Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Foie Gras Dinner @ Alexander's Steakhouse, San Francisco

It is no secret that I love Alexander's Steakhouse, both in San Francisco and Cupertino.  They have amazing steak, obviously, but also my favorite burger in the city, fantastic seared foie gras, creative and tasty appetizers and desserts, and from what I hear some pretty fabulous seafood preparations as well (raw and cooked).  I could go on and on, but you can read about these things in my past reviews.

You can only imagine how excited I was to find out that they are hosting multi-course foie gras dinners once a month until the California foie gras ban goes into effect in July.  To say I was looking forward to this event is an understatement!  I gathered together a group of 8 diners, all equally interested in eating lots of foie gras, including one person who had never had any foie gras before (no better way to try it out, getting to try it in pretty much every form imaginable from a restaurant known for it) and including one person with a real camera.  You'll notice the quality difference in these photos!

Like the Lafitte event, this was a prix fixe, with each course including foie gras.  And just like Lafitte, there were protesters outside to greet us.  There were some differences between this event and the Lafitte one: the Lafitte event started with cocktails and passed appetizers, where this one started right with the sit down dinner.  The Lafitte one occupied the entire restaurant, where this one was in the private event space downstairs, while the regular restaurant was in full operation upstairs, on a busy Friday night (although total numbers were probably about the same, ~40-50 diners).  Both events were very well done, but I felt the food at the Alexander's event was better and more refined, although the Lafitte event was more comfortable and rustic feeling.  I recommend attending more of these events at either restaurant in the future.

The format was 6 courses, plus an amuse bouche and palette cleanser, each with drink pairings, for $150.  I felt the price was completely justified.  The wines were all pretty amazing and paired really, really well with the dishes.  It was very clear that someone put a lot of time into figuring out these pairings.  The pours were generous.  The food was all fantastic, executed very well, and made up of very high end and less common ingredients, using fancy cooking techniques (foams, gelees, soils, etc), and creative texture and flavor combinations.  Plating was gorgeous.  Service was good, pacing was pretty perfect, the general manager was there the entire time answering questions, and they managed to serve the entire room really efficiently at each course, serving each full table at once.  Well done!

I can't wait to go back for the next one of these dinners to see what they think of next!
Chef discussing food sourcing and what awaits us!
The owner of Sonoma Foie Gras discusses his history with farming and foie gras production.
 To start off, the chef and a local foie gras producer gave brief talks.
Amuse bouche: foie gras macaron!  A black sesame macaron filled with foie mousse, foie gras powder, and black Hawaiian sea salt.
This was a preview in many ways of what was to come!  In terms of ingredients, we'd see these macarons again in the dessert, the mousse in the second course, and the powder in the palette cleanser and main.  I think this was likely them just being resourceful and making an extra dish out of components they already had, but I liked how it tied everything together.   And we'd see plenty more fun dishes, with powders and other creative cooking techniques.

The mousse was very creamy, but the foie flavor was pretty subtle.  Without the foie powder on the plate, this would be somewhat lacking in foie flavor, but if you scooped up lots of the powder with every bite, it was delicious.  I am glad one of my tablemates instructed us all to eat as much of the powder as possible, as it was definitely the most flavorful and best component of the dish!  The sea salt was delicious and added a nice complexity to the dish.  The macaron itself was forgettable, with not a very strong sesame flavor, but was absolutely adorable.  It was a  little awkward to eat ... was it finger food?  And how did I scoop up more of that amazing powder?

Not the best dish of the evening, but fun and a great start!
Shigoku oyster, sea salt cured foie gras terrine, and wakamomo.
The first real dish! I was shocked to receive a trio of oysters, certainly expecting only one.  These were high quality oysters, some of the best I've had (and actually well cleaned, unlike most oysters I've had lately!)  The foie was a little slice of terrine, that wasn't all that flavorful, and was fairly lost in the brininess of the oyster, but I didn't actually mind this fact at all, as the oyster was delicious. This was the first time I'd ever heard of, or tried, wakamomo.  It is a little preserved Japanesse baby peach, super fruity and sweet, and complimented the oyster perfectly.  This was all very fresh and delicious!  (Side note: how fun of a word is wakamomo.  Say it, "WAKAMOMO!")  I also really appreciated the general manager stopping by our table to educate us about what we were eating, as this was an unfamiliar ingredient to us all).

The oysters were paired with Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs NV, a sweet, smooth, and delightful sparkling wine.  A very good pairing!

A meal starting with champagne, oysters, and foie gras?  We were happy campers, and about to get even happier!
Whole wheat walnut bread, butter, sea salt.
Standard Alexander's bread service followed, a choice of Acme breads: whole wheat walnut, olive, or baguette.  Served with Straus Creamery butter and sea salt.
Foie gras mousse, yuba crêpe, pain d’epices, candied fennel, red currant
This was the dish I was most intrigued by based on the menu description.  There was a lot going on on the plate!  The main component was the foie gras mousse rolled up inside of a yuba "crepe".  The mousse was again very creamy and delicious, but with not that strong of a foie flavor.  I adore yuba, so I loved this, and thought the texture combination of the yuba and mousse was particularly interesting.  Also on the plate were some red currants, crispy fried yuba, a crostini, and some assorted sauces.  I didn't really like the fried yuba, it was oily and hard to eat, as it just broke apart when you tried to cut it.  I wasn't really sure what to do with it.  The crostini was flavorful and I enjoyed spreading some of the mousse that leaked out of the yuba on top of it, and rubbing it all in the accompanying sauces.  Overall, very tasty and successful!

Paired with Schloss Johanissberg Riesling Kabinett, Rheingau 2005.  This was incredibly sweet, by far the sweetest wine we had all evening.  Since I love sweet things, of course I liked this.  You could smell the sugar from several inches away, and I was a little surprised to be having it with a savory dish, worried it was more of a dessert wine.  But it actually paired really well, with the richness of the foie cutting it nicely.  At this point I stopped doubting the sommelier!
Terrine of foie gras, red beet, blood orange, and canpari-infused pop rocks.
Lots of fun on this plate, but my least favorite dish of the evening, by far. Beets three ways: regular cooked beet chunks, beet dust, and fried beet slices. And did I mention ... pop rocks? I wish they hadn't told us those were there, as it would have been far more fun to discover on our own :)  The terrine was very, very buttery both in flavor and mouthfeel.  I didn't actually enjoy it very much and felt like it needed some bread to go with it, as I really felt like I was just eating spoonfuls of butter.  Delicious butter, and with some beets to go with, but still, butter.  Others at my table really enjoyed this dish however, I think I was the only one who wasn't thrilled.

Paired with Domaine Weinbach Muscat, Alsace 2009, another fairly sweet wine.  And again, another fantastic pairing, as the sweet wine was needed to cut the richness of the butter terrine.
“Liver & onions”: Seared foie gras, caramelized onion, and noble No. 5
I was most looking forward to this dish, as seared is my favorite preparation of foie gras, I absolutely love caramelized onions, and pinot noirs have been my favorite wines lately!  It did not let me down and was my favorite dish of the evening.

The foie was creamy, delicious, and seared perfectly, as Alexander's always does.  Served on top of a big mound of soft, delicious caramelized onions, as promised.  Also on the plate was a chocolate miso sauce, compressed apple, and frizzled garlic.  The apple didn't really do it for me, but the crispy garlic added a great crunch and a really strong flavor component.  A bite of the seared foie, a few strands of onion, a few crispy garlic shreds, dragged through the chocolate miso ... ZOMG.  So.  Good.  I wanted more!  MOAR!

Paired with Peay Pinot Noir Scallop Shelf, Sonoma Coast 2009, a really smooth pinot with very little tanen.

Somewhere around here, our foie gras virgin gleefully declared that foie gras was "Somewhere between awesome and fantastic!".  Hurrah!
Pineapple gelee with shaved foie powder and raspberry sauce.
At this point, we were given an intermezzo to prepare for the main course.  The gelee unfortunately didn't have a very strong pineapple flavor and the tiny dot of raspberry sauce wasn't sufficient.  The foie powder, like in the amuse, was amazingly flavorful and delicious.  But, the whole thing just left me wanting more, and my palette did not feel cleansed.  Bring on the main event!
Foie basted beef filet, roasted foie gras powder, black trumpet soil, balsamic teriyaki, onion sprouts.
Cooked perfectly medium rare.
As you'd expect, the main course was a steak.  We were not given any options on "how would you like that cooked?"  It showed up medium-rare, as it should.  And, as you'd expect from Alexander's, this was amazing.  While the "Liver & Onions" dish was probably favorite, this was a very, very close second.  A really, really fantastic steak.  Perfect execution - great sear on the steak, tender, juicy, flavorful, etc, etc.  The onion sprouts were surprisingly flavorful, I forgot how strong of an onion flavor they could have, and were a really fun way to get another flavor into the dish.  The trumpet soil was really crazy, had a gritty texture and somewhat got stuck in your teeth (yes, it really was like eating soil!), but it was delicious, provided a great earthyness, and fun to eat at the same time.  The sauce was amazing, a sweet balsamic teriyaki infused with foie gras.  So much going on flavorwise here, I wanted to lick my plate clean.  The only criticism I have of this dish is that there wasn't all that much foie gras present.  I really didn't mind and enjoyed this immensely, but I know others were expecting some seared foie on top or something with the foie more prominently featured.  After the previous two dishes that were so foie forward however, this was totally fine with me, and I probably would have been sick of it if it included another lobe of seared foie gras.  Ok, maybe not :)

Paired with Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain 2006.  Another great wine.  Fantastic on its own, a big wine, very fruit forward, and with more tanen than I normally like, but it went so well with the filet that I didn't mind at all.  Another successful pairing!
Black sesame panna cotta, foie gras brioche, chantilly cream, black sesame macarons, miso leche, black currant sphere.
Every good meal must end with a foie gras dessert, right?  I was a little surprised that we didn't receive any sort of granita or something after the steak and before the dessert.  But maybe when your dessert is going to involve foie gras, cleaning the palette doesn't really make sense!

This dessert was kinda just a jumble of components. Our friend the black sesame macaron showed up again to end the night.  The panna cotta had a very intense sesame flavor which was nice, but I didn't really get how that went with a macaroon.  Or the foie gras broiche cake chunks, which were decently moist cake with a subtle foie flavor.  And who doesn't love some chantilly cream?  But what was the black currant sphere doing there?  I didn't really know what to do with all of this, and tried out all sorts of bites mixed together components, but didn't find much that seemed to go together flavor or texture wise.  Being a dessert-o-holic I gobbled it up (and some of the abandoned ones by my tablemates), but this was a pretty weak dessert.  I'm glad I wound up at a friend's house afterwards where they had Anthony's chocolate chip cookies, Bi-Rite salted caramel ice cream, house-made gummy rum-n-coke bottles, and homemade truffles!

Paired with Broadbent Malmsey Madeira NV.  This was lovely, with a great caramel flavor to it.
Bidding on foie gras terrine infused with port and truffles.
Happily showing off his "winnings" of assorted foie gras products.
At this point, everyone was happy, sorta tipsy, and feeling generous!  So the event concluded with a silent auction, with items such as foie gras, cases of wine, restaurant gift certificates, and "experiences", like working the bar at Alexander's.  Our table was filled with "winners", and we walked out with quite the bounty of coolers of foie gras, cases of champagne, and lots of certificates.  Go team!  Did I mention that all profits from the dinner were donated to the Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming?

Every meal at Alexander's usually concludes with cotton candy.  The flavor changes every time.  No, it isn't particularly amazing cotton candy, but I adore this tradition and was quite sad that we didn't receive any (well, as sad as one can be after an absolutely phenomenal night!)  I must have voiced this sadness a little too much, as my lovely friends decided to take action and request some.  So we were given some blood orange cotton candy, yum!
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