Recently, the partners behind Maple & Ash, an opulent modern steakhouse in Chicago, opened an outpost near the Scottsdale Waterfront. This brought a new player to our high-end meat-eating scene, long and storied given the centrality of beef to a state with five Cs, one being “cattle.” But times change. These days, the steakhouse as a concept feels stodgy, tired from failing to evolve with the rest of American food this century. Most people eat differently now.
Maple & Ash seems to accept this as premise — and aims to jolt the crusty, dim steakhouse of yesteryear, pushing it into our more conscious age of eating.
Overseen by chef-partner Danny Grant, Maple & Ash offers a menu that can surprise, including with house-made pastas beyond rote. The bar stocks mezcal and Japanese whisky. If you sit at one of the 250 seats under the big-city dining room’s lofty ceilings and candelabras, your server will appear and pour you a complimentary cocktail to kick things off, maybe one scented with gin and cucumber. The design, flow, and hospitality are firmly 21st century.
Departures from the old-school steakhouse extend to the kitchen. Grant’s team bakes a hearty sourdough using starter from Chicago. They deploy, for encrusting dishes like octopus, a 900-degree coal-fired oven. Steak is sizzled over wood fire, fueled by mostly maple and ash, plus other wood from local farmers. Once browned, steaks are finished on warming racks above the fire, to catch smoke.
In my visits to Maple & Ash, I hoped to see how much better one of these steaks could be than another, and how its top-shelf beef compared to a steak you could cook at home with the right cut, a cast-iron pan, some butter, and a hot oven. So I ordered, among many other things, the least and most expensive steaks on the menu.
The cheapest steak? A 10-ounce hangar for $28.
The priciest? A 40-ounce tomahawk rib-eye that looks carved from a mastodon and is dry-aged for 45 days, leaving a $175 crater in your wallet.
Steaks this heady take a while to cook, even over a healthy wood fire. First comes your bread and complementary cocktail. Though I wouldn’t fill up on bread with so much meat coming, rounds are rustic and well-worth nibbling, and the opening cocktails tend to be botanical and light, opening your appetite.
Unasked on one visit, my server brought olives, radishes, and butter with the bread. Beyond free offerings, Maple & Ash offers a nice range of starters. A wedge salad is showered with chopped herbs. Warm tomato, blue cheese, and red pepper strips ornament the fibrous, satisfying crunch you want when you order wedge. Octopus is thinly crisp outside and tender within, thanks to a confit and then a blasting in the coal-fired oven.
One section of the menu lists house-made pastas. Even if you have high pasta standards, these are worth some attention. Agnolotti can come in half-orders, leaving room for steak. The airy pillows are packed with house-made ricotta, and the egg-rich, tissue-thin dough gushes liquid cheese, black truffle, and the fragrance of chives. This all melds with the butter and Parmesan broth coating the pasta; flavors of cheese and truffle wash your tongue.
At the bar, you may notice an arsenal of colored tinctures at the ready. Cocktails at Maple & Ash are well-made, though many play it safe. An Old Fashioned cousin called Scotchy Scotch Scotch was balanced with a predictably smoky slant, with some orange for levity. During happy hour (4:30 to 6 p.m. daily), look to the $10 martini. A dirty martini with Castelvetrano olives is cold, just briny enough, and full like a pool after rain.
Soon enough, your meal will kick-drum into this song’s chorus: beef.
The cheapest steak, a $28 steak frites featuring 10 ounces of hangar, also comes with a heap of shoestring fries. The steak is long and thin, tapering as it angles from its hefty middle. Uneven size makes for slightly uneven cooking: perfect medium-rare in the fatter part, less so on the outside. The meat comes sliced at tight, even intervals, each plump morsel soaked with jus.
This hangar steak is tender with a bit of workaday chew — not in an unpleasant way, but in a way that reminds you you’re eating animal. It has a low but pleasant mineral flavor and, once slicked with herby entrecote sauce, makes for a classic, soulful plate for the price.
The $175 dry-aged tomahawk rib-eye, though, is another tale.
This puffy meat Frisbee has bark like an oak tree. Its glistening surface shows a grid of cuts, hints of the bubblegum-pink in the middle. A puddle of meat juices slicks the hot metal serving vessel below it. A dramatic bone juts from the rib-eye, projecting like a paleolithic club.
Our server didn’t even ask how we wanted it. The steak comes medium-rare, and not the bloody “medium-rare” of some steakhouses. Its deeply mahogany crust bursts to your bite. Wide swaths of the inner beef are pure fat, meaning pure joy, gushing that soft mad rush of animal goodness that bypasses your sophistication and politics and life plans and cuts straight to your latent cave dweller, blissing you out.
This is a really nice steak. The best bites come when the weirdness and glory of the dry-aging zips through powerfully, the faint horse-hay funk and mushroomy notes melding with the giant, irony minerality. Still, I wouldn’t drop $175 to eat it again (and only did the first time because I split it with three people). And still, I’d rather drop a tiny fraction of that at my local butcher and cook a steak myself.
In the end, as sleepy, as stubborn, and as lodged in the past as steakhouses can be, Maple & Ash can be a very good restaurant.
Whether it is depends on your tolerance for flashy, moneyed dining. If you’re at home in the glitz of a restaurant that issues cards detailing a dress code, Maple & Ash might be for you. Grant has injected the steakhouse concept with some fresh life. And even if you don’t like steakhouses but dig a capable gin martini and a reasonably priced, fire-cooked hangar steak with jus-soaked fries, Maple & Ash can be a good place to be.
Maple & Ash
7135 East Camelback Road, #130, Scottsdale
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday to Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday
Brussels sprouts $12
Wood-grilled Spanish octopus $19
Ricotta agnolotti $26
Classic steak frites $28
45-day dry-aged tomahawk $175
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