San Francisco Night Out: Steakhouse Style

SAN FRANCISCO — I’m embarrassed to say I had to be dragged to the SoMa outpost of Alexander’s Steakhouse.

I’d heard all these stories about Silicon Valley excess — the original is in Cupertino — with steaks starting at $100 and I just thought how ridiculous.

But one amazing meal made a believer out of me.

Filet mignon with foie gras bordelaise and chives. (Photos by Sarah Abruzzese.)

I ate perhaps the most delicious steak of my life. It was tender. It was moist. It had that gorgeous outer crust from a perfect sear. And did I mention the flavor? Perfection.

And of course I’d been misinformed — the steaks don’t actually cost $100 and up as I’d been told.

I mean sure there was a Sher Australian Wagyu beef strip priced at $300 but they also had choices priced on par with other traditional steakhouses.

I ate a 6 oz. grilled filet mignon that was $42 — sure eyebrow raising anywhere else in the country but definitely in keeping with other San Francisco steakhouses.

In some respects, I wish I had a do-over so that I could do this excellent restaurant justice. We dined at Alexander’s the night before a big trip. And with a 5 a.m. wake-up call, we rushed through a meal that deserved hours to enjoy, a bottle of wine (or maybe even two bottles) and then at least an hour to relax over dessert.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself.

To start it looks like your regular power restaurant — gleaming metal, rich dark wood and lots of glass. And of course it came complete with perhaps the only business-suited diners I’ve seen in the city.

We began with an amuse bouche something I’ve never experienced in a steakhouse ever. It was a welcome surprise that immediately announced that Alexander’s isn’t just about beef.

Asparagus salad

Our appetizers only underscored that this restaurant is a culinary powerhouse, a tribute to chef de cuisine Marc Zimmerman.

I had the asparagus salad ($14) that came with grilled asparagus or more accurately asparagus that had been poached and then finished off on the grill so the spears were exceptionally tender but still had that great smoky grilled flavor. It came with asparagus dashi mousse, fennel (huge fan), watercress, chunks of creamy avocado and a vial of saba, which I poured on the dish. (I had to look up saba — think of a flavor more concentrated than balsamic vinegar. The “grape must,” which is what is used in the making of balsamic vinegar, is cooked down even more and then aged for four years.)

The restaurant’s use of molecular gastronomy was definitely in evidence throughout the meal both in what we ate and in the fact that one of the chefs was wandering around the kitchen with his safety goggles perched atop his head.

My dining companion had steak tartare, which was this amazing deconstructed display served on a slate board. The menu described the tartare ($19) as made with black truffle sphere, uzura, yuzu-espelette sabayon and brioche.  The tartare itself was creamy smooth beef that was exquisitely tender. In addition to the dehydrated condiments the tartare was also served with onions and an open quail egg. The spices were mild and gentle and my companion described it as an Asian dish rather than the traditional French tartare.

For our main course, we both ordered grilled filet mignons. I ate the smaller 6 oz ($42) while my companion had the 10 oz. ($47). Atop our perfectly cooked steaks, the chef had placed chives and a beautiful foie gras bordelaise that melted down into the meat and across the plate. (Some Alexander’s fans will definitely be shedding tears because as of June 1, the city of San Francisco banned the serving of foie gras).

Steak tartare

With the steaks we ordered two sides — truffled french fries, earthy tasting thin cut crispy potatoes, that came with sundried tomato, tonkatsu aioli and schichimi ($12). Beyond the sundried tomato, I didn’t know what any of that was but I can say it was absolutely delicious.

We also had the English peas — gorgeous spring fat green tender peas — that came with mint cream, a parmesan tuille (that really wasn’t necessary in my eyes) and pea shoots ($8).

And now here is another moment in which I failed you when it came to this meal. I was so heart stoppingly full that I wasn’t able to eat dessert or even order it.

We did enjoy the lime flavored cotton candy that they served at the end of our meal but I wish I could have devoted myself more to the experience.

Despite not sampling their desserts, which appeared incredible, I did feel like I had to write about our meal instead of waiting for another visit because I truly believe this was one of my best meals to date here. And after writing this post over the last hour and remembering that juicy meat, I truly believe it was the best steak I’ve ever eaten.

Go if you can.