We wonder what negotiations transpired that resulted in a place so architecturally stunning as the Crystals Mall allowing a place as stunningly mediocre as Mastro’s Ocean Club to occupy its primary real estate. Thoughts like these that have occupied much of our time during our three meals here, since thinking about the food hasn’t been much of an option.
The stunning treehouse at Mastro’s is only one of many eye-popping artifacts that grab your attention as you walk through this angular, discordantly beautiful shopping mall designed by Daniel Libeskind. By design, no matter where you stand in the retail space, your eyes are drawn to its tubular beauty, and that dining room, perched and jutting into the mall, thirty feet above the pedestrian’s heads, is a wonder to behold — whether you are contemplating it from the floor, or sitting within, waiting for your lunch or dinner to show up.
And then the food arrives and you realize you might as well be at Morton’s.
Nothing here is all that bad, it’s just not that good either. And when you’re a dozen bites into your meal, all you can think to yourself is: “What a waste of a fine setting.”
That being said, this place is destined to be a big hit. The same bourbon and coke crowd that flocks to Piero’s, or considers Smith & Wollensky the ultimate steakhouse, has already adopted this place as the spot of the moment. And conventioneers from Tennessee to Tucumcari are agape at the place. Truth be told, from the moment we first saw it, we felt it had “power lunch spot” written all over it. We were actually excited about the prospect of bringing business prospects in for a midday repast amidst all this fabulous architecture. But after our last meal, we’ve decided it’s better to go to a less spectacular-looking joint, where we won’t spend so much time apologizing for the food.
They call it an “ocean club,” which amounts to a lot of wishful thinking on the kitchen’s part. The fish and chips — the fish effectively playing hide and seek in your mouth as it fights through the breading — is the worst version you’ll encounter this side of Palm‘s (the two recipes are cut from the same doughball), while our decent piece of mahi mahi was effectively ruined by a wet cardboard crust of “oregananta” that the house claims as its “special seasoning.” For something so special, this mushy topping was strangely devoid of both oregano and texture.
Of course, there’s a shellfish platter — no better or worse than dozens around town — but the deep fried crab cakes suffer from (once again) a surfeit of breading that suffocates the star of the show.
We at ELV consider ourselves remoulade snobs, so when we call ourselves disappointed with this version for lacking taste, spice, texture and kick, you can take it with a grain of Creole mustard. Those of you who like slightly spicy, slightly chunky mayonnaise may find it acceptable to dip into.
Speaking of slightly spicy, the “spicy mambo salad” is barely that — just a jumble of badly torn romaine with a smattering of Parmesan thrown in among a horseradish-infused vinaigrette. Interesting concept? Yes. Worth $14 for a simple lettuce salad? Hardly.
All these seafood misfires make you wonder why a chain of steakhouses (that Mastro’s most certainly is) chose to call itself an ocean club, 250 miles from the nearest natural body of water. If you haven’t a clue by now, you should realize that this place is first and foremost about marketing — veracity be damned. Why compete with the equally average Beso down the hall, and Aria’s two beef ‘n spuds emporiums (Jean Georges and Union), when you can sell yourself with seafood, however banal it may be?
That seafood sold here gives not a thought to political correctness — Chilean sea bass and farm-raised salmon are prominently featured — leading us to believe not a thought is given to such things at Mastro’s corporate offices, as long as there’s a credulous public out there willing to buy them.
Regardless of how ecologically green you are (or aren’t), you will find the much ballyhooed “lobster mashed potatoes” an unholy, inedible mess. What looks like a pound (or more) of mashed potatoes in brought to the table with great fanfare. Throughout this surplus of gloppy starch are big chunks of buttery lobster that become pastier with every bite as the potatoes cool. The whole dish could stand as a metaphor for this whole quantity-over-quality operation, and is an insult to both the spud and the shellfish.
So skip the seafood…and the salads…and concentrate on the steaks. No time is wasted on their provenance or aging, but for a franchise-prime-meat, they’re pretty good. As is the bread, and the big, round butter cake that should cap off your meal. The butter cake is, for good reason, a big draw at all eight Mastro’s — from Scottsdale to SoCal — and is dense, rich, and addictive. Think of it as the ultimate pound cake.
The strawberries, when we had them two months ago, were nice and juicy and probably came from about 5,000 miles away. Neither Mastro’s nor its customers seem to care about such things as carbon footprints and eating locally, and the people who own this mall probably don’t either….as long as that huge rent check clears.
Of our three meals here, one lunch was comped, and one cost $58. Our dinner (for one) came to $60, with the house comping a glass of wine after we told them how under-seasoned our fish, chips (the strangely salt- and vinegar-free salt and vinegar fries) and salad were. An average dinner check for two, with a couple of glasses of wine each, will run at least $200.
MASTRO’S OCEAN CLUB
At Crystals at (the inappropriately-named) CityCenter
3720 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109