Monday, April 16, 2012

Dinner, and a TON of dessert, at Alexander's Steakhouse

I have some co-workers visiting from Australia, and when I suggested going out to dinner to them, there was of course one place that immediately rose to the top of the list: Alexander's Steakhouse!  It has become my go-to place for just about every sort of meal, from the special foie gras dinners, to amazing burgers or just appetizers and desserts in the bar, to more classic steak dinners.  I've reviewed Alexander's so many times (in particular, I give a good summary of why I love the place here), so I'll skip the usual ramble here and just focus on anything that was particularly different this evening, and on reviewing the individual dishes.

We had a fantastic meal, as expected, including a bunch of shared appetizers, some steaks and burgers, and pretty much every dessert on the menu, plus extra desserts!  I felt a little bad that half our party ordered the burger rather than the obviously much more expensive steaks, but I'd raved about the burger so much that they all really wanted it.  Whoops.  And after having some of it tonight, I'll continue to proclaim it the best burger in the city (and I say that having had four burgers this week!).

Service was impeccable.  It began with a warm welcome when we arrived and some complimentary bubbly to get us started and continued to be steller through the entire meal, concluding with an incredible spread of desserts with a customized message for our visitors.  Every single person we interacted with was friendly, knowledgable, and made for quite a pleasurable evening.  Our every needs were met and then some.  I also really appreciated them taking the time to explain all of the details of the dishes to me, as I frantically wrote down notes.  I know that can be totally annoying, and they seemed happy to do it.

The bread service included a new option!  They still had the Acme bread choices (green olive, baguette, walnut), but now also offered a house made bacon roll.  It was warm, soft, and somewhat sweet, with little chunks of bacon studded throughout.  The bacon had a nice smokey flavor, and this was a pretty good roll.

Thank you Alexander's, for yet another fantastic meal.

Amuse bouche: White asparagus gelee / furikake / dashi soy pearls.
I generally adore the amuse bouches at Alexander's.  They tend to be creative and feature really strong flavors that combine together in incredible ways.  Some of my most memorable bites of food have been amuses here, like the one I had at my last visit, which I really do think was one of the best bites I've ever had.

The white asparagus gelee had a fairly subtle asparagus flavor to it, I would have liked it to be stronger.  The dashi soy pearls had a ton of flavor infused in them, and burst nicely when you bit into them, releasing the flavor in a really fun way.  They were a cute play on roe.  Overall, this was good, but not as memorable as other amuses I have had in the past.
Gift from the kitchen: Foie gras mousse, / freeze dried grapes / Belgian beer syrup.
Oh how I love foie gras mousse.  So creamy, so rich, so absolutely delicious.  While it is hard to pick a favorite preparation of foie gras, mousses have been among my top picks lately.  Something about the creaminess just really does it for me.

The liquid nitrogen freeze dried grapes were amazing.  They were incredibly crisp, a fun contrast to the creamy mousse, and somehow had the most intense flavor.  The fruit and foie were a good pairing.  The syrup was good, but I'm not much of a beer liker, so it wasn't really my thing, and I found it a tad bit bitter.

We all enjoyed this dish, although, the last foie gras mousse I had was the best version I've ever had, so I couldn't help but compare (that one had additional foie gras powder and candied kumquat ... soooo good!)

The plating of this on the log was stunning.  Thank you kitchen for this treat!
Uni chawanmushi / bacon dashi meringue / yuzu crème fraîche / lobster crumble.  $22.
We had decided on what to order when the waiter stopped by and said, "Does anyone here like uni?"  I may or may not have enthusiastically, and rather embarrassingly, proclaimed/screamed "YES!" And he goes on, "we have a special tonight, only four orders are available".  The next few moments were filled with a description that involved about a zillion of my favorite things.  Sold!  We promptly reserved three of the four orders.

Like uni?  I love it!  Like warm custard savory dishes?  Can't get enough of them these days.  This dish sounded like my absolute fantasy.  Unfortunately, while it was good, it sounded a lot better than it actually was.

The egg custard itself was creamy, warm, and a decent comfort food, but it didn't really have any flavor to it.  I was expecting it to be uni flavored, like other uni custard dishes I've had lately (uni chawanmushi at Commonwealth, uni crème brûlée at Quince, uni flan at Fifth Floor), but instead it was just an egg custard.

On top were a couple of the bacon dashi meringues, adorable little meringues with an intense bacon flavor.  These were fantastic and paired really well with the custard and the uni.  Who doesn't love bacon?

Aslo on top was the lobster crumble, which added an interesting textural contrast with the creamy custard, but I didn't really get any lobster flavor from it, and it had a really strange chalky mouthfeel that I didn't enjoy.

There were also onion sprouts which gave a burst of flavor, and apparently a yuzu crème fraîche, which I didn't taste nor see.  Perhaps it had all just melted into the dish.

There was also a small amount of uni, which was pretty lost in the dish.  No intense flavor, and just a very small portion.   This was the most disappointing part, as a bunch of people at the table had never had uni before, and I was excited for them to get to taste it.

Overall, there were a lot of good ideas and textures in here, but the flavors just didn't really come through, and this was fairly disappointing.  There was a nice smokiness from the bacon that I really enjoyed, but besides that, it fell fairly flat.  I had very high hopes though, given that it included so many ingredients I was excited about.
Foie gras torchon: Hudson valley / pastrami spice cured / pretzel / sundried tomato miso.  $24.
And finally, we get to an item from the regular menu.  By the time this course came, half our group was saying they were full already :)

I've had foie gras in about a zillion preparations at Alexander's, given all the foie gras dinners we've attended and the crazy amount of seared foie we've ordered there, but I had never ordered their standard cold preparation before.  It was time to change that!

This was the weakest foie gras preparation I've had at Alexander's.  The torchon was creamy, but a little slimy and stringy.  It was over-salted for my taste.  I didn't taste the pastrami spices.  I'm not really sure where the pretzel was.

It was served with walnut crostini (not pictured) that were too oily, and just really crisp.

The brussels sprouts were tasty and had a nice citrus flavor to them.

The sundried tomato miso wasn't very flavorful, which surprised me, as sundried tomato and miso can be such strong flavors, and Alexander's tends to wow me with flavor intensity.

Others at the table liked this, so perhaps I'm just super critical about my foie these days, having had so many outstanding prepartions!
Niman Ranch pork belly: soy-braised belly / katsu crepinette / bok choy / japanese curry.  $17. 
Surprise dish of the night!  Half our group was sharing the foie gras, and the other half was sharing the pork belly.  I gladly passed on this, thinking "pork belly?  Meh.  Just fatty and slimy and never good".  And then they started eating it.  Two of the three people having this dish downed their portions in seconds, exclaiming how good it was.  The diner with a little left also proclaimed its goodness, and foolishly, offered some up.  How do you say no?

This was insanely good.  The pork belly was amazingly tender and flavorful.  The sweet soy sauce with it was just awesome.  There was also some whole grain mustard that made all of the flavors pop.  And curry seasoning in the beurre blanc.  Damn.  So many flavors, so intense, so awesome.  There were a bunch of other elements on the plate as well, but I didn't get to try them.

I'd totally order this in the future to get to experience the whole thing.

[ Not pictured - Intermezzo.
Mango lime gelee / raspberry coulis ]
Like the amuse bouche, the intermezzos at Alexander's can be particularly impressive.  This was was just ok, not as intensely flavored as I'm accustomed to here.
Grilled filet mignon: 10oz  / foie gras bordelaise / chive.   $48. 
Another diner ordered this, but luckily, we'd had so many courses at this point, that he was willing to give me a few bites.  It was phenomenal.  Tender, perfectly medium rare, absolutely fantastic sear on the outside, and great foie gras flavor infused it in.

Note to self: next time, order this.  So good.
Dry-aged ribeye steak:  15 oz / ramp pistou / kizami wasabi / miner’s lettuce .  $60.
Asparagus gratin: dungeness crab / kani miso / hollandaise.  $14.
I was feeling adventurous, and asked the chef and the waiter for recommendations on a steak.  They both recommended the dry-aged ribeye.  I haven't really ever been a fan of ribeye before, but I figured if they were recommending it, this was a good time to re-try it and see if I just hadn't had very good preparations before.

I really didn't like it.  It was cooked fine, but was just so not my thing.  Way too fatty and chewy.

Aslo on the plate were a pair of purees: watercress and ramp.  They were both very flavorful and quite nice.  It was topped with some crispy fresh miner's lettuce, and of course, some butter.

I won't get this again, but I suspect this is really just a personal preference sort of thing.

The asparagus gratin came from the sides menu.  In the past, I've been fairly critical of the sides at Alexander's, having never actually really enjoyed any of them.  They've certainly been the weakest points of the meal.  This however, was fantastic.

Every element of this dish was amazing.  The asparagus was clearly fresh, flavorful, and perfectly tender.  There was a generous amount of sweet crab meat.  The sauce was absolutely incredible, some sort of cheesy hollandaise with miso and crab infused in it.  Insanely good and addicting.  I was stuffed, but couldn't help myself from soaking up all of the remaining sauce with my bacon-bread.  Sooooo good.  And all of the components paired together perfectly. Would order again in a heartbeat.

 [ Not pictured
House ground wagyu burger / shortrib-shiitake mushroom ragoût / toma cheese / shichimi-truffled fries.  $18. ]

I've had this a number of times before, and got to enjoy a few bites  tonight as well.  It was, just as before, absolutely fantastic, and I again proclaim it to be the best burger in the city.  Soooo much flavor in the patty, seared with an amazing crust on it, yet perfectly medium rare interior, with uber flavorful mushroom-shortrib ragu, delicious melty toma cheese, and accompanied with some fantastic mustard.
Black and White: Black Out: black sesame panna cotta / cassis sphere / black sesame sponge cake. White Out: steamed meringue / yogurt sphere / marscapone / yuzu curd / coconut.  $12 each.
And thus began our epic dessert excursion.  Our waiter told me that he'd prepared quite the extravaganza for us, and he certainly didn't disappoint!

We began with the "Black and White", which was a pairing of two desserts from the standard menu, the "Black Out" and the "White Out".  On the plate was a welcome message for our visitors.  What a lovely touch!

I've had the White Out before, and didn't much care for it, so I only had a few bites this time.  It was pretty much the same as last time.

The Black Out contained a few items I'd seen before in past desserts at Alexander's.  The black sesame panna cotta was again very strongly black sesame flavored and nice.  The sponge cake was rather forgettable (I'm just really not into sponge cake!).  The cassis sphere was crazy flavorful and super delicious, although I'm not sure it really paired with the other elements all that well.

Overall, I didn't really like either of these desserts that much, but they were beautiful, and I loved the contrast of the pure white and pure black desserts on the plate!
Rise ‘n’ shine: grand marnier souffle / macarons / crème anglaise.  $15.
Another dessert selected by our waiter, that I've had before.  The souffle was fluffy and light, and had a good orange flavor to it, but wasn't particularly memorable.  Just a fairly standard, decent, souffle.   The  server hollows out the center and pours the crème anglaise in tableside, and then leaves the pot of it  behind.  The crème anglaise was, as before, absolutely delicious.  We again enjoyed it by the spoonful, without the souffle.
Apple of My Eye: Mutsu apple confit / fennel streusel / shiro miso ice cream / apple caramel / pomegranate gel.  $12. 
This one we actually ordered, but before the other desserts came out.  I had it a few months ago and recalled loving it.  Had I realized how much other dessert we were getting this evening, I would not have ordered it in addition, since everyone else was stuffed and not really dessert lovers, so this was a LOT of dessert for me to consume.  But ... it was my favorite.

This dish is hard to explain.  It arrives on a hot platter, sizzling.  On the plate is the compressed apple confit, fennel streusel, caramel sauce, pomegranate spheres, and some ice cream.  It has all of the elements of an awesome apple pie dessert: hot, tender apple flavors, addicting crumble/streusel, sweet caramel sauce, and cold ice cream, but is deconstructed, allowing you to combine all sorts of perfect bites.  I practically licked this plate clean.
Chocolate ganache, passionfruit sorbet, walnut crumble.
And just when we thought we were done, two of hese came out, more "gifts from the kitchen"!  We were all stuffed.  We'd had so much dessert.  But ... this was pretty spectacular.  Somehow, they were devoured in seconds.  Yes, they were that good.

The chocolate ganche was creamy, chocolatey.  There was additional chocolatey soil with it.  The sorbet was super sweet and intensely passionfruit flavored.  The walnut crumble added more fun texture.  I can't say the passionfruit and chocolate pairing made that much sense, nor did the ganache and sorbet pairing.  But they were both good on their own, and these were devoured in seconds.

[ Not pictured - Watermelon cotton candy ]
And of course, every meal at Alexander's ends with cotton candy.  Today's was watermelon flavored.  Sweet, fluffy, good as always.  And our Australian visitors call it "fairy floss".  How cute.
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