atomic horseradish." At $5 a shrimp, it's not the most affordable way to start your dinner, but delivers on quality in a big way.
On the other hand the fried deviled eggs ($6 for four eggs) sound like another intriguing option but end up tasting less interesting than you'd expect. The whole fried eggs get a nice boost from the side of Sriracha aioli, though it still doesn't hide the fact that the yolks are pretty much bland.
As for the main event, Steak 44 offers a selection of 28-day wet aged handcut steaks. You can have a filet mignon or New York strip in two different sizes, either with or without a bone. The bone-in rib eye comes only in a 22-ounce size.
If you're a fan of marbled meats, then you'll want the Delmonico. The name comes from the Delmonico's Restaurant in lower Manhattan during the mid-19th century, though no one is sure what cut the Delmonico used to be. At Steak 44, it's essentially a boneless rib eye. This cut makes a relatively affordable meal at $31 for a 12-ounce steak and $37 for a 16-ounce size.
The beautifully marbled piece of meat was cooked perfectly medium -- our server recommended we order it that way -- and was incredibly tender and very rich. Eat one of these and you'll probably never want a filet again. It arrives sizzling and drenched in butter, though you can also order a side of truffle butter, bordelaise sauce, or green peppercorn sauce, if you wish.
In our opinion, doing so would just take away from what's already a perfect steak.
There's also a nearly overwhelming number of sides you can order with your entrée. Unlike at Dominick's Steakhouse, owned by the same group, the sides here are enough for just one or two people -- depending on how hungry you are and how many sides you order.
Executive chef Geoff Baumberger has brought over the popular Dominick's Potatoes, which feature caramelized onion, Gouda, and mozzarella cheese. They make for a heavy side dish that can sometimes end up overpowering the palate, we definitely preferred the Corn Créme Bruleé instead. Baumberger takes sweet creamed corn and adds a thin layer of torched turbinado sugar. The baked creamed spinach was also very good, though the garlic scallion breadcrumbs went entirely unnoticed.
For those who would rather enjoy something from the sea, Steak 44 has more options than you'd probably expect. There's salmon, scallops, ahi, halibut, and even sea bass, as well a few more unexpected dishes such as the soft shell crabs ($28).
The dish comes with two whole soft shell crabs battered in a vanilla bean tempura and served with lemon butter. Thanks to that vanilla the tempura is just barely sweet, counterbalanced nicely by the citrus butter. Mostly we were impressed by the size of the two crabs, which offered plenty of sweet meat and flavor from the shell and other bits.
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Dessert will be hard to skip, particularly since the menu includes the Mastro's signature butter cake. We went with the "Coffee" and Doughnuts ($7) instead, which featured two housemade cinnamon sugar doughnuts. They were light and surprisingly un-greasy and made a nice complement to the airly coffee semifreddo.
There aren't many places in town that could support a "neighborhood" restaurant that serves $50 steaks. But if it was going to happen anywhere, then the intersection of 44th Street and Camelback -- where the affluent neighborhoods of Arcadia and Paradise Valley nearly touch -- is a good bet. When we came in on a Wednesday night, the entire restaurant was buzzing.
It helps that Steak 44 strikes a nice balance between being a upscale steakhouse and the kind of place where you can sit at the bar and enjoy a casual, albeit still expensive, meal. The service, as you would expect, is top-notch. But it doesn't feel forced -- or even formal, for that matter -- meaning you can actually relax a little bit while you dig into your giant, butter-drenched dinner.