Thursday, March 15, 2012

Appetizers & Desserts @ Alexander's Steakhouse Bar

Alexander's Steakhouse is so much more than a steakhouse!

Tonight I wanted a small meal, to complement the snacks I ended up eating all afternoon at work.  And I wanted it to be delicious.  So we headed to Alexander's Steakhouse, to (gasp!) not have steak.  Or burgers.  Or foie gras.  Or, cooked animal protein of any kind.  Yes, we went to a steakhouse to get raw fish (and dessert of course!)

I've wanted to try the raw fish at Alexander's for a long time, since many people I know have gotten it and really enjoyed it, but I've always been too tempted by everything else on the menu, and have always figured that if I wanted raw fish, I should go to a sushi place.  But as I've learned, Alexander's does just about everything really well, from perfectly seared scallops and foie gras, to the obvious steaks, to the best burger in the city, to the desserts ... it stood to reason that they'd do good raw fish as well!  And since I wanted something lighter, and I'm going to a 6 course foie gras dinner tomorrow night at Lafitte, it seemed like it was finally time!

I'm really glad we tried it.  As expected, the fish was high quality, tasty, paired with creative ingredients, and expertly plated.  And we also tried the final two desserts from the dessert menu that I'd never had before, which turns out to be just in time, since they are changing up the menu very soon to remove the winter dessert (which is too bad, because it was a homerun!  See below for more details).

I won't comment much on Alexander's in general, as you can read about that in my past reviews.  In fact, I didn't even take notes tonight, so this will be a less detailed review than normal, just based on my memories.

We walked in around 7pm, and were able to snag the last 3 seats at the bar.  Comfortable bar stools, purse hooks under the counter, attentive but busy bar staff.  The last time we sat in the bar area we were at a table in the lounge section, and service was not as good.  Sitting at the bar itself was definitely a better experience, and I appreciated the friendly staff as well.

We also got a peek at the menu for their next foie gras dinner, March 30.  ZOMG.  The last foie gras dinner they held was probably my top meal so far this year, and the menu for this next one is off the charts insane.  This one is insane in two ways - first, each course is being prepared by a different Michelin starred chef (David Barzigan from Fifth Floor, Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn, Ken Frank of La Toque, Joseph Elenterio of Chez TJ, along with Alexander's Pastry Chef Dan Huynh and Executive Chef Marc Zimmerman), rather than just by the Alexander's staff.  I knew that already.  But ... this time, the steak entree is Sher full blood wagyu.  ZOMG.  This is pretty much the top cut of beef you can get (it is normally $300 at Alexander's in SF, $275 in Cupertino).  And that is just one of six courses.  The first course is one of Dominque Crenn's famous foie gras logs.  I cannot wait!!!!  Please let me know if you want to join us, and I can add you to the reservation.  This promises to be Legen — wait for it ... — dary.
Butternut squash: maple roasted / five spice marshmallow / crumbled pie crust.  $8.
This came off the sides menu.  I've always found the sides to be Alexander's weakest dishes.  I've basically stopped ordering them, as they are just never that good, and there are so many other things they do well.  But one of my dining companions wanted this, and it did certainly sound like it could be fantastic.  I love squash.  I love marshmallow.  And I love pie.  So, I had hope!

This was basically a fancier version of classic sweet potato casserole: cubed butternut squash in a maple glaze, topped with gooey marshmallow and crumbled pie crust.  The squash was inconsistently cooked, with some pieces much firmer than others.  Overall, it wasn't cooked as much as I like, I prefer softer squash.  There was a plentiful amount of the maple glaze, with the bottom of the bowl basically full of syrup.  Pieces at the bottom were thus much sweeter.  The maple glaze, as expected, went well with the butternut squash.  There wasn't much marshmallow visible to the eye, but it is hard to know how much was there originally, since it melted into the squash and was lost.  I'm not sure how they could achieve this exactly, but I would have liked it to be more solid so I could really enjoy it, as it was, it just was adding more sweetness.  The pie crust added a fun texture, and bites including both the squash and the crust reminded me of classic pumpkin pie.

So this was very creative, reminding me of two of my favorite Thanksgiving dishes rolled into one, but I didn't actually enjoy it much.  Softer, consistently cooked squash and more discernable marshmallow may have turned it into a winner however ...
Kindai Sashimi: bluefin tuna / sudachi / crispy wakame / trout roe / lucky sorrel. $28.
Clearly high quality bluefin.  A few fun textures on the plate from the roe, crispy wakame, and whatever the white balls were.  The tuna was fresh and delicious, and nicely cut.  However, it was sliced so thin it was hard to really get a full mouth full of flavor.  I enjoyed this, but would prefer my bluefin as a thicker slice of nigiri or standard sushi bar sashimi.  I would probably only order this again if I was really craving raw fish at the time, otherwise, I'll get my bluefin at a sushi bar.
Raw trio: hamachi tartare / tako tiradito / tuna tataki  $21.
(I pulled this description from the online menu, but I'm pretty sure we didn't have tako.  I think we had steelhead instead, making them, from top left: Kindai, Hamachi, Steelhead. I also don't have the details of what was mixed in with each of them, since I wasn't taking notes).

Each preparation was entirely different flavor-wise, although each included similar garnishes: radish, fried lotus chips, and some form of roe.  All of the fish was again clearly high quality, fresh, and expertly chopped.

The hamachi tartare was my favorite, by far.  I wish I knew what else was in here.  It was absolutely delicious, creamy even.  It also had some green roe on top that mostly just made it look pretty, they didn't have much flavor.

My second favorite was the one I think was the steelhead, with some big orange roe.  Again, really fresh and delicious.

My least favorite was the tuna, paired with some paddlefish roe.  It wasn't bad, but the sashimi preparation was much more flavorful.

Winter Wonderland: citrus honey panna cotta / pecan /pink lady apple / sudachi /cranberry elixir.  $12.
AMAZING.  Not only was this an absolute beauty, it tasted fantastic.  Unfortunately, since "winter" is over, they told us that this was leaving the menu very soon.  Run, don't walk, there now to get it before it is gone!

I'm not normally a huge panna cotta fan, but this was pretty incredible.  Panna cotta seems like a fairly boring dessert, but this was so much more than just a pudding!  It was more of a panna cotta, mixed with a apple crisp, mixed with an ice cream sundae :)  I'm glad my dining companion wanted this, as it isn't one I'd normally order, given all the other options on the menu.

In the bottom of the glass is the panna cotta.   It was topped with some pecan streusel, whipped cream, rolled up pink lady apple slices, and a white chocolate.  Then, on top of the glass, was a large white chocolate, topped with more whipped cream, some little dots of something, and a tube of "cranberry elixir".  It was a little overwhelming to know where to start.  We removed the white chocolate topper, and had a few bites of the panna cotta mixed with the nuts.  And then squirted on our elixir.  And then moved on to making all sorts of combinations of bites with panna cotta, nuts, whipped cream, white chocolate ... mmm!!!

The panna cotta had a lovely citrus honey flavor and was the absolute perfect consistency.  The pecans complimented it really well, adding a crunch, and more flavor.  Why doesn't all panna cotta come with nuts?  The whipped cream went well with the nuts, but didn't really seem necessary, and was a rather strange texture pairing with the panna cotta, with two soft sweet things together.  The apples also seemed unnecessary, again, pairing well with the whipped cream and nuts, but not really needed with the panna cotta.  They were raw and thus crunchy, which didn't really work either.  I would have preferred them to be cooked, so they would be softer, and have had a slightly different flavor profile (red wine poached would have been really great).  The white chocolate was not too sweet and didn't have that awful fake "white chocolate" flavor to it.  I was pleasantly surprised by it, and actually enjoyed scooping up some panna cotta with it.  The cranberry elixir added a subtle tartness, but there wasn't much of it, so it was lost after the first bite or so with it.

This was really, really good, probably my second favorite dessert of the year so far, second to the amazing peanut butter and chocolate dessert at Commonwealth.  I was pretty much literally licking every last drop of this up.  I could also imagine all sorts of variations on this, with different fruits or nuts.  I want more, now.
White out: steamed meringue / yogurt sphere /marscapone / yuzu curd / coconut.  $12.
This dessert was not as successful.  I ordered it of course for the meringue, as I've been on a serious meringue kick.  I had no idea what to expect from a "steamed meringue".

Like most Alexander's dishes, there were about a zillion components on this plate.  One thing I'm usually very impressed with at Alexander's is that the slew of components tend to come together in amazing ways, with each one heightening the flavor and texture of the others.  And although they use a fair number of mousses/foams/gelees/dusts/etc, they don't feel forced.  That didn't really happen here.  This was really just a bunch of sweet, white, stuff.

On the plate was a few chunks of a pretty flavorless cake.  It wasn't particularly moist nor dry.  It was just there, not adding anything to the dish.  Then there was a sphere of yogurt, which had a really strange consistency, it was really hard to cut into, more gelatinous than it looked.  It also wasn't very flavorful.  The marscapone quenelle was very tasty, but I didn't really know what to eat it with, it didn't really go with anything else.  There was some powder as well, I have no idea what it was.  And a lot of shredded coconut.  A bite of cake, with marscapone and coconut was nice enough, but not very interesting.

The steamed meringue was the large block you see in the photo.  It was light as air, mostly just a foam.  It was so light, you didn't really taste or enjoy it much.  It certainly didn't satisfy my desire for a more traditional meringue, but hey, it was interesting to try yet another form of meringue.  At this point, I've had so many variations on meringue it amuses me to have them all called the same thing, as they are radically, radically different.  Inside of it was the yuzu curd.  The yuzu curd was tart and flavorful, definitely the most interesting thing on the plate.

I really couldn't figure out how to combine all of these pieces in any way that made sense, texture wise or taste wise.
Pina colada cotton candy.
What trip to Alexander's is complete without cotton candy?  I didn't really taste pina colada flavor at all, but it was sweet, airy, and ... cotton candy!
Petit fours: macaron, pâtes de fruit, cookie.
And, because we hadn't had enough dessert ... petit fours!  Yes, we clearly had far more dessert than real food tonight.  Whoops.

The macaron was ok, the cookie not particularly standout, a little too firm and not airy enough.  We thought it might be raspberry flavored, with a nutella filling.  Or maybe peanut and chocolate?  There was a nuttiness to it for sure, and it looked chocolately.

The pâtes de fruit was very flavorful, also I think raspberry flavored.  Good texture, nice sugar coating, about as good as a pâtes de fruit is going to be.

The cookie was coconut and not very good.  Hard, and slightly overcooked.
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