Bull Market

McMahon's Prime Steakhouse Is A Worthy Investment For The Serious Meat Eater.

By Rebecca Cook

THE FIRST THING most people ask when I tell them I've visited McMahon's Prime Steakhouse is, "How were the prices?"

The restaurant's reputation in this respect has apparently preceded it, a fact I find extremely interesting. No one ever queried me about cost when I visited Janos or Anthony's in the Catalinas. The question seems only relevant as it pertains to quality hunks of red meat; the implication of which is that said meat couldn't possibly be worth as much as nouvelle cuisine. Is that so?

Chow It depends on your stance on the subject of "where's the beef." Not too long ago, it was possible to get a great tasting steak that may have stretched your budget but certainly never threatened to break the bank. In recent years, however, a truly delicious steak at any price has become a rarity. Those of us who indulge in such pleasures have often found our steaks chewy, gristly and tasteless, a condition that had to be remedied with sauces that masked the meat's deficits. A discreet shift to chicken and fish was often the better part of valor.

So to answer the question, yes, McMahon's is pricey. Perhaps even exceedingly so. But for those who relish quality beef succulently prepared, McMahon's is worth every penny. You'll spend more on one meal than your grandfather earned in a month, but you definitely won't be disappointed. McMahon's fully delivers on its promise to serve some of the finest steak you've ever tasted. The value to a dedicated carnivore is arguably incalculable.

There are other steakhouses in town, but none come within a country mile of McMahon's in terms of quality and formal ambiance. As if the allure of prime beef weren't enough to entice folks through the doors, McMahon's is a visual delight: An impressive floor-to-ceiling, glass-encased wine cellar separates the elegant piano bar from the main dining rooms. Fully 35 feet long and 10 feet wide, the cellar is just one of many showcase design features at McMahon's. Several arches and recesses highlight bronzed Western sculptures and colorful canvasses courtesy of southern Arizona artists. The only echo from past inhabitants of the space (e.g., the Palomino Restaurant and Encore Med) is a wall with a fireplace which deftly provides both warmth and comfort on those wintry (below 50-degree) evenings that only locals could complain about.

To say the restaurant is a bit posh doesn't begin to tell the tale. Entering McMahon's is like being ushered into a private club of privilege; one with a distinctively Western flavor. Smoking is permitted in either of two bar areas--the piano bar (which incidentally holds a small dining area off to the side) and the more informal cigar bar, where a custom-built humidor displays some 50 brands of tobacco. A small patio, with tables centered around a burbling fountain, rounds out the seating possibilities. But enough about the aesthetics and on to the food, which is earns its keep amidst the reputed $5-million digs.

For appetizers, we opted for the white bean and calabacitas soup, and the Beefeater martini. Don't count on the cocktail for nutritional value, but this classic chilled martini glass is professionally filled tableside with flair, flowing as it does from a chrome-plated shaker. My father (who provided the expertise in this department) pronounced the fluid hors d'oeuvre excellent.

The more nutritious soup was exceptional: a rich tomato, lemon and cilantro broth studded with tender white beans, delicate cubes of zucchini, yellow and chayote squash, and bits of fresh tomato. Though only intended for sampling (McMahon's promises large portions and a superb dessert selection), after a few sips I was thoroughly smitten with this dish, and I couldn't leave it alone until the bowl was empty. An infrequent occupational hazard.

Although Caesar salad seems to pop up on everyone's menu these days, it's seldom executed remarkably, and so it was with great delight that we discovered the tasty treatment these popular greens receive at McMahon's. The inner core from a head of romaine lettuce is set on a plate, and then drizzled with a skillful rendering of the trademark, anchovy-spiked dressing and shavings of sharp parmesan. Pungent with fresh garlic, the requisite dash of Worcestershire, and a tangy squeeze of lemon, the dressing was a fantastic balance of taste and texture.

Of course, the primary feature at McMahon's is the aforementioned meat, which is highlighted in glorious, decadent abundance. Fish is available here--the fruits de mer consist of several deep-sea and crustacean varieties--but people aren't likely to come to McMahon's for the scallops. To steal a phrase, "It's the steak, stupid."

The cut becomes a question of personal preference rather than insider knowledge; in our sampling, they're equally delicious. What separates one from the next is most often the price. A 20-ounce rib-eye goes for about $29, as does a New York sirloin; the 14-ounce filet mignon runs about $35. Only a wedge of iceberg lettuce with your choice of dressing is included with your steak order. Side dishes constitute an additional cost. The best deal for a couple may be to share McMahon's steak-for-two, and split a side dish (creamed fresh spinach, fresh asparagus with hollandaise, grilled seasonal vegetables, sautéed button mushrooms, hash browns, skillet potatoes with onions, baked potato, chorizo potatoes, French fries or tobacco onions). Not only is this practice recommended, it's actually encouraged by McMahon's--which, by the way, does not charge for an additional plate.

By any standards, the New York sirloin is huge. Only the heartiest of appetites will be able to consume the entire slab in one sitting, especially if appetizers, soup or salad are in order. It's difficult to remember the last time I had a cut of sirloin that wasn't so chewy I concluded the meal more fatigued than full. Thankfully, McMahon's restores this frequently maligned cut to its rightful place. Fairly lean, with just a trace of fat on the edge, the meat was so choice it resembled a tenderloin steak. No telltale stringy sinews or gristly edges; instead, each bite was so replete with juicy flavor, it demanded a relaxed savoring. A choice of sauces is offered (Roquefort butter compound, béarnaise, au poivre, ancho chili or bordelaise). While I wouldn't completely dissuade you from this addition, it is superfluous. But all sauces come on the side, so order with abandon. The filet mignon was equally impressive, with that buttery tenderness for which the cut is well-known.

Although we didn't try anything outside of the barn, so to speak, McMahon's also features a roasted prime rib of veal (crusted with herbs and horseradish, and served with béarnaise sauce); a veal chop served with a forest mushroom sauce; and Colorado lamb chops with a fresh mint demi-glacé. Norwegian salmon, fresh sea bass, ahi tuna au poivre, and lobster tail are also featured. If your date wants the filet mignon and lobster tail, hang onto your hat (or credit card): At $42 for a single serving, it's the most expensive item on the menu.

Since every other aspect of McMahon's is executed with perfection, it shouldn't come as a surprise to find that dessert is a spectacle not soon forgotten. Choices vary, but we couldn't resist the temptation of champagne and meringue-dipped strawberries that were next fried until golden, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and served atop a crème anglaise. It was an unusual and superbly prepared confection, the strawberries barely softened and warm, and the sweetness of vanilla creme tempering the tartness of the fruit.

We also enjoyed the crème brûlee, which in the hands of McMahon's capable kitchen enjoys the addition of seasonally fresh blueberries and raspberries. These portions are also generous, so in the interest of your waistline as well as your budget, consider sharing.

A meal at McMahon's is certainly an indulgence, in every sense of the word. But if you're of the opinion that fine dining is occasionally worth the investment, you're bound to enjoy yourself at this posh and polished steakhouse. You get exactly what you pay for.

McMahon's Prime Steakhouse. 2959 N. Swan Road. 327-7463. Open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Full bar. All major credit cards accepted. Menu items: $4-$42. TW

 Page Back  Last Issue  Current Week  Next Week  Page Forward

Home | Currents | City Week | Music | Review | Books | Cinema | Back Page | Archives

Weekly Wire    © 1995-99 Tucson Weekly . Info Booth