The moment that you step through the huge wooden doors of Alfred's on Merchant Street, you feel the ambience of a bygone era and the warmth of the dark oak paneling throughout the rooms of this traditional and classic establishment. Alfred's opened in 1928. The original location for many years was just a few blocks away on Broadway near the entrance to the Broadway tunnel. The new location has brought with it all of the classic features of the original restaurant, including the burgundy leather booths, the etched glass partitions between each booths, and stately crystal chandeliers. Soft and contemporary oil artwork adorns the walls.
Sitting at the bar with its extensive selections of many Scotch varieties and other choices from all over the world is a wonderful way to just relax when waiting for your table or friends to join you. In fact, it is interesting to note that Alfred’s offers a whiskey blended in San Francisco called Old Potrero Hotalings at $16 a shot, certainly a rarity in this day of steak houses that have branches from coast to coast.
Upon our arrival on a Saturday evening at eight o'clock, we were very warmly greeted by the somewhat matronly, very well groomed hostess and immediately seated in a very nice, private, red leather booth with table settings of nice white linens and classic cutlery. Our waiter, Doug, was most attentive and respective and courteous. He assisted us with questions concerning the menu but was in no way didactic, condescending, or aggressive in promoting a particular wine or menu selection. I chose the Wedge Salad, which came as a very hearty iceberg wedge with a generous and tangy creamy blue cheese dressing, garnished with a slender sliver of cucumber on the side. My guest chose the organic mixed green salad with a vinaigrette dressing and crumbled blue cheese. A generous bread tray with classic San Francisco sourdough bread came quickly to our table before the salads arrived. The wine list is extensive and diverse, but fairly priced. There was a large choice of imported red wines, ranging from France and Italy to local selections from Napa and other parts of California. We choose a bottle of Château Le Grand Sigognac Medoc 2005, priced at $33. It was an excellent full-bodied dry red wine with hints of cherry and spice and very suitable with red meat.
For entrees, I ordered the filet mignon, and my guest ordered the rib-eye steak, each were accompanied by a side dish of one's choice from about ten selections. I chose the very tasty, yet still slightly al dente, and bright green creamed spinach, which came as a generous portion, and my guest choose a baked potato, which was not noteworthy. One of the highlights of the dinner was an additional side dish of french-fried onion strings ($4), which were presented in a beautifully folded cotton napkin on a silver plated stand, overflowing with the most delicious onion strings that I have ever tasted. It would be worth returning to Alfred’s just for the onion strings! Our beef entrees were cooked exactly as ordered, and the waiter was most generous in offering us as many of the side sauces as we wanted. Each was served in an individual sauceboat. I chose a béarnaise sauce as well as a creamy horseradish sauce, and my guest selected the peppercorn sauce and the Argentinean chimichurri. All were very good.
Although the portions were quite generous and most appealing to the palate, we were not able to consume the entirety of our entrees. We did, however, wish to sample the desserts. I chose the Italian Fried Crème, which was served by the waiter and ignited tableside. My guest chose the lemon tart. Both desserts were good, and the cost reasonable enough at $6 each.
Alfred's Steakhouse is a walk back in time to a classic San Francisco when people dressed up for dinner, were greeted very personally, dined in an elegant and quiet setting, and had gracious service. It is the perfect restaurant for a special occasion, such as an anniversary or birthday and remains true to its many loyal patrons.
Occupation: Internet Retailer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Bacco
Reviewed Alfred's Steakhouse: Tuesday January 29, 2008
Alfred’s is one of San Francisco’s oldest restaurants, founded in 1928. Originally located on Broadway, it moved a number of years back to Merchant Street on the cusp of Chinatown, North Beach, and the Financial District -- a storied neighborhood to say the least. We arrived for dinner on a cold and foggy night and were a bit dubious when we found the restaurant on Merchant Street, basically an alley. We felt like we were characters in a Dashiell Hammett novel arriving at a Prohibition-era speakeasy.
We drove up to the unassuming restaurant entrance. Wondering where to park, we were pleased to see a sign directing us to the Hilton Hotel parking garage for complimentary parking. In a neighborhood full of one-way streets, all going in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go, we had to circle back a couple of times until we found the parking entrance. After an elevator ride into the Hilton lobby, then out the door, and down the alley to the restaurant, we wondered if we had found the restaurant’s main entrance. Once we walked through the door, our Dashiell Hammett imaginings were rewarded. The restaurant is right out of the 1920s/30s, all red and plush and filled with more booths than tables. Just the place for a romantic dinner, martini-infused business lunch, or nefarious rendezvous with a bootlegger. The circular crystal chandeliers set into the ceiling are from the original Broadway restaurant and are truly spectacular. The bar features a wall with at least 100 varieties of Scotch, but what caught our eye was the framed, original document proclaiming the restaurant closed for prohibition violations. We were primed for an old-fashioned, "steak and a baked."
But first, a cocktail. We ordered a Manhattan, but our waiter soon returned to tell us that the bar did not have enough of the bourbon we requested to make an "up" drink. He quickly recommended a better bourbon, Russell’s, and told us that we would be charged for the lesser bourbon. So far, so good, and that Manhattan was the best I’d ever tasted --smooth and mellow. We settled in and ordered. Within less than two minutes, our salads arrived, startling us. Talk about feeling rushed.
I love anchovies, so I ordered the classic Caesar salad. The greens arrived heavily dressed and with large chunks of anchovies. There were so many anchovies that the salad was overwhelmed; it tasted like I was eating anchovies straight out of the tin. I didn’t enjoy it. Going for steakhouse classics, we also ordered the Wedge Salad with Pt. Reyes Original Bleu Cheese dressing. It, too, arrived overly dressed and the lettuce looked a bit brown around the edges. Again, the balance of flavors was off, and the salad was way too salty.
We consulted with our waiter to learn what he considered the best steak on the menu. He recommended the Bone-in Chicago Rib Steak. The menu proclaimed it "the most flavorful," so we went with it and the Wild Mexican Shrimp. Alfred’s takes pride in the fact that their steaks are grilled over mesquite charcoal and that no other seasonings are used, not even salt or pepper. This is truly steak for the purest. Unfortunately, it also resulted in steak that didn’t have much flavor other than a bit of smokiness. Plus, it was barely warm and it was tough. There was still some silver skin on the surface of the steak, which should have been removed. The béarnaise sauce that we ordered didn’t help matters. It arrived tepid and had started to coagulate with a skin forming on top. The creamed spinach was inedible, it had an off taste and made us wonder if it was made with some foodservice product out of a bag or can. This was definitely not grandmother’s creamed spinach.
The Mexican Shrimp looked lovely and were tasty, but they arrived on the tepid side and were overcooked, which rendered them tough. The garlic mashed potatoes had a nice consistency but tasted overwhelmingly of raw garlic. Flavor balance was again out of whack. The onion strings might have been good if they had arrived hot and crispy. They were cold and soggy. Since we were at Alfred’s, we tried the fettuccine Alfredo. Sadly, this too was disappointing. The dish arrived steaming hot, but the fettuccine was over cooked to the point of being mushy, not at all al dente. I’m sure this isn’t the way it was made when Alfred’s founder, Alfredo Bacchini was alive.
Well, we thought, there’s always the wine to console ourselves with. But, alas, we ordered two glasses of the 2006 Côtes du Rhône Dom. Le Garrigon only to have one glass taste oxidized. We suspect that we got the last serving from a bottle that had been opened for a day or two, and then a glass from a freshly opened bottle. Not the way to do wine-by-the-glass service.
When it came time to order dessert, we hesitated. The meal had been a complete disappointment, but we didn’t want to give up on this piece of old San Francisco, so we ordered a slice of cheesecake to share. A pleasant ending to a less-than-satisfying dinner. The cheesecake was light and flavorful with a nice creamy consistency. The chocolate cookie base complemented the rich filling.
I know that Alfred’s is beloved by many, so maybe it was just an off night. It was a Tuesday evening and, perhaps, the A-Team had the night off. Maybe things would have been better on a Friday or Saturday night. I don’t know, but with so many restaurants to explore in San Francisco, I probably won’t go back.
As we walked back to the car, wrapped in San Francisco’s legendary fog, we pondered the mystery of where to find a great steak in San Francisco. If only Sam Spade were around to guide us.
Occupation: High Tech Product Designer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: El Tonayense Taco Truck
Reviewed Alfred's Steakhouse: Friday January 25, 2008
I'm from Kansas City, so I've been to quite a few steakhouses. KC has some classics -- the Golden Ox, Plaza III, Jess & Jim's-- and I'm pretty skeptical that others will be able to compete with them. That said, I have to admit that Alfred's is pretty much everything a steakhouse should be. It's got the decor -- deep, dark red walls -- the plentiful, powerful mixed drinks, the big, tasty steaks, and the really expertly prepared sides. I was ready to point out every flaw, but it was hard to find fault with anything.
The location and the decor are classic. It's on a side street just a block from the Transamerica Building, but it has a sort of speakeasy kind of vibe. You walk in through a nondescript door, and suddenly you're inside a lush, expansive space. It's like you've stumbled into another dimension, and that dimension is very deeply red. But really can you call it a steakhouse if it doesn't have dark red walls, red leather booths, and wall-to-wall carpeting?
I visited with five friends, so we got a good selection of food. Sides-wise, the escargot was rich and tasty, and the mac and cheese was pretty good. I wouldn't expect a steakhouse to waste time trying to make a good salad, and Alfred's doesn't. The "mixed field greens" were not terrible, but mine were a long way from fresh-tasting and in the Bay Area -- even in February -- they should be able to do better.
The mixed drinks were enormous, and well-prepared. Alfred's serves them milkshake-style -- giving you a healthy amount in a shaker along with your full glass. Beer-wise, they had one on tap. Sam Adams. (They were out of the others -- Anchor and something else). I didn't get upset, because I don't totally hate Sam Adams, but still: It's an airport beer. It's what you get when you're stuck in Denver and you don't want Bud Light. It was disappointing, but like I said I didn't freak out.