December has been a busy month for restaurant openings, as some of this year’s most eagerly anticipated concepts have made their debuts. Food obsessives are flocking to Nancy’s Hustle, see-and-be-seen types are evaluating Emmaline, and Francophiles are diving into duck confit at Maison Pucha Bistro.
While they’re all worthy of patronage the two restaurants that seem to be generating the most buzz (in terms of recent conversations and inquiries from CultureMap readers) are the city’s newest steakhouses, Mastro’s and Doris Metropolitan. That’s not really surprising. For all of Houston’s diversity and sophistication as a dining destination, Houstonians still love a good steak. Just consider Cafe Annie’s recent changes that included serving more steak or Chris Shepherd’s announcement that he’s transforming Underbelly into a steakhouse as the latest evidence that, in Houston, the pinnacle of dining starts with a 10 to 16-ounce hunk of marbled, medium rare beef.
Both restaurants come to Houston with big reputations from corporate siblings in other cities. Mastro’s is Landry’s Inc CEO Tilman Feritta’s high-flying acquisition that’s the centerpiece of the dining offerings at The Post Oak, his luxury hotel that will open early next year. Doris Metropolitan has humble beginnings as a Tel Aviv butcher shop, but its evolution into glamorous locations in Costa Rica and New Orleans marked the restaurant as one to watch when it claimed the space that had previously been home to Triniti.
Having considered all that and made the decision to forgo a go-to like Pappas Bros, Vic & Anthony’s, or Killen’s to check out one of these newcomers, diners must decide which one to visit first. Whether out of concerns that are caloric or financial, most people won’t be able to visit both Doris Metropolitan and Mastro’s Steakhouse in the course of a week to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses — but I did. While both restaurants are very much steakhouses, they offer two very different experiences that will likely appeal to very different kinds of diners.
Those differences start with each restaurant’s atmosphere. Walking through Mastro’s double doors takes patrons into a restaurant that feels different from every other Houston restaurant: more Sin City than Bayou City. To the left, the bar area is packed with people clamoring to get drinks, listening to a live band (a talented group that delivered covers ranging from classic rock staples to Estelle’s American Boy), or sitting on the open air terrace next to a massive waterfall. Needless to say, it’s as loud as Astros fans got when they cheered each Lance McCullers’ strikeout — or, for Rockets owner Fertitta, each Eric Gordon three — to the point that my friends and I are basically shouting cocktail orders at our server.
Once seated, even the dining room has a high enough volume that we joke about texting our conversation across the table, but it ebbed a bit after 9 pm when the bar crowd thinned out. The decor is fairly traditional (dark walls, leather booths) save for a very large painting of a woman dancing that adorns one wall. Servers and captains fuss over every detail, even shining flashlights at glasses to make sure they don’t show any fingerprints.
Doris Metropolitan looks less like a traditional steakhouse and more like a contemporary, New American restaurant. The colors are lighter and brighter, and the wooden tables don’t have tablecloths. Overall, the volume is normal restaurant loud, with up-tempo electronic music that occasionally impeded conversation.
As with the decor, both restaurants take very different approaches to their menus. Mastro’s has a more-is-more ethos with a massive menu that lists 20 appetizers, 10 sushi rolls, 10 seafood entrees, 22 sides, and 27 steaks and chops that range from standard USDA Prime filets and ribeyes to grass-fed beef and both Japanese and Australian wagyu. The appetizers and sides run the gamut from steakhouse classics like crab cakes and creamed corn to over-the-top specialties like seafood platters served with dry ice and lobster mashed potatoes that cost an astonishing $38.
Doris Metropolitan, by contrast, offers a more limited menu of 13 appetizers, one seafood entree, six sides, and 14 steaks and chops that feature the in-house dry aged USDA Prime beef as well as both Japanese and Texas wagyu. The owners’ Israeli roots manifest themselves in vegetable-oriented starters like the artichoke flower salad and Jerusalem salad. However, the restaurant doesn’t serve any pork products or steakhouse classics like shrimp cocktail and mac and cheese.
Execution at both restaurants had hits and misses. At Mastro’s, the best dishes included an order of lamb chops that arrived with an excellent, well-seasoned crust and a properly medium rare interior. The signature butter cake dessert lived up to its lofty reputation. Lobster mashed potatoes justified their price by being packed with lobster meat and infused with a stock that delivered big flavors. Shrimp and scallop dumplings arrived packed with sweet meat and a crispy exterior. Traditional dishes like crab cakes and creamed spinach held their own with high-quality versions at other establishments.
However, we noticed significant problems, too. Most disconcertingly, both a 40-ounce Australian wagyu ribeye ($140) and an 18-ounce bone-in filet ($78) had meat that was cold in the middle. Mastro’s serves its beef on sizzling plates, which typically should prevent that from happening, but, to facilitate sharing, they had been sliced in the kitchen prior to serving. We speculated that being sliced stopped whatever additional cooking was supposed to take place during the journey from kitchen to dining room. In addition, we couldn’t taste any lobster in a pricey sushi roll or the advertised crab in a $34 side of truffled gnocchi.
Doris Metropolitan’s kitchen delivered a better overall experience. Sweetbreads had a nice crispy exterior and gooey interior, and the tuna tartare offered an inventive twist on the familiar dish thanks to its ginger emulsion and soy sauce in molecular-style pearls. Desserts have Instagram-worthy presentations. Just look at this chocolate capsule.
Cooking the steaks sous vide and finishing them on a grill ensured they arrived the proper temperature both in terms of doneness and in heat level. However, they were a little unseasoned. Thankfully, all of the steaks are delivered with flakes of kosher salt and black pepper to sprinkle on top, which is not an ideal solution, but it did perk up the meat’s flavor, taking my Classified Cut, the restaurant’s term for its signature ribeye cap, from very good to great.
It’s difficult to evaluate service as a food writer (the staff has an extra incentive to be friendly), but we had good experiences at both restaurants thanks to knowledgeable professionals who can offer suggestions about which dishes to order and which wines to select. Doris general manager Troy Yearby stands out both literally — he looks to be about 6’2” — and figuratively as a dynamic personality who’s eager to provide his customers with a memorable experience.
Both of these meals came at a high cost — steakhouses are experts at separating customers from their cash — but Mastro’s rang in as my most expensive meal of 2017: over $1,300 before tax and tip ($1,700 with them). Admittedly, my friends were in the mood to spend lavishly, which helped drive up the cost. Our bill included two bottles of wine that each cost $220, a couple of $22 cocktails (including a surprisingly delicious Manhattan), a $75 appetizer of wagyu cooked on a hot rock, $150 for two glasses of Dom Perignon one friend sent to his former boss, and three desserts. We passed on Louis XIII cognac that arrives on a silver platter (quickly dubbed the “Louis Trey tray”) at $180 for one-and-a-half ounces, but three nearby tables took the plunge.
If we had skipped the disappointing sushi rolls, dropped some of the spendy extras, and just ordered steaks, starters, sides, and desserts, we would have been closer to $400 plus booze and tax, which would have cut the bill in half, give or take.
At Doris, four appetizers, three steaks, one order of lamb chops, two desserts, and cocktails rang up at a little under $400 ($500 with tax and tip). Lavish, yes, but that price point is more consistent with other local restaurants (One Fifth, for example).
In the end, no restaurant in Houston matches Mastro’s when it comes to a Vegas-style atmosphere, over-the-top dishes, and general buzz. Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel and several members of the Houston Rockets have all been seen in the dining room. The Billion Dollar Buyer has a designated booth that allows him to survey the entire dining room. Needless to say, Doris Metropolitan isn’t attracting that kind of clientele.
The potential that Mastro’s showed in those lamb chops and the lobster mashed potatoes makes me think it’s capable of delivering a better experience than we had. I’ll be back eventually, but I want more guidance on what to order (maybe seafood?) and what to avoid (still mad about the gnocchi).
Overall, Doris has a menu that’s more appealing to me personally. I’d like to visit again soon for another Classified Cut, maybe the cauliflower, and the first-rate bread service. That meal will still cost $100, but at least I’ll feel like I got a decent value.