Saturday, May 26, 2012

Savor the Flavor @ Alexander's Steakhouse

As you know by now, Alexander's Steakhouse is hands down, one of my favorite restaurants in the city. It seems like a bit of an undiscovered gem to me, I really don't understand how they aren't more popular.  It is 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 went tonight to redeem our certificates for a totally crazy deal that they have going on right now, that I'd purchased ages ago.  Called "Savor the Flavor", this is a 4 course dinner for two, featuring a full blood wagyu strip steak for $170 (pre tax/tip, or $221 inclusive).  Or, $85 per person.  Let me break this down a little ... the menu, per person, is:
  • Amuse Bouche (complimentary)
  • Bread service  (complimentary)
  • First Course: Hamachi Shot - truffled ponzu sauce, ginger, jalapeno, avocado, lime (normally $4 each)
  • Second Course, (normally $10-24 each) choice of:
    • Dayboat Scallops - medocino uni, crispy potato, bacon-argan vinaigrette
    • Foie Gras Terrine - duck rillette, pickled green strawberries, black garlic sable, rooibos cream, lychee miso, basil.
    • Alexander's Signature Stout Caesar Salad - 62.5 degree onsen egg, romaine, traditional flavors
    • Iceberg Wedge - point reyes blue cheese, smoked bacon, fuji apple, celery, eggs
  • Intermezzo (complimentary)
  • Third Course: Full Blood Wagyu Akaushi Strip Steak (not sure what the regular price is as it isn't on the menu, generic strip is $65 each, cheapest wagyu strip is $185)
  • Palette Cleanser  (complimentary)
  • Fourth Course: Any choice from dessert menu (normally $12 each)
  • Cotton Candy  (complimentary)
If you can do basic math, then you understand how amazing this deal is!  It seemed like a great excuse to go try another wagyu (I'm only recently starting to get into steak as it wasn't something I grew up eating, and I'm finally starting to learn the differences in cuts/breeds/aging, but I've only had a handful of different wagyus so far ... although my Alexander's habits are quickly changing this!).

The entire experience was great, as always.  The staff recognize us by now and always welcome us openly.  Going there honestly sort of feels like walking into a good friend's home.  Service was impecable, from absolutely every individual with whom we interacted.  Thank you Alexander's for yet another memorable meal, and making us feel special, even though we were using a "deal"!

I obviously highly recommend Alexander's in general, but this deal is really phenomenal.  You can still cash in on it for a few more days, it is valid until June 5!  Purchase here (and tell them Julie sent ya!).
Amuse Bouche: cucumber cream cheese, cucumber slice, trout roe, citrus sriracha pearls.
The amuse reminded me of tea party sandwiches, perhaps because that is the only time I've had cucumber and cream cheese together.  Anyway, it was cream cheese, topped with a crisp slice of cucumber, and then trout roe and citrus sriracha pearls.  I liked the play of pearls mimicking the roe, but I didn't really taste the citrus nor sriracha.  The roe added a nice bit of salt and pop.  I didn't love this, but it was light and fresh.
Furikake crackers!
Bread service included the standard Acme breads (baguette, olive bread, whole wheat walnut bread), along with the more recent addition of the house made bacon roll.  I've had all of the breads a zillion times, and didn't want to fill up on them, so I was planning to skip bread service entirely, but ... they had a new one!  Crackers!

These were really tasty.  Super crisp, oily in a good way, and topped with nori, furikake, and black sesame.  They had a slight spiciness to them.  I really liked these, and thought they were far more fun than standard bread and butter.  They paired really nicely with red wine too!
Hamachi Shot - truffled ponzu sauce, ginger, jalapeno, avocado, lime.
The hamachi shot is one of Alexander's signature dishes, at both the Cupertino and San Francisco locations.  I think it has been on the menu for ages.  I had one the very first time I visited in Cupertino, but haven't had one since, mostly because I'm allergic to avocado so I don't go seeking out dishes containing it, and because there are always a zillion other new dishes I want to try.  But tonight, I got to re-visit this classic.

Like everyone says, this is a nicely balanced bite.  The jalapeno adds a little kick, the ponzu sauce is sweet and delicious, the arare add a crunch, the avocado adds a richness and creaminess, the ginger makes it refreshing, and the hamachi is good quality.  Nothing bad to say about this, and I'm glad I got to have it again after so long, but I'll go back to skipping it, as there are too many other interesting sounding raw fish dishes on their current menu.
Foie Gras Terrine - duck rillette, pickled green strawberries, black garlic sable, rooibos cream, lychee miso, basil.
There were four options for the second course.  We (shocker!) all picked the foie.  I was actually tempted by the scallops with uni, as I love both of those ingredients and know Alexander's does them well, but our foie days are numbered and this was a new preparation that I just had to try :)  One other option was the other signature Alexnader's dish on the menu: the caesar salad with sous vide egg.  Again, something I had the first or second time I visited, but haven't had again since there are always just too many other better sounding things.  I recall it being a pretty fantastic caesar though.   I can't imagine who on earth picks the iceberg wedge option!

Like all of the non-steak at Alexander's, there was a lot going on here.

The terrine was obviously the star of the plate, very creamy and rich.  It had an ok foie flavor, but wasn't quite as strong or intense as I'd like.

The ball was the duck rillette, which did have a very strong flavor.  I didn't care for this much however, it was kinda mushy and stringy.  The others at the table really liked it, but I think rilettes just aren't really my thing.

Leaning up against the terrine was the black garlic sable.  This was very crispy.  I didn't taste black garlic and didn't find this all that interesting.

Under the strawberry and on the other side of the plate was the rooibos cream.  It had such an intense rooibos flavor! And it was very creamy.  I liked this component, but not with the foie, nor anything else on the plate really.  I thought it was incredibly interesting however, and did scoop it all up, just on its own.

The terrine was on top of the lychee miso sauce.  Now this was delicious! Sweet from the lychee, salty from the miso, just tasty tasty tasty.  And it went great with everything else, both the sweetness and the saltiness pairing perfectly with the foie, and I really liked it with the pickled strawberries too.

Also on the plate were some pickled green strawberries.  They were super vinegary and tart.  I love pickled things so I really enjoyed these, although I didn't quite get the pairing with the rich foie.

There was also some micro basil, a black powder that I forget what it was, and tiny cubes of something ... pink.

We paired this with a 2003 tokaji, always the perfect compliment to foie :) 

Overall I found this a little disappointing, it just didn't have as strong of a foie flavor as I was really looking for.  I did love the creaminess of the terrine and the deliciousness that was lychee miso sauce though!
Extra gift from the kitchen: braised pork belly!
Until a couple weeks ago, I thought I didn't like pork belly.  I've always found it to be too fatty, too gummy, and just kinda gross.  I'd never order it in a million years, and always substitute something else when given the chance if it shows up on a tasting menu.  But ... a few weeks ago, at Alexander's of course, someone else ordered the pork belly appetizer.  It was incredible!  It totally and completely changed my opinion of pork belly.

When the servers initially brought this over, I had a moment of sadness upon hearing "pork belly".  But then I remembered that I'd actually enjoyed it last time, and I dug in.  And ... it was delicious!

The pork belly itself had an insanely crispy shell but was super tender on the inside.  It crunched as you cut into it.  It was like bacon, but a thousand times better.  The sauce it was braised in was fairly sweet and delicious.

Brighting up the plate was a smooth fava bean puree that I didn't notice much, too preoccupied by the flavorful pork belly, but it did add a nice color to the dish.

There was also some pickled braised diakon, like the strawberry in the foie dish, this was vinegary and I really liked it.  It went nicely with the pork belly.

Finally, there was a chunk of glazed white asparagus, nicely cooked, crunchy, and sweet from the glaze.

There were of course micro greens as a garnish, along with some ginger that was really refreshing and a rather amazingly strong flavor.

This was delicious, and the favorite dish for several at the table.  I can safely say that Alexander's has truly changed my opinion on pork belly!  Thank you chef for sending out this extra treat!
Intermezzo: rhubarb sorbet, mitsuba.
Next up came a little intermezzo to prepare us for our steaks.  A creamy, sweet rhubarb sorbet, perched on top of a sour mitsuba leaf.  I don't really like rhubarb much, so this was kinda meh to me.
 Full Blood Wagyu Akaushi Strip Steak - curry horseradish, charred asparagus, porcini mushrooms.
As I mentioned earlier, I'm still just really getting into steaks.  They just weren't something I ever had growing up, and until recently, I barely knew there was a difference in cuts of steak, let alone in the type of animal they were coming from.  I've learned that my cut of choice is the still just a filet.  A strip is probably my second choice.  And I really don't like ribeye.

And few weeks ago I had my first Sher full blood, followed shortly thereafter by the Tajima F1.  I've been seriously spoiled, and don't know how to go back to ordering the standard cuts anymore!

Anyway, this was a full blood strip steak.  I didn't like it nearly as much as the Sher full blood strip, nor as much as the Tajima F1 filet.  It was very tender, with good flavor, but just not as amazing as those prior steaks.  It had a good salt level on the crust, but it wasn't seared quite as nicely as most of the steaks I have had in the past at Alexander's.  I would have liked a better crust on it.

The horseradish curry sauce was good, with a strong curry flavor.  It complimented the meat well.

The porcinis were awesome.  One other person at the table took a bite of his and started exclaiming, "that is a really good mushroom!"  Just a mushroom, but it had a great hearty flavor, and seemed like it had been cooked in a nice amount of butter.  Super tasty.

The charred asparagus was kinda just another chunk of asparagus.  I'm pretty sick of asparagus these days, which is fine, as asparagus season is just about over.  I think I just had too much of it as everywhere has been going asparagus crazy lately.

The red orach on top had a nice flavor and crunch.

I found this dish a little disappointing.  I think I went into it expecting it to be mind blowing like the other wagyus I've had recently, and this was more just a standard, good, steak.  I wouldn't order this cut again.
Palette Cleanser: banana ice cream, white chocolate powder.
And another little palette cleanser.  The ice cream had very strong banana flavor, but wasn't very creamy.  The white chocolate powder had a really nice flavor.  I found the pairing of ice cream and powder to be fairly interesting.
Leapin' lime cotton candy.
And no meal is complete at Alexander's without some cotton candy!  Today's flavor was "leapin' lime", a sweet lime flavor.  Fluffy, sweet, fairly standard cotton candy.  Always fun to eat.
Ichigo Patch: Strawberry mousse, black velvet "soil", vanilla ice cream, chocolate "rocks", streusel, spring greens.
For desserts, we could pick any dessert from the dessert menu.  Unfortunately, the dessert menu hasn't changed much, and I'd had most of the desserts multiple times.  There were only two new ones.

The first was the "ichigo patch".  It looked totally crazy, like ... a strawberry patch.

Not visible is the main component of the dish, the strawberry white chocolate mousse.  It was creamy and went very well with the cake components.  It was my favorite part of the dish.

On top of the mousse was a thin layer of strawberry gelee, which had a good strawberry flavor, but was really easily lost in the other parts of the dish.  In fact, when I mentioned it, the others who also choose this dessert didn't even realize it was there, and I'd only noticed it because I was deconstructing some bites to analyze them.

The final appearance of strawberry was in the whole, fresh strawberries perched on top of the soil.  They were good, and definitely added to the presentation of the dish.

The black velvet "soil" made up the majority of the dish.  This was a chocolate cake, ripped up into pieces.  It was fairly standard, not moist, and really just generic chocolate cake.

Also scattered amongst the soil were chocolate "rocks".  These were hard chunks of something very chocolatey.  I liked the chocolate flavor and thought they paired well with the mousse, but it was strange alternately discovering the "rocks" vs "soil", one being so hard and one being so soft, but looking very similar.

There was also a little scoop of vanilla ice cream, fairly generic.

The spring greens were savory and were a really nice presentation.

I really wanted to like this dessert, as the components all sounded so good.  But there was something just not balanced about it.  There was far, far too much of the cake component, it really just over took everything.  There wasn't nearly enough ice cream.  It also could have used more fresh strawberries.  One other person thought it really needed some warm chocolate sauce.

I liked the creativity in the presentation, the flavor combinations of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla, the texture pairings of creamy mousse, spongy cake, crunchy bits, and the fact that this was much more than just cake and ice cream, but ... the cake and ice cream, in particular, were very generic and just not that good.  I wouldn't get this again.
Grapefruition: black pepper cheesecake, oat crumble, pickled strawberries, grapefruit, caramel.
The other new dessert.  And another crazy plating - the plate itself was the most interesting serving vessel we saw that night, with all sorts of indents in it.

The two big balls in front were the black pepper cheesecake.  It had a nice cream cheese flavor, but certainly wasn't a standard cheesecake.  The black pepper wasn't noticeable at all at first, but then came through on the finish, spicing things up.

The back ball was a very sweet grapefruit sorbet.  I would have liked this more if it were tart.

Grapefruit also showed up as whole segments, alongside more vinegary pickled green strawberries.  More sweetness was added by the caramel, and some crunch by the oat crumble.

This was a fun deconstruction of a cheesecake.  I didn't love it, but it had a lot of good things going on - cream cheese, oats, and caramel in particular!
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