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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Alexander’s Steak House (Cupertino)

Alexander's Steakhouse (Cupertino)

Back when we had FoodGal Carolyn Jung and her husband MeatBoy over for dinner for our FoodBuzz 24, 24, 24 Cioppino Hot Pot meal, we discussed many topics, including the best steaks. We were of the opinion that the Grill on the Alley has the best steaks in the South Bay. But MeatBoy prefers Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino.

Alexander’s is a high-end, contemporary American steakhouse with Japanese influences (most notably, they serve real Japanese Kobe beef). Recently, we had the opportunity to go to Alexander’s for dinner with our friend Manuel and his family. This is the same Manuel who has eaten steaks all over the world and has concluded that steaks at The Grill on the Alley are the best he’s had. How does Alexander’s compare?

Starters

The first thing you see when you walk through the doors is the refrigerated room where they have rows upon rows of beef cuts in varying stages of dry aging. Dry aging is a process where beef is set for four or more weeks in a temperature-controlled cooler. As the meat sits, the moisture evaporates which concentrates the beef flavor. Enzymes in the meat also begin to break it down, which makes it more tender.

Past the dry aging locker is a refrigerated counter where you can purchase various cuts of beef, including the venerable Kobe beef. They actually sell beef raised from several different locations in Japan. Kobe beef has intense marbling. Notice how much intramuscular fat is on this roast.

Kobe Beef at Alexander’s Steakhouse

 Kobe Beef at Alexander’s Steakhouse

The only time I’ve had Kobe beef was on a pair of sushi at Sakae Sushi. It was melt-in-your-mouth tender. It was also the most expensive pair of sushi I’ve ever eaten. A Kobe beef steak at Alexander’s could easily set you back a couple hundred dollars! For that reason, we would not be ordering Kobe steaks tonight.

Getting Settled

Our server got us all settled in to our table and handed us the menus. We already knew what we wanted for appetizers – the Hamachi Shots. After having the hamachi shots the last time they ate here, Manuel’s wife Felicia couldn’t stop raving about them.

Alexander’s Steakhouse Small Plates Menu

Alexander’s Steakhouse Small Plates Menu

But first, a little amuse to whet our appetites.

Foie Terrine Amuse at Alexander’s Steakhouse

Foie Terrine Amuse at Alexander’s Steakhouse

We got a flight of six Hamachi Shots for $20. Veddy nice! After a little coaxing, you toss back the hamachi (yellowtail jack) sashimi, avocado, ginger, chilli, and truffled ponzu sauce. The combination of different textures and flavors, enhanced by the spicy jalapeno bite, is wonderful.

Hamachi Shots at Alexander’s Steakhouse

Hamachi Shots at Alexander’s Steakhouse

We also ordered the Truffled French Fries, which were french fries drizzled with white truffle oil. Very sophisticated flavor, but after a while the truffle flavor became too much.

Our friends ordered an appetizer, the Shiro Maguro Tobanyaki. It is supposed to be a combination of fried tofu, white tuna, and foie gras served on a hot clay plate and drizzled with a vinegar sauce. The sauce is drizzled onto the plate at the table. Then the plate is covered for a few minutes for the sauce to steam-cook the fish.

Unfortunately, they forgot to come and uncover the plate after it was done steaming. So the items ended up over done. Also, I thought that the dish itself was too salty.

Our friends also ordered the Asparagus Tempura. Ehh. Not something I’d order again.

Between the appetizers and the entrees, they sent out a palate cleanser of apple-lychee sorbet atop cubes of apple-lychee gelee. It was surprisingly refreshing!

Apple-Lychee Sorbet and Gelee at Alexander’s Steakhouse

 Apple-Lychee Sorbet and Gelee at Alexander’s Steakhouse

The Main Course

We had a lot of steaks on the menu to choose from. Manuel of course went for his favorite cut, the Ribeye. I would have gone for a ribeye as well, but I wanted to try out something dry-aged, and they didn’t have a dry-aged ribeye. We finally decided on the 28 ounce, dry-aged Porterhouse.

Dry Aged Porterhouse Steak at Alexander’s Steakhouse

 Dry Aged Porterhouse Steak at Alexander’s Steakhouse

This steak is so huge, Annie and I decided to share it between us. I cut off a section each of the filet as well as the strip for her. The steak was cooked to a medium rare, although the meat closer to the bone was more on the rare side. As expected, the filet was more tender while the strip was more flavorful.

Medium Rare Porterhouse at Alexander’s Steakhouse

 Medium Rare Porterhouse at Alexander’s Steakhouse

I also ordered a side of Spring Pea Risotto with Serrano Ham. Large slices of ham were placed atop a small bowl of risotto and peas. The risotto was appropriately creamy but the ham made it way too salty. So salty, even the peas could not balance it out.

We got the kids an order of the Truffled Mac N Cheese. It’s basically mac n cheese with a little white truffle oil drizzled on top. When it comes to mac n cheese, Daniel will usually gobble it up and ask for more. This time, he didn’t like it. “Aunty Felicia makes it better,” he said.

(I guess this means Felicia will have to make her mac n cheese again, but take pictures so we can post the recipe here! *wink wink* After all, she did such a fabulous job with the Pavlova recipe!)

Just Desserts

Speaking of desserts, we did manage to save some room to have some. Annie ordered the Rise n Shine, a chocolate soufflé with crème anglaise. The soufflé was nice and light, but we found it to be too sweet.

Chocolate Soufflé at Alexander’s Steakhouse

Chocolate Soufflé at Alexander’s Steakhouse

I ordered something called “Strawberry Fields” which was strawberries and strawberry mousse layered between thin pistachio crackers. That was quite good.

Strawberry Fields Dessert at Alexander’s Steakhouse

Strawberry Fields Dessert at Alexander’s Steakhouse

The kids got some fresh fruit topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Manuel got a couple of big scoops of sorbet: Mango-Orange and Apple-Lychee. He was a happy camper.

A Word About Wine

One thing he was not happy about, though was the wine. Specifically, the corkage fee. Most fancy restaurants will let you bring your own wine to dinner, but will charge you a “corkage fee” to open it (they’d rather you open one of their highly marked-up bottles.) The Grill, for example, charges $20 corkage.

Alexander’s corkage fee is a whopping $35!

Manuel had brought two bottles of wine he thought appropriate for the meal, but because of the corkage he opted to open only one of his (a 2003 Aldo Conterno Nebbiolo Langhe Il Favot), and one from the restaurant’s wine list (a 2006 Luciano Sandrone Barbera).

2003 Aldo Conterno Nebbiolo Langhe Il Favot

2003 Aldo Conterno Nebbiolo Langhe Il Favot

I’m very much an amateur when it comes to wine, so I’ll let Manuel provide the color commentary on our wine choices:

To start, there are the Wine Spectator Reviews, then my comments. Note that WS seems to grade based on price, so I have consistently found, for example, their 90pt wines in the $20 range are not as good as 90 pt wines in the $50 range, but the $20 wines are better value. But in general, I prefer the $50 wines as they tend to be better made with more tannins and ageability.
With regard to the years, I would say that both 2003 and 2006 were decent but not great years in Italy. So probably on par from that perspective.


2006 Luciano Sandrone Barbera - 90 pts, $43

Displays crushed berries on the nose, with hints of coffee and chocolate. Medium- to full-bodied, with a soft texture and a juicy, fruity aftertaste. This offers lots of subtle, beautiful fruit. Drink now. 1,860 cases made. –JS

I found this to be somewhat astrigent at the start, but it opened up to be a nice wine, but a little on the light side for my taste. Definitely worth $43, questionable at $88, but then I guess you can say that about most wines at restaurants given the mark up, which is why I always prefer to bring my own bottles. But the $35 corkage fee at Alexander's is outrageous and that alone is enough for me not to go back (add insult to injury when you consider the quality of the food which has gone downhill).


2003 Aldo Conterno Nebbiolo Langhe Il Favot - 88 pts, $89

Very ripe, almost raisiny, with vanilla and wood undertones. Full-bodied, chewy and mouthpuckering. This needs some bottle age. Best after 2007. 1,500 cases made. –JS

So 2003 was not a great year. In fact, Aldo Conterno, one of the top Barolo producers, decided not to bottle any Barolos in 2003. However, that means that this nebbiolo uses the same grapes from his top single vineyard barolos, Granbussia, Cicala and Colonello. So that makes this Il Favot a little special, and much more in line with a very good Barolo (many Barolo producers did release their wines in 2003). In general, one would drink Il Favot earlier than a barolo from the same year. However, given this situation, I think we actually opened up the bottle a little too early and I wish I had more bottles that I could let sit for at least 3 more years! When the bottle was first opened up, it was definitely very tight and did not reveal much of it's complexity and depth. However, after an hour, it was excellent and started to show what it was capable of with it's big structure and tannins. By the time dinner was ending (maybe 2.5 hours after opening), it was fantastic and I was gazing into my glass longingly wishing I had many more bottles...

When we asked our server why the corkage fee was so high, she said that it was to cover the cost of breakage of their stemware.

Really? Do people who bring their own bottles break more glasses than people who drink the house wine? Something doesn’t sound right to me. All I know is, I heard a few glasses breaking in the restaurant during dinner but it seemed to be coming from the kitchen area, not the dining area.

Putting it to Rest

So, what’s the bottom line?

Well, if you want to spend a lot of money on really expensive Kobe beef, inventive but not always well-executed side dishes, or outrageous corkage fees, Alexander’s is the place to go. But if you ask me where the best steaks are, I’d still have to say The Grill on the Alley.

Aloha, Nate

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8 Comments:

Cate O'Malley said...

That porterhouse is making my mouth water - it looks so good!

Single Guy Ben said...

Interesting to see all the different side dishes you can order other than the meat. Most steakhouses I've seen just have potatoes and such for sides, so at least this place has a nice variety. The meat did look juicier, but I have to say I've seen them juicier in Argentina. You have to check it out there if you're a real meat lover.

Anonymous said...

I think it's pretty obvious that the high corkage fees are to discourage people from bringing their own wines (and hence encourage people to buy their wines). I'm sure that the profit on wine at restaurants is astronomical (or any alcohol, or even any beverage).

Cookie said...

I've only had Hamachi Shots once in my life and remember thinking they were a bit too "fishy" for me. I love sashimi but for some reason taking a shot of raw fish didn't feel right to me. Those look delicious though!

Carolyn Jung said...

What, no photos of the cotton candy that comes with the check? I bet your kids must have loved that part.

I, too, am addicted to the hamachi shots. Actually, Alexander's does a fine job with all of its raw fish dishes, which is usually what I order, since I'm not quite the carnivore that my husband, Meat Boy, is.

So Grill on the Alley still wins out for you guys, huh? I'll let Meat Boy know his choice didn't win out this time around.

Ninette said...

Beautiful photos. How do you work out the lighting when you're in a restaurant?

Nate-n-Annie said...

@all - thanks for your comments!

@Single Guy Ben - Alexander's sides are hit and miss for me...mostly miss.

@Cookie - It was quite a mouthful!

@Carolyn - it was too dark by then to take a pic of the cotton candy. We didn't let the kids have too much of it.

@Ninette - up the ISO to 1600, try to get the seat with the best lighting, and hold real steady.

Mrs. L said...

It's been many years since we've dined at Alexanders but I do remember two things. The steaks were awesome and the Hamachi Shots were wonderful. It's also been a while since I've been to the Grill on the Alley...hmmm...maybe my hubby and I need to go and do a taste test of both!