Cafe Reviews

Steak 44 in Phoenix Wins With Seafood and Falls Short on Steak

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See also: Normal Diner in Tempe: A Fun, Retro Diner With Serious Eats

The menu here mirrors Dominick's in many ways, offering traditional but pricey steakhouse fare: USDA grade prime cuts, wet­-aged for 28 days and butchered in-­house. Chef Geoff Baumberger's signature spice rub and nicely charred crust elevate standard cuts of meat, but elsewhere, Baumberger either under-­spices or over­-auces his food.

On that first visit, I was promised warm herbed Parmesan rolls, which (20 minutes later, when I asked after them) arrived piping hot in a cast­-iron skillet. They were gorgeous, light, and fluffy but somehow were completely bereft of any distinctive flavor. Starters also were neatly presented but largely unexciting. The beet salad is lovely to look at, its red and gold beets carefully arranged and dotted with goat cheese and a nice crunch of pistachios. Yet these sturdy ingredients, tossed in a lightly sweet dressing, lack any real pizzazz. Panko­-encrusted fried deviled eggs also combine several elements and temperatures that somehow result in an oddly humdrum whole. The crab and avocado stack, one of the more exciting-­sounding starters, turned out to be yet another simple affair, heavy on avocado and crispy wonton, with very little shellfish flavor.

I can never resist meatloaf on any menu, but at Steak 44 I found myself wishing I had. The dense, thick­-cut loaf was made from ground rib­eye, filet mignon, and pork, none of which I could properly taste thanks to an overpowering, super­-salty bordelaise sauce. The bordelaise worked better with the bone­-in short rib, which was nicely charred and offered a deeper flavor. Chicken Francese was tender and lightly sautéed in chardonnay and lemon butter.

It's ironic and disappointing that an upscale steakhouse wins big with seafood entrées and falls so flat on steak. An order of New Bedford sea scallops, cooked in white wine, were tender and buttery with a crisp char on the outside. Maryland style lump crab cakes had a nice crunch, too, and were moist on the inside and snappy with Old Bay seasoning.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela