Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Alexander's Steakhouse Cupertino

Recently Jim Henzi of Sierra Meats and I were discussing great steakhouses with Pat Ottone, who has a great steakhouse himself in downtown Monterey.

The Dry Age Room At Alexander's Steakhouse

Jim insisted that we had to take a trip up to visit Alexander's Steakhouse an independent restaurant located in Cupertino since 2005 owned and operated by James Chen and Executive Chef Jeffrey Stout. It is a fine dining interpretation of the classic American Steakhouse with hints of Japanese influence laced into the menu.

So on a recent Tuesday night Pat and I left Monterey about 5pm towards Cupertino to Rendezvous with Jim and Angie Porter, the Sierra Meats sales representative that works with Alexander’s to source their meats and seafood.

The Steak Case at Alexander's features Japanese Waygu from 5 distinct regions

We made one stop in Gilroy where Bruce Raymond senior district manager with US Foodservice SF loaded the two of us in his truck and we three continued on our way.

As we pulled into the parking lot across from the big theater at the Vallco Fashion Park the parking lot was already at capacity. Immediately on your left as you enter the restaurant is the dry age steak room. Two 6’ tall racks full of Certified Angus Beef Shortloins aged to perfection. Immediately behind the Shortloins barely visible
through the dry age room was one of two kitchens.

The showcase grill in the meat kitchen can handle nearly 50 steaks

JC Chen, one of the owners of Alexander’s greeted us here and took us to meet Chef Jeffrey Stout. As we moved past the dry age room there was what looked like a retail meat counter. The top shelf of the lighted glass case contained each cut available on the menu of the CAB steaks. The bottom shelf had subprimals and portion cut Waygu steaks from 5 different regions of Japan, and two regions of Australia.

Chef Jeffrey Stout took us down the hall to the front kitchen and gave us a quick impromptu tour starting in the non-meat kitchen, where you can book a Chef’s table for six people. We continued back through the pastry kitchen and back up to the prep kitchen.

Hamachi Shots feature fresh Hamachi, wasabi micro greens, avocado, red jalapeno, fried ginger and scallions in a ponzu sauce

Finally we went back town the hall to the meat kitchen. There is an upstairs group room and under the upstairs loft a VIPs room that puts you right in the action among the servers and expeditors. An interesting feature from this room is a wall projector from which the servers can view all kitchen areas and can see when their appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts are up and ready for pick up.

These kitchens were set up for production, and they are staffed for production as well. In recollection we guessed there had to be 25 people staffing the kitchens, including 5 in the pastry station alone. The meat kitchen was a compact little area starting at one end with a thermal immersion circulator in a water bath for poaching lobsters and the sous vide lamb products. At the other end of the meat kitchen was a showcase grill that can handle about 50 steaks at any given time. The grill is nearest the dining room and has a glass window that opens out towards the lounge. This is a focal point and the vision, the sounds and the wonderful aroma really sell the sizzle.

We were seated in the dining room and Chef began to send out goodies. We were started with Amuse Bouche of house made lamb sausage, and then a scallop encroute. At this point JC sent out a great Riesling to prepare us for our next tasting from the appetizer menu.

Delicious 6 count King Crab Legs drizzeled with a spicy butter.

We began with the signature Hamachi Shot, a slice of Hamachi, fried ginger, fried scallion, fresh red jalapeno chili, avocado, truffle oil sesame seeds, micro green wasabi and a ponzu sauce. The second appetizer was Jamón Serrano, a Spanish dry cured mountain ham, called a mountain ham because the drying sheds are usually at a high altitude the hams are dry cured for up to 18 months. This was sliced thin and served on seeded cracker bread with tomato and goat cheese. Finally was a stack of split king crab legs with a slightly spicy melted butter. The legs must have been between 6-12 ounces each and were so delicious.

I ordered the mushroom ox tail soup and a 26 ounce-28 day aged bone in New York steak. The soup came in a shallow, wide rimmed bowl with the oxtail in the center tucked safely under a gruyere crouton and the mushroom soup surrounding it. My Certified Angus New York was a perfect medium rare, and Chef Stout has it served on a plate with the lower front corner of the steak cut exposing the beautiful warm red interior. The slice that has been removed is tucked under the top of the steak and provides height to the steak on the plate.

At Alexander’s the pos ordering system is all electronic, with the exception or a re-fire, a dish that has to be returned to the kitchen for some reason.

My window cut 26 oz 28 day aged bone in New York Steak cooked perfectly medium rare

These are identified by a pink hand written ticket. JC says the professional staff takes pride that they receive very few pink tickets, and that the process of cutting the corner of the steak allows the server to address the issue of doneness immediately as the customer has an opportunity to view the doneness as the steak is set on the table.

The experienced grill professionals at Alexander’s understand that the interior of a cut of meat may still increase in temperature 5-10 degrees after being removed from the grill or oven, and the meat is therefore allowed to "rest" before being served. Resting allows the temperature of the meat to stabilize and, importantly, for juices in the center to return to the edges. The center will also continue to cook slightly as the hot exterior continues to warm the comparatively cooler interior.

With our entrees we ordered truffle mac and cheese, creamed spinach, truffle fries, and saffron rissotto. These we passed family style around the table.

JC sat and dined with us and discussed the concept and his background. JC is a Korean born Chinese immigrant. His family moved to Kansas where he literally got his first taste of Midwestern corn fed beef. In his traditional family he was expected to become a doctor, a banker, or an accountant, but after graduating with a degree in business from the University of Texas he disappointed his family when accepted a management position with a then new concept called TGIFridays. He then moved on to join the Tavistock Group running a California Café concept, and this is where he met Chef Stout.

Chef Jeffrey Stout is of mixed heritage being half Japanese and half American.

After dinner each table gets a puffy "flavor of the night" fluffy cotton candy

His cooking reflects his soul and blends the best that both cultures have to offer. Chef Stout graduated cooking school in 1988 and has worked for some of the Bay Area and Napa’s best restaurants working his way up from cook to Executive Chef. His vast experience, culinary training, and dogged hard work earned him the position of corporate chef and Research and Development Chef for California Café’s before he partnered with JC to open Alexander’s Steakhouse. Rather than dwell on his history here visit his website and read about it in detail, first hand in his own words. It is obvious that he is a craftsman and appreciates the time and lessons he learned coming up that have made him the professional Culinarian and business person that he is. During our evening at Alexander’s he was gracious and generous with his time. He opened the kitchen to us, and provided unexpectedly generous surprise plates while we dined.

Our evening at Alexander’s was fantastic. JC Chen and Chef Stout have an operation that runs like a well oiled machine. The professional servers were plentiful and efficient. The flavors, presentation, and variety of dishes were amazing. On our trip back we discussed our experience there from start to finish. The next morning I changed my Facebook status to “I want to bring my leftover steak out to show off to my customers.” It was a dining experience with an afterglow. I have vowed to make two more trips there with friends soon!

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