Mastro’s has been getting a lot of hype. It’s got exorbitant prices, glitzy interior design, and a prime Union Square location. It’s the kind of place where you’d hold a post-J.P. Morgan conference dinner, which is exactly what I ran into when I went on a Monday night: Crowds of men in business formal suits of varying grays. The people at the front desk assured me, in my combat boots and jeans, that I was not underdressed. (I felt underdressed.)
Mastro’s is also home to the infamous $50 “Baller” cocktail, the kind of stuff that you see in Insider videos about unnecessarily expensive foods laden with gold foil. The Baller doesn’t have gold foil, but it does have Jean-Charles Boisset gin, white truffle oil, and Petrossian caviar dust, hence the extravagant price tag. It comes in a coupe cocktail glass with shaved black truffle on the bottom, and spots of oil on top.
My plus-one said it reminded her of oily water (which, technically true). The Baller reminded me of an experiment in a petri dish, which isn’t the most appealing visual for a drink.
Part of the Baller’s appeal is its high-quality gin and truffle oil aromatics. The other part of the appeal is the recent, headline-grabbing (ahem) trend of just throwing money at food and hoping the hype carries it to success. For $50, the Baller seems like the kind of drink that should devastate you, revive you, and immortalize itself as a legend. But for me, oil and gin don’t mix.
Thankfully, Mastro’s does have other relatively reasonably priced drinks, ranging from $16 to $29. They’re definitely on the higher end for San Francisco cocktails, but Mastro’s does big pours right at the table, so you’re constantly being topped off through the meal. Mastro’s other signature cocktail — the Lemon Drop — is definitely worthy of all the online recipes foodies have tried out to recreate this summery sweet, lightly tart treat. With lemon rock sugar and lemon-infused vodka, it tastes like candy without being saccharine. For a drier drink, try the elderflower martini, made of Belvedere Citrus vodka, Hendrick’s Gin, and St. Germain Elderflower liqueur.
Drinks aside, Mastro’s pride and joy is also in its seafood and steak. While there are really, really expensive options (their $240 four-ounce steak is A5 Kobe beef, 100 percent tajima cattle, and the cost of a round-trip plane ticket to New York), we opted for the $55 eight ounce center cut filet. Medium rare at Mastro’s is on the rarer side — ours came to us on a 400-degree plate, and was red, tender, and warm through. While the steak was broiled with butter and sprinkled with parsley, it could have used a bit more seasoning.
That’s mostly because its side dishes — an Alaskan king crab and black truffle gnocchi and mushrooms cooked with bone marrow-infused butter — opted for the same flavor profiles: warm, creamy, and buttery. An order of roasted brussel sprouts helped add some dimension to the meal, but also could have used more seasoning itself.
Surprisingly, some of the best things from the dinner were the cheapest. I couldn’t help but return to the complimentary bread basket we were given at the start. Mastro’s makes its bread in-house, and features a wonderfully sharp and savory three-cheese crostini and warm, well-salted pretzels that look like miniature baguettes.
Perhaps most importantly, their $17 warm butter cake was the star of the night. The warm butter cake is large — imagine an outstretched hand. It comes with freshly whipped cream (Mastro’s makes theirs every hour, and it’s cold, thick, and delicious) and served with a ring of orange slices and strawberries, a giant scoop of Chicago’s Homer’s vanilla bean ice cream, and a hefty drizzle of raspberry sauce. The cake itself is a standard yellow cake made with a whole stick of butter. “Help. I can’t stop,” my plus one said while digging her spoon into the dessert. “We need to leave. Soon.”
The yellow cake — as basic as the premise is — is really dynamic, with a cream cheese mixture giving the cake a unique and welcome tartness, and bruleed raw sugar lending another crispy-sweet dimension to the whole dessert. As I write this, I’m planning out when I can go back to Mastro’s, just so I can sit at the bar and order this cake.
Mastro’s, 399 Geary St.