Hamachi Shots, Kobe Beef Filet Mignon with Mushroom Compote and Jumbo Prawns, Cotton Candy
Occupation: Travel Writer
Favorite Restaurant: Alexander's Steakhouse
Reviewed Alexander's Steakhouse: Sunday December 27, 2008
When I first took a taste from my medium-rare, 20-ounce prime rib, it was love at first bite. Literally. I was in bovine bliss! This was the best prime rib I have ever eaten. I cook it at home every year, and this was better than I could ever remember. Maybe it's the aging technique, or the seasoning, or the way they marinate, but let me tell you, this butter knife-tender beef was such a top-quality and excellently prepared slice, it will be forever seared into my memory.
Now, Alexander's is a favorite of mine, and it is a very popular place for special gatherings. This two-story, fine dining haunt is mighty expensive (you can spend over $100 per person, easily), but on par with top restaurants in SF or Beverly Hills or Los Angeles. The decor is elegant with orchids, stone flooring, and dark romantic draperies that define private eating areas.
Service is excellent. When we first walked in, the hostess greeted us with a smile, another walked us to our table, and then an entourage of waiters and attendants made sure the crumbs were scraped off our table often, that the napkins were flung onto our laps "just so," and that our water glasses were continually filled. Our waiter was more knowledgeable about our menu than I could have ever imagined. He was very detailed in telling us about the Wagyu beef and different kinds of Kobe beef from different regions of Japan and how they differ in taste. It was incredible. Each time I go there, I am impressed with their level of professionalism and service. Soon after we ordered, our meal came within 15 minutes.
We got a little appetizer from the kitchen -- "amuse," as they call it -- which was a marble-sized ball of goat cheese dipped in a red powder. Later on we were surprised with an intermezzo, which was a small dish of panna cotta custard with small citrus sections on top. A nice touch.
As for ambiance, tables are spaced apart very generously, so you don't feel crowded, and the noise level is comfortable, so you can easily have a romantic dinner or one-on-one conversation without hearing kitchen dishes or other people yakking.
The menu is extensive with meat, a few vegetarian offerings, and loads of interesting appetizers. Our favorite was the hamachi shooters at $4 each or six for $20. We loved the presentations in small glass shot glasses with some greens on top. Flavors of soy and ginger blended well with the raw hamachi, and the three of us were thrilled.
We tried the giant oyster mushroom fritters, which were about five inches long --kind of like mushroom tempura. It was good, especially with the mayo sauce, but not super flavorful. If they had marinated the mushrooms, that would have been better. It tasted bland after you bit into the mushroom. The batter was light and had just enough crunch. However, there were leftovers of this, and no one bothered to take it home.
The leek salad? Highly recommended. It is unusual and clever with its presentation of stumps of leeks in a row and adorned with ham, pine nuts, and feta cheese on a lovely white platter. I thought it was fantastic and ate all of it. In fact, the presentation of every dish is artistic and amazing. Flavors, on the most part, are carefully chosen and concocted. This place experiments and experiments well.
You cannot leave this place without trying the dessert. You just cannot. It would be wrong! We tried two desserts that were terrific, but the chocolate "OOH" dessert was over the top in presentation and taste and decadence. Well worth $12. The waiter brings a large plate with chocolate cake wedges, a small scoop of chocolate and black olive ice cream, and a chocolate sphere that is filled with fudge. The waiter next pours hot fudge on top of the shell so that it melts away in front of your eyes and he then drizzles the rest of it on the cake.
You get a visual display with this dessert, a kind of performance art. I'm not a big chocolate fan, but this dessert would make me a convert. The top quality dark chocolate was quite addictive. Even though I was full, I kept working at the dessert until it was gone.
Bottom line: I cannot wait until I come again, but I must save up my paycheck first. Yes, prices are high, but if you get the hamachi shooters, leek salad, prime rib, and chocolate "OOH" for dessert, it is worth every penny. My biggest annoyance is the $9 bottle of Voss sparkling water, which seemed too much and caught us off guard because we didn't know we would be paying such an exorbitant fee. Yikes! We wound up paying $27 for three bottles of water. If I knew that, I would have ordered a more interesting drink. Do give Alexander's a try. It is a steak house draped with glamour of the highest order!
Occupation: Sales Executive
Location: San Mateo
Favorite Restaurant: Basque Cultural Center
Reviewed Alexander's Steakhouse: Saturday, December 13, 2008
Few experiences I've had compared to the one my girlfriend and I had at Alexander's Steakhouse. Sitting more or less by itself, like it carved out its own home amidst the many parking spaces at Vallco mall, it looks quite modern. If I took one look and kept driving past it, I would have thought it was some chain restaurant. Alexander's is anything but. It's nothing like the traditional US steakhouse -- your Ruth's Chris, your Morton's. This is an inventive, haute-cuisine establishment that goes out of its way, perhaps slightly obnoxiously so, to bring you what I can only imagine is the finest meats, accouterments and service they know how. You'll pay for it too, but it's worth experiencing once.
There's a definite Japanese influence to the environment, which I felt was well expressed. It wasn't so in-your-face to make you go, "Wait, is this Benihana?" No, this is more American Steakhouse than anything else, but subtle elements in the decor, and a few menu items all build up to the bold, "We serve authentic Japanese A5 Wagyu beef" proclamation. If you want a little bit of hamachi, followed by a Kobe beef fillet, you can have it. At the same time, if you want your Caesar salad followed by a bone-in rib-eye, you can have that too.
The space is modern and elegant. A meat counter greets you on the left as you approach the hostess stand prominently displaying their Japanese Wagyu, as well as the standard cuts of American dry-aged. Wine refrigerators are spread out amongst the walls, holding their list of several hundred bottles, which included some nice finds. There were domestic Pinot Noir verticals, some decently priced Spanish and Italians, as well as the go-to Cult Cabernets, 1st growth Bordeaux, and Premier Cru Burgundy from the likes of DRC.
The hostesses greeted us warmly and directed us to our table, past the open kitchen with an unoccupied table in the middle of it, and their main bus station that included a sous vide cooker. I'm not sure what dishes they cooked sous vide, but it gives one the impression that they do a lot more than just broil steaks here. Our server, David, was terrific. He was attentive, highly knowledgeable, helpful, and probably among the best servers I've had at a restaurant -- able to work well in a fast-paced environment without missing a beat. In addition to the menu, he informed us of their ability to prepare a prix fixe menu for us based on what we like. I think that was a very nice touch. Usually you'll see a prix fixe menu, but this was, "tell me what you like and we'll do the rest." Very cool. Ambiance-wise, the central part of the restaurant is well lit, while the seating areas are darker and cozy.
I ordered a bottle of Barbaresco that I asked to be decanted. Thankfully we were brought nice, large wine glasses appropriate to the wine -- an area where many restaurants often fail. Thankfully we were able to make it last, since it was drinking great and would have been easy to kill early in the meal. I decided to start out with a hamachi shot. It was basically hamachi, ginger, chili, and avocado in a shot glass, which one is supposed to throw back and have the flavors meld together. It wasn't exactly jumping out of the glass like tequila, so I had to take a little spoon and get it in my mouth that way. It was real good, so good I ordered another. My girlfriend got a lobster shot, which was like a ceviche in a citrus sauce. I had a little taste and it was very good. We had also attempted to order their Popcorn Crab bites as an appetizer as well, but they were out of them; this was a slight disappointment.
At one point David came by with a dish upon which were two large white truffles, apparently the rarest on Earth. They were extremely fragrant, apparently they set the restaurant back $5K per truffle. They would shave 3 grams on our steaks at $14/gram. It's not like I felt like I was getting the constant up-sell, but I thought it was neat that they indeed had these things. We were also told about the Jamón Ibérico (the most expensive Spanish cured ham) appetizer that would have run $50/person. Not to be outdone, we were also told that to let them know soon if we would like an ounce of caviar since they were running out. We noticed that at large tables a whole host of servers would come out to deliver the food in an almost choreographed fashion, one of which was the chef, from what I could tell. That was a nice touch.
I made up my mind that I would try the Wagyu here before I ever sat down. It turns out that I had a choice of Wagyu from 5 different prefectures in Japan. I can't remember them all, but after a quick sales pitch I went with the filet from the Miyazaki prefecture. My girlfriend went for a 6-ounce, dry-aged (not Wagyu) filet, which was served Diane style with a demi-glace sauce. No flambé though. We ordered a few sides: mac 'n' cheese with truffle oil, smashed potatoes with lemon juice and oregano, and creamed spinach with feta cheese and bits of filo on top.
The steaks came, and mine was served with a jumbo prawn on top and a bit of mushroom compote. Let me say that this was unequivocally the most tender, juicy piece of meat ever to have crossed my lips. It was pretty amazing -- especially compared to the normal filet -- which was nothing to sneeze at either. A knife was barely necessary. Every bite was as enjoyable as the previous one. I would have liked to know that I would be paying $250 for that steak up front, but I'm glad I was able to experience it. It wasn't just a little different than their normal steak, it was a lot different. That being said, unless I win the lottery, it will be tough to justify this kind of steak to myself ever again. I'm glad some wine was left over to be able to enjoy with the steak; ordering another bottle probably wasn't gonna happen. The best side was the creamed spinach, which was essentially Greek spanakopita in a dish, and it was well executed. The mac 'n' cheese was the ultimate comfort food side and the smashed potatoes were somewhat uninspired.
Taking a look at the dessert menu, a few things caught our eyes: "Ooh!", which was a chocolate sphere filled with fudge, chocolate-black olive ice cream, and black velvet cake, and then "Peanut Gallery," which was peanut ice cream, peanut brittle, and some other form of peanut. Unfortunately, the other diners stole them all, much to our displeasure, and forced us to examine a second tier of choices. We went for "Apple Pie," which were three little apple empanadas with vanilla ice cream and some caramel sauce. Decent nonetheless.
Was it a great experience? Yes. Would I go back any time soon? Probably not. I'm not in a rush to either, a) spend that much money again; or, b) drive to Cupertino for dinner. I'd happily agree to be taken here if someone offered. That being said, I would recommend it to anyone, as it was a neat experience that's worth trying once. This place has terrific food and great service. Being unlike your usual American steakhouse, it will certainly be different from what you're used to, yet familiar in many ways.
Occupation: Legal Administrator
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Mescolanza Restaurant
Reviewed Alexander's Steakhouse: Sunday, December 21, 2008
Unfortunately I could not get any of my friends to drive from San Francisco to Cupertino with me to explore Alexander's Steakhouse. (Boy, did they miss out!)
The restaurant is located on one corner of the Vallco Fair Fashion Mall right off of Highway 280. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of a steakhouse located in a mall.
Well, let me just say, this was perhaps the most creative and interesting dinner I have had in the last few years of eating in and around the Bay Area. What an amazing restaurant! The exterior of the building kind of blends in with the surroundings, and the entrance doesn't really show anything about the inside of the restaurant, as the large panes of glass look like they are covered in some sort of Shoji screen or made of etched glass, so you can't see inside.
Once you get inside, it's a different world. You walk in to a high-ceilinged room done in lovely, muted, earthy colors with a beautiful slate floor and a lovely dark-colored bar. Past the bar is the main dining room with those same rich but muted colors, tables with white tablecloths, elegantly-clad patrons, enjoying the scents, sights and lusciousness of some incredible looking food, and some of the most comfortable restaurant chairs I have ever sat in. A large stairwell takes you up to another level that seems to offer more private dining spaces. I walked around a little bit and went exploring. There is a lot of natural light from an atrium in the building, and from some vantage points, you can actually see the chefs preparing food. Everything in this restaurant speaks elegance -- from the colors of the walls and the textures of the floors to the original art works peering from the walls and the fabrics of the curtains, and chairs. If the food was anything like the impression I got just off the decor and ambiance, I was in for a great evening.
Given that I was dining alone and had to drive back to San Francisco I chose to abstain from drinking any alcohol, which is too bad, because their wine list was outstanding in its breadth and complexity of its wine selections. It figures -- I finally find a restaurant with an amazing wine list and I have to abstain and drink Diet Coke instead. (That's just not right!)
The menu is really interesting and inspired. I expected a regular steakhouse: wrong, wrong, wrong! Yes, they do offer steak, but it's the type of steaks, the pairing of interesting ingredients, and the presentations that will have your lips drooling on the tablecloth. There were a few dishes that passed my table that tempted me to just jump up and pretend I was the patron that ordered it. It was a good thing I had no alcohol in my system, otherwise there would have been quite a few complaints from other diners about missing entrees. The menu was so interesting that it took me 15 minutes just to read it slowly and think about what I wanted to try.
I decided to try the Cephalopod Kimchi Salad just based on the strange name (I was feeling brave). Octopus and squid never looked or tasted as good as in this presentation. Not only was the salad beautifully presented, but the mixture of textures and flavors was masterful. It had a little spicy kick from the Kimchi. I kind of felt like I was eating a piece of art.
Next came the sea bass. I know you're thinking, "Why in the world is she ordering fish in a Steakhouse?" I had a steak salad for lunch that same day, so was kind of burned out on meat. Plus, I've learned if a restaurant can't do something as easy to prepare as fish, I don't want to be eating there. Hey, look, I can order fish if I want. That fish was so scrumptious that I think even the fish would applaud its own preparation. It came with a rich and creamy risotto that had clams, chorizo, squid, and some sort of tomato purée with it.
I ordered a side dish of creamed spinach made with feta cheese and served in flaky dough. Can you say, "Yummy"?
The pear tart was my dessert, even though I was quite full and not sure I could squeeze any dessert in. By the time it got to my table, I knew I was going to have to take it home with me, because I was just too full. I did eat the raspberry-Zinfandel sorbet (yup, you heard me right) that came with it, so it would not just melt away. I had them pack up the tart and cream to take home and ate the sorbet. It was excellent!
I think this place is going to be my new favorite restaurant in the South Bay. It was worth the 40-minute drive from San Francisco in the first real storm we had in December (it was raining buckets that night and the wind was trying to throw my car around like a toy). I am definitely going back to this place, and I suggest you do, too.