Restaurants / Openings

Behind the Scenes with Tilman Fertitta at his New Showcase Houston Restaurant: This is no Ho-Hum Steakhouse — it’s a Billionaire’s Obsession

BY // 12.11.17

Tilman Fertitta literally pulls on the big curtain separating one of the new Houston Mastro’s Steakhouse’s private dining sections from the main patio. Houston’s most famous billionaire is not completely happy with how this looks so he’s going to make sure it’s done better.

This is near 4 pm on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon in Houston. The night before Fertitta’s Houston Rockets pulled off an epic fourth quarter comeback in Portland to improve to an NBA best 20-4 and Mastro’s did $60,000 in business in only its second night open. But Fertitta is still here, still tweaking, still trying to make it better.

This should give you a sense of what this restaurant means to the Billion Dollar Buyer. This is the showcase restaurant of Fertitta’s new glittering high-rise hotel (The Post Oak, which is scheduled to open in March). It needs to wow in a way few restaurants ever do.

“It sets the bar for the food and beverage experience,” Jeff Cantwell, Landry’s senior vice president of development, says. “And the service experience. It’s new to the market. The closest one is either Chicago or Scottsdale. It’s important to set the tone for the whole thing.”

Call this Mastro’s something of a preview of The Post Oak’s level of expectations. While this high-end spot is already being compared to places like Steak 48, River Oaks District’s see and be seen restaurant, and Brasserie 19, it’s clearly something entirely all its own.

Walk in and you’re suddenly in a space where the indoors and the outdoors melds — and it’s almost hard to tell them apart. Mastro’s main dining room spills out into an expansive patio with a water wall setting a distinctive, soothing tone. On this afternoon, a table of four women on the patio order a bottle of Cristal.

Introducing Pêche

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If you close your eyes, you could almost imagine you’re in California. This Houston Mastro’s could be a go-to retreat in almost any cosmopolitan city.

“There’s no place like this in Houston,” Fertitta tells PaperCity.

The sole owner of Landry’s restaurant and hospitality empire does not say this smugly. It comes out as a matter of fact declaration. Fertitta is almost willing this place to be spectacular — and what this tycoon wills has a way of coming true.

This is not just another steakhouse trying to get businessmen to expense account splurge on hunking chunks of meat that could be found in any meat haven in America. Mastro’s brings an extensive seafood collection that goes far beyond the usual steakhouse shrimp cocktail and maybe a basic salmon dish offerings.

At Mastro’s, there is even a sushi menu designed and curated by chef Angel Carbajal of Nick-san, the celebrity-loved Cabo hotspot. Touches like this that go far beyond Texas are geared to give the restaurant an entirely different feel.

Only, Fertitta is doing this in Houston, his hometown, adding another layer.

The wine cellar with more than 20,000 bottles from 25 different countries, with some vintages dating back to the 1800s, helps too.

The dishes at Mastro’s are much more ambitious than you’d find at a typical steakhouse. Seafood also has plenty of moments.

Power players have the option of being part of this whole scene — or having their own retreat within it. Three different areas of this Mastro’s can be converted into private dining sections. “We have more private dining available than any restaurant in Houston,” Cantwell says. Separating this restaurant from the crowd — even its luxe competitors — is part of the Fertitta mission.

When Fertitta leads a small group (his son Patrick, Cantwell, this writer and a PR guru) over to Mastro’s from the current Landry’s world headquarters building across the courtyard of the overall 10-acre Post Oak compound, a restaurant hostess in all black is polishing the giant M on the distinctive heavy door.

Every detail matters. No matter how successful last night was.

The Post Oak Restaurant Reach

A new Willie G’s restaurant is also set to open soon in The Post Oak complex, but it won’t be the Willie G’s you know. Like with anything with this tower, it needs to be on a higher plane.

“The Willie G’s over here is a whole new level of Willie G’s,” Cantwell says. “Willie G’s has been around for 40 years, but we’re taking it to the next generation.”

When a two-level Rolls-Royce dealership is your neighbor, a regular downhome island style restaurant will not do. Back in Mastro’s, Fertitta holds an impromptu meeting at a few pulled-together tables, going over more possible little changes. Only nothing is “little” to him. Yes, even the liquor bottles at the bar are arranged in a colorful pattern that has to be intentional. Yes, the glittering chandelier seem to be catching the afternoon light just right.

But things always can be even better.

In the end, this may be what this new restaurant has that no other restaurant in Houston does. An obsessed Tilman Fertitta on the case.

Tilman Fertitta could be doing almost anything he wants to do in the world on this Sunday. Instead, he is here, making his showcase restaurant even better. Wearing a baseball cap pulled relatively low and comfortable shoes, Fertitta is still a study in intensity.

“I take pride in this,” he says.

This is the first touchpoint in Tilman Fertitta’s grand new world. Just imagine what’s coming next. Fertitta’s just started pulling back curtains.

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