Six of us celebrated my birthday last night. Actually, two of us have the same birthday and we all stepped out of our usual routine to drive to Beverly Hills on a Thursday night to eat at Mastro’s Penthouse. We eat out less and less these days, and I was open to the adventure.
The food was mostly excellent. With six ordering, there was a lot of sharing and tasting. I especially enjoyed the crab gnocchi and would have loved my spinach salad–if they understood what lightly dressed meant. I ended up with at least 1/2 cup of salad dressing swirling on the bottom. I actually pushed the salad up the side of bowl to let it drain until it was just too soggy to enjoy.
There were excellent mushrooms and savory brussel sprouts; others enjoyed delicious tomato salads, one with burrata cheese and the other with onions. I didn’t think the chopped or house salad was anything to order again. My husband loved the prime New York steak we split while I prefer the tastier grass fed version we eat at home. I thought the scallops were divine and was thrilled to find two of them on top of the steak –saving me $22 because I was thinking of ordering them on the side. I was grateful for a few bites of a simple baked potato to counter the richness of everything else on the table.
HOW DOES HIP AND TRENDY TRANSLATE INTO LOUD AND NOISY?
The restaurant was busy and kept getting busier throughout the evening, significantly more crowded at 10 than at 7 pm when we arrived. At these prices, we were definitely sitting with the 1%. The scene was ideal for people watching, but that is about all you could do. Conversation was almost impossible except with the person sitting right next to you. In a party of six with three across, someone was always left out. We leaned close to each others ear to try to converse over the incessant thumping of a sub woofer controlled by an oblivious DJ (akin to what you hear and feel when that obnoxious car pulls up next to you while waiting at a stop light). All of us attempted a few simple words shouted across the table. We jokingly suggested maybe we should just text each other.
The Penthouse is positioned as a new and hip designation at Mastro’s. The dining room abuts the bar with barely a foot separating tables. I am sure the decibel level of noise is illegal somewhere and we asked the hostess, and then the wait staff, if there was a way to quiet the bass so we could hear ourselves talk. Of course. But it didn’t quiet. The manager came over at one point and I was surprised by the frustration in my voice. I was with friends to enjoy my birthday and we couldn’t even talk. He suggested we dine in the quieter space downstairs next time and sent us a tray of desserts to make amends. A nice gesture, but it doesn’t begin to address the reason I won’t be back.
MY BODY WAS NOURISHED, BUT NOT MY SOUL
Thankfully we will laugh about the experience and share stories with friends. The food was mostly delicious. But there is something bizarre about a culture that celebrates food and dining away from home in a social setting that makes conversation so impossible. I frequently scanned the room to see people unnaturally hunched over the cocktail tables straining to hear each other. I noticed that ours wasn’t the only table where people talked mostly to the person sitting next to them. Our server had to repeat specials several times around a table of 6 and I lost count of the number of times we asked her to repeat herself.
Too much about this scene compromises what I love about sharing good food with friends. My body was nourished, but not my soul. A frenetic and kind of vacuous energy filled the room. My senses felt assaulted. I can’t help but wondering if this is a place to take people you don’t want to talk to, or when you have nothing to say. I have already made a note to self. I don’t have to do this again for a very long time.