Hamburgers are synonymous with fast food, but the nine-hour prep time for the organic, locally sourced grass-fed hamburger at Aly’s on Main puts the dish firmly in the slow-food realm.
The new Redwood City eatery changes up its menu all the time, according to what’s in season, so there’s almost always something new. Aly’s recent offerings have included pan-seared duck, ricotta gnocchi, chicken satay, Reuben sandwich and spicy lamb meatballs. SanJose.com spoke with executive chef Michael Mazaffari about seasonal ingredients and what stays put on an ever-changing menu.
SanJose.com: Your dishes seem to fall all over the map. Is there something that links your cuisine?
Mazaffari: We call ourselves modern California because it gives us a big enough umbrella to be able to create things that are interesting, funky and different. And at the same time, not be confined to one style of cuisine. When you work 16-hour days, having fun and being creative is required. Being a seasonal restaurant, naturally there’s just going to be a lot of things that are just going to be gone when they’re gone. The window for persimmons is so small that our gem salad with persimmons and pomegranates only had a life of about a month. But now pears are in season, so we do organic bosc pears instead.
You serve pasta every day?
Our goal is to get three or four pastas on the menu nightly. They’re all made in-house. We use organic flour, organic eggs and filtered water. If someone were to come to the restaurant at 3pm, they would see the pasta rolling machine making pasta sheets and us cutting it. Sometimes we put mint in there. Sometimes we put tarragon in there. What’s going to go with them, it depends on what’s available, and what we want to play around with. The pasta tastes lively.
Is the grass-fed burger something that stays on the menu?
The burger will always stay. What combination of cuts we use to prepare the burger may change. Right now we butcher in-house. We go through a long process to make a simple burger. It’s a nine-hour process. It’s three different cuts of beef: short rib, chuck, sirloin. We butcher them individually. We do a coarse-grind on them. Then we season it with salt and pepper. We take half the batch and refrigerate that for six hours. Then we grind them together again in a medium grind. This allows them to bind together so we can actually form a fairly loose patty that will hold together. The fat is not overbearing. You taste some of the grass that was fed to the cow. You taste the nuttiness of the foliage. You taste the actual flavor of the beef. And you taste very little else. We don’t do mushroom and barbecue burgers. I feel like, if you have a good piece of meat, it’s an atrocity to dress it up. My customers are paying for the beef, not all the other crap that I could put on it.
[Photo by Geoffrey Smith III]