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Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino defies the recession with sumptuous dishes for well-heeled diners
by Stett Holbrook on May 19, 2010
STEP INTO the 5-year-old Alexander’s Steakhouse, and the dotcom gilded age appears to be alive and well. There’s so much high-roller celebrating and conspicuous consumption going on that you almost have to dodge the popping champagne corks. Bring on the caviar! Crack another magnum of Opus One! More foie gras all around! It’s fun to be rich or have a fat expense account.
Silicon Valley is littered with the corpses of dead restaurants, but Alexander’s has defied gravity and managed not only to survive the recession but also to thrive. The restaurant seems to have discovered the fact that, even in down times, people are still making money in Silicon Valley, and they need a place to celebrate business deals and anniversaries or just burn off extra cash.
Big spenders are people, too, and they deserve a place to call their own, don’t they? Things are going so well for Alexander’s that owner James “J.C.” Chen is about to export his brand of luxurious, East-meets-West steakhouse with a new restaurant in San Francisco.
Alexander’s is much more than a steakhouse. It has become Silicon Valley’s premier destination restaurant for over-the-top sybaritic indulgence. There’s simply nothing like it. I reviewed Alexander’s five years ago, shortly after it opened, and executive chef Jeffrey Stout still cooks with the same youthful exuberance and reckless hedonism. He has hit on a “bigger and bolder is better formula,” and he’s sticking to it. Subtlety and understatement are foreign words here. Since I last visited, Stout has added some techniques from the molecular gastronomy toolbox with his use of sous vide cooking (slow cooking meat and vegetables in vacuum-sealed bags), foamy sauces and other chemistry tricks, but grilled steaks remain the main attraction.
Alexander’s offers not one but four kinds of steak: Angus, Australian half-wagyu/half-Holstein beef, Niman Ranch beef and money-is-no-object imported Japanese wagyu beef. (Some day, I hope to see grass-fed beef, too, a premium product that avoids the ecological destruction and antibiotic use of grain-fed beef and actually improves the environment.)
The filet mignon (available in 6-ounce or 10-ounce sizes for $38 and $45, respectively) is an entry-level cut of steak, but it’s all you could ask for in a premium cut of meat. It’s well crusted outside, juicy inside and so tender that you almost don’t need a knife. The accompanying tarragon-mustard beurre blanc and demi-glace sauces get lost in a messy swirl, but for pure beefy perfection, the filet mignon delivers.
The kitchen applies the sous vide technique to great effect with the rack of lamb ($42). The bagged meat is cooked for 45 minutes in a water bath and then briefly grilled to give it some char. The result is fantastically tender and perhaps the least lamby lamb I’ve ever had.
What makes Alexander’s a different kind of steakhouse is the Japanese undercurrent that runs throughout the menu and the strong seafood offerings and list of small plates. The pan-roasted hamachi ($42) displays an uncharacteristic light touch—a simple piece of fish framed by a large white plate dotted with crispy little rice nuggets topped with seaweed and a dab of mayo. Instead of the heavy application of squiggly sauces that accompany so many dishes, the fish is accented with a light dashi sauce. It’s simple, delicate and delicious.
I think the appetizers are where Stout’s skills and attention to detail really shine. Head straight for the hamachi shots ($24 for six): hamachi sashimi in a tall, thin shot glass layered with a truffled ponzu sauce, avocado, chilies, fried ginger and tiny cilantro greens. It’s an appetizer in the literal sense of the word—it primes your mouth for the meal to come.
Sampling the Japanese beef is probably not in everyone’s budget. That’s OK—you can get a taste of the silken meat in the excellent wagyu tartare appetizer ($26). The seasoned raw meat is pressed into a loglike shape, dusted with truffle powder and topped with a raw quail egg and lively bits of caper berries, black garlic and various greens. Beef tartare is seldom seen these days, and Alexander’s version is a great reinterpretation of the classic.
Excellent, too, is the prosciutto appetizer ($15). Made with La Quercia prosciutto, America’s only prosciutto producer of note, it’s paired with wonderful sweet and fresh burrata (cream-filled mozzarella), excellent onion jam and a sheaf of mâche. The interplay of the salty cured meat and sweet spring cheese is superb. Other standouts are the ohitashi spinach salad ($12) and classic iceberg lettuce salad sprinkled with bacon, sugar-sweet cherry tomatoes and Point Reyes blue cheese ($9).
Master sommelier Erik Entrikin’s wine list is thicker than a midsize town’s phone book and is a pleasure to peruse, with the many anecdotes and winemaker profiles that appear in the margins of the list. It’s a treasure of great wine and good reading.
Service at Alexander’s is first-rate. The staff knows the menu well, but the sheer number of servers can make for some confusion. Our table got the wrong entree, but it quickly appeared in the hands of another server who had run it out to the wrong table.
While it’s nowhere near the draw that dinner is, the reinstated lunch service is a great option. I would go straight to the Reuben sandwich ($14), a beast of thinly sliced pastrami piled high on excellent toasted sourdough rye bread. The South Bay is a ramen lover’s paradise, and Stout offers a thoroughly respectable version ($10) that can hang with the best of them—pork belly, shiitake mushroom, a soft-cooked egg and firm noodles in a salty, rich broth.
Alexander’s has a playful side that comes through strongest in its desserts and the complimentary strawberry-flavored cotton candy and little bags of cookies and cocoa-dusted hazelnuts offered at the end of dinner. But the two items I tried from the dessert menu fell short. “Pretty in Pink” ($12), rhubarb granita paired with a soy milk panna cotta, sounded refreshing, but the flavored ice was unremarkable, and the panna cotta had a curdlike texture and unappealing, nonfatlike lack of richness that came from the soy milk. And 12 bucks is too much to pay. Slightly better was “Cloud Nine” ($12), chocolate ganache almond cake with profiteroles.
Alexander’s can feel a little out of step with a world chastened by an easy credit-fueled bender. There’s no belt-tightening going on here. It’s all about belt loosening. But a fine restaurant should transport you to an island of relaxation, comfort and excellent food and drink. For a few hours, you may leave your cares behind and dine as well as your wallet permits. Alexander’s is the place to do that.
10330 N. Wolfe Rd, Cupertino
Lunch Tue-Fri and dinner nightly
by Stett Holbrook on May 19, 2010
OVER THE TOP RAMEN: Alexander’s Gyu Tataki ramen comes with filet mignon seared red.