MODERN Oysterbar Chophouse

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Photography by Rob Ballard

Another high-end Valley steakhouse? Don’t scoff – this swank Scottsdale newcomer is genuinely the bomb.

Say what you will about the Valley’s James Beard Award-winning chefs, sophisticated cocktail scene and recent spate of international restaurants – we’re still a meat and potatoes town.

Now, I happen to love meat and potatoes in all their many splendored permutations, but in this steakhouse-saturated market of ours, it’s not exactly Yahoo home-page news when another one pops up. Or even another steak-and-seafood split like Mastro’s Ocean Club or Ocean 44, for that matter.

So still your beating heart, but we have yet another one – a glitzy new spot called MODERN Oysterbar Chophouse, which took over the elegant space most recently occupied by the gone-too-soon Lithuanian restaurant Sonata’s on Scottsdale Road and Gold Dust Avenue. The good news: It doesn’t look or feel like a cookie-cutter copy of all the others. No pickup scene for Gen Xers, no soulless corporate vibe, no over-the-top pretense. Just a handsome steak and seafood restaurant in a part of town that’s never had one. Could this augur success? I hope so, because MODERN has plenty going for it, offering a more personal touch and a bigger bang for the buck than its competitors.

For starters, the place is staffed with people who’ve been in the restaurant biz for years, if not decades. Co-owner and manager Frank Schneider, the silver fox who glides around touching tables and averting service hiccups, has worked at high-end restaurants all over town, including Mary Elaine’s, Mastro’s Ocean Club and Bourbon & Bones. His partners, Cat and Randy Frankel, both served as general managers at Zinc Bistro. Their pastry chef daughter Samantha is another Zinc alum, as is their beverage manager son Dylan, who has put together a solid, affordable wine list. Head chef Mike Bouwens brings years of steakhouse experience to the team via stints at Fleming’s and The Capital Grille, while the nascent cocktail program is run by mixology mainstay Richie Moe (Citizen Public House, Bourbon & Bones).

French toast bread pudding with bacon
French toast bread pudding with bacon

The menu bears similarities to other restaurants of the genre, featuring a half-dozen different cuts of steak (most of them 30-day wet-aged) and every kind of shellfish you can imagine. Naturellement, oysters figure prominently. There’s even a pretty zigzag oyster bar for customers who enjoy watching the action.

On any given day, MODERN offers four to six oyster varieties on the half shell (two or three from the East Coast, two or three from the West), served with lemon, cocktail sauce, horseradish and mignonette. Fried oysters are hard to find around town, but they’re offered here, lightly battered, ultra-crisp and sided with a sweet roasted red pepper remoulade I could eat by the spoonful (and sort of did). I love them. Ditto for the oysters Rockefeller I hesitated to order for fear they’d be bland and goopy (they’re not). Topped with fresh-tasting creamed spinach, light on the cream, and kicked up with crisp lardons for salty pop, they’re perfect, with an herbed Parmesan breadcrumb cap adding extra richness and crunch. Ask nicely and the kitchen will grill oysters for you, topping them with garlic butter and Parmesan and letting all that umami goodness meld together. Need I articulate how delightful it tastes?

Oysters on the half shell
Oysters on the half shell

One night, the kitchen is out of the mussels that go in a mussels and clams preparation conjoining Spanish chorizo with tomato concasse, pilsner beer and crab butter. The dish works just fine with clams only, and if some errant sense of decorum hadn’t kicked in, I’d have slurped the spicy leftover broth straight from the bowl. Grilled baguette slices served as mops instead.

Plump Jonah and blue crabcakes could use a bit more outer crunch, but they’re sweet and good, especially with a swish of red pepper remoulade. The ugly heap of arugula that garnishes them, however, has to go. It ruins the presentation, not once but twice, showing up again as a clumsy salad, piled atop and obscuring a lovely golden-brown fillet of pan-roasted Alaskan halibut, which is moist, flaky and otherwise perfect. Tomato-olive relish and citrus beurre blanc, which add color and sweet, salty notes, are all this dish really needs. But I’m delirious about garlicky grilled jumbo shrimp set atop house-made lemon-pepper pasta with grilled, caramelized onion and zucchini, each rustic strand of pasta bathed in a creamy citrus-wine emulsion. Simple and sensational, worlds better than many similar dishes.

In typical steakhouse fashion, two double-bone chops of Colorado rack of lamb, 18 ounces of ruddy meat and char, arrive unadorned on the plate. No prob. We fill in the gaps with roasted Brussels sprouts, crunchy with marcona almonds and bourbon- and jalapeño-spiked lardons; and dreamy mac and cheese, gooey with buttery Bellwether Carmody cheese and aged white cheddar. For an extra $13, we can (and do) add three ounces of sweet lobster meat, which very nearly transforms our side dish into a luscious entrée.

A 22-ounce bone-in New York strip, well-marbled and cooked to temperature, bursts with beefy flavor – I just wish its exterior had a bit more caramelization. Do yourself a favor and add a pat of cilantro-chile butter, which lends a nice kick of umami. Meanwhile, MODERN’s au gratin potatoes are flawless, enriched with smoked cheddar, pepper jack, jalapeño and leeks. Chile-sparked, Cotija-sprinkled creamed corn needs more smoked mascarpone (or cream?) to actually be creamy, but we like it anyway.

Desserts are worth saving room for – especially the outrageous bacon-French-toast bread pudding drizzled with maple-bourbon caramel, topped with a scoop of caramelized banana ice cream and a chunk of sticky house-made candied bacon.

As it turns out, I like MODERN way more than I expected to – for the professionalism, the high-quality food and the value of money well-spent. Just as any true steak fan can devour that last, succulent bite of ribeye, the Valley will always find room for another quality steakhouse.

MODERN Oysterbar chophouse

Cuisine: Steak/Seafood
Contact: 10050 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-531-1400, modernoysterbarchophouse.com
Hours: Tu-Su 4 p.m.-9 p.m.
Highlights: Oysters on the half shell ($40 per dozen); fried oysters ($22); oysters Rockefeller ($24); rack of lamb (market price); bone-in New York strip ($59); mac and cheese ($10); au gratin potatoes ($12); bacon-French-toast bread pudding ($12)

One night, the kitchen is out of the mussels that go in a mussels and clams preparation conjoining Spanish chorizo with tomato concasse, pilsner beer and crab butter. The dish works just fine with clams only, and if some errant sense of decorum hadn’t kicked in, I’d have slurped the spicy leftover broth straight from the bowl. Grilled baguette slices served as mops instead.

Plump Jonah and blue crabcakes could use a bit more outer crunch, but they’re sweet and good, especially with a swish of red pepper remoulade. The ugly heap of arugula that garnishes them, however, has to go. It ruins the presentation, not once but twice, showing up again as a clumsy salad, piled atop and obscuring a lovely golden-brown fillet of pan-roasted Alaskan halibut, which is moist, flaky and otherwise perfect. Tomato-olive relish and citrus beurre blanc, which add color and sweet, salty notes, are all this dish really needs. But I’m delirious about garlicky grilled jumbo shrimp set atop house-made lemon-pepper pasta with grilled, caramelized onion and zucchini, each rustic strand of pasta bathed in a creamy citrus-wine emulsion. Simple and sensational, worlds better than many similar dishes.

Ribeye steak with cilantro-chile butter
Ribeye steak with cilantro-chile butter
mussels and clams with Spanish chorizo and grilled bread
mussels and clams with Spanish chorizo and grilled bread

In typical steakhouse fashion, two double-bone chops of Colorado rack of lamb, 18 ounces of ruddy meat and char, arrive unadorned on the plate. No prob. We fill in the gaps with roasted Brussels sprouts, crunchy with marcona almonds and bourbon- and jalapeño-spiked lardons; and dreamy mac and cheese, gooey with buttery Bellwether Carmody cheese and aged white cheddar. For an extra $13, we can (and do) add three ounces of sweet lobster meat, which very nearly transforms our side dish into a luscious entrée.

A 22-ounce bone-in New York strip, well-marbled and cooked to temperature, bursts with beefy flavor – I just wish its exterior had a bit more caramelization. Do yourself a favor and add a pat of cilantro-chile butter, which lends a nice kick of umami. Meanwhile, MODERN’s au gratin potatoes are flawless, enriched with smoked cheddar, pepper jack, jalapeño and leeks. Chile-sparked, Cotija-sprinkled creamed corn needs more smoked mascarpone (or cream?) to actually be creamy, but we like it anyway.

Desserts are worth saving room for – especially the outrageous bacon-French-toast bread pudding drizzled with maple-bourbon caramel, topped with a scoop of caramelized banana ice cream and a chunk of sticky house-made candied bacon.

As it turns out, I like MODERN way more than I expected to – for the professionalism, the high-quality food and the value of money well-spent. Just as any true steak fan can devour that last, succulent bite of ribeye, the Valley will always find room for another quality steakhouse.

interior of Modern
interior of Modern
MODERN Oysterbar chophouse

Cuisine: Steak/Seafood
Contact: 10050 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-531-1400, modernoysterbarchophouse.com
Hours: Tu-Su 4 p.m.-9 p.m.
Highlights: Oysters on the half shell ($40 per dozen); fried oysters ($22); oysters Rockefeller ($24); rack of lamb (market price); bone-in New York strip ($59); mac and cheese ($10); au gratin potatoes ($12); bacon-French-toast bread pudding ($12)

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