Thursday, March 24, 2011

Alexander's Steakhouse: Just Go

I've never been a big steak lover, but I loved the steak at Alexander's Steakhouse.

Primal yet elegant, traditional yet innovative, Alexander's has over-the-top steaks. We knew the restaurant had great Zagat ratings (26/30 for food, 24 for decor, 25 for service) and came highly acclaimed. We knew it had a wall of meat in the lobby and offered all kinds of choices: Wagyu from Australia or the Lone Mountain ranch in NM, dry aged or wet aged, all with their distinct sauces, and even non steak options. What I didn't expect was that I'd have one of the best meals I can remember.

On the one hand, dining at Alexander's brings to mind the elements you'd expect from a top-rated restaurant: elegant, sophisticated, and civilized, the sound of tinkling wine glasses and murmured conversation, with sparkling dishes and silverware.

On the other hand, eating the food brings to mind completely different words: primal, bloody, raw, guttural, instinctual, primitive. It felt like we were in a well appointed cave, connecting back to our caveman roots. The fire roared, with the smell of smoke and the sound of sizzling, thick, juicy pieces of meat still dripping red inside.

The menu isn't traditional meat and potatoes fare. Our waiter informed us the chef is half Japanese, and so many items have a distinctive Asian touch. We enjoyed:

- assorted breads with butter & salt
- shrimp chip with avocado salsa nestled inside
- hamachi shots- two kinds of ginger, jalapeno, black sesame seed
- 6 oz. filet mignon, medium rare, with three kinds of sauces
- 24 oz., 28 day dry aged NY steak with shiitake mushrooms and peppercorn sauce
- truffle fries with parmesan garlic dip
- crimini mushrooms with leeks and sherry
- hibiscus seltzer palate cleanser
- O2 chocolate cake ball with raspberry sauce to melt the dome, revealing cake with Valrhona pearls; malted milk ice cream with cocoa nibs
- cotton candy (arrived with the bill)

What a fun surprise to get the shrimp chip appetizer, a mix of Asian and Mexican flavors. I remember those chips well from my childhood. My medium rare filet mignon melted in my mouth. It's hard not to moan out loud, juices dripping profusely, as you tear into the food. The hamachi shots (drinking down sushi?!) and chocolate O2 dessert complemented the bloody meat perfectly. The crimini side dish transported me to mushroom heaven. The little in-betweens balanced out the main courses nicely, a great give-and-take between savory and sweet, traditional and unexpected. Brad had the 24 oz., 28-day dry aged NY steak and couldn't finish it. The leftovers made a very nice dinner course for him the next day. The truffle fries were rich, rich, rich, and so hard to resist. Surprise cotton candy at the end made for a fun and sweet finish.

We will definitely be back for more. If you haven't tried Alexander's, just go.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stanford Parents' Club Favorites and Jane Stanford's Roman Punch Recipe

I've had the privilege of joining the Stanford Parents' Club this year, meeting some wonderful fellow parents, learning from faculty lectures, and volunteering to deliver birthday cakes (from the Palo Alto Baking Company) and flowers to Stanford students. The club also sells many items in its online catalog including apparel, jewelry, and mugs. All funds raised go toward undergraduate scholarships.

Club President Nancy Franich recently conducted a vote of Parents' Club members to create a list of favorite local restaurants. She divided the list into two main categories: family friendly and special occasion. The final winners include these favorites:

Parents’ Club of Stanford University
Top Ten Restaurants for You, Your Student and Roommates

1. The Counter, 369 California Ave, Palo Alto, 650 321-3900, Hamburgers, $

2. Peninsula Creamery, 900 HIgh Street, Palo Alto, 650 323-3175, Casual dining, ice cream, $

3. California Cafe, 700 Welch Road #108, Palo Alto, 650 325-2233, California cuisine, small plates and large entrées, $$-$$$

4. Cafe Del Sol, 1010 Doyle St. #1, Menlo Park, 650 326-2501, Mexican, $$

5. Buck’s of Woodside, 3062 Woodside Road, Woodside, 650 851-8010, Breakfast, Diner, $$

6. Il Fornaio, 520 Cowper, Palo Alto, 650 853-3888, Italian, $$ - $$$

7. P.F. Changs, 900 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 650 330-1782, Chinese, $$-$$$

8. Buca di Beppo, 643 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650 329-0665, Italian, $$ 

9. Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria, 880 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 650 329-8888, Pizza, $$

10. Dutch Goose, 3567 Alameda De Las Pulgas, Menlo Park, 650 854-3245, Hamburgers, Pub Food, $

Parents’ Club of Stanford University
Top Ten Restaurants for Special Occasions

1. Evvia Estiatorio, 420 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650 326-0983, Greek, $$$

2. Amber India, 2290 West El Camino Real, #9, Mountain View, 650 968-7511, Indian, $$

3. Bistro Elan, 448 South California Ave., Palo Alto, 650 327-0284, French, $$$

4. Tamarine, 546 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650 325-8500, Vietnamese, $$$

5. Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse,180 El Camino Real Ste #G2, (Stanford Shopping Center) Palo Alto, 650 329-8457, Steak, $$$

6. Osteria, 247 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650 328-5700, Italian, $$- $$$

7. Sundance the Steakhouse, 1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650 321-6798, Steak, $$$ 

8. Left Bank Brasserie, 635 Santa Cruz Ave., Menlo Park, 650 473-6543, French, $$

9. Carpaccio, 1120 Crane St., Menlo Park, 650 322-1211, Italian, $$

10. Flea Street Cafe, 3607 Alameda De Las Pulgas, Menlo Park, 650 854-1226, California cuisine with the emphasis on the organic and sustainable, $$$

The club sells a unique item, the What's Cooking at Stanford cookbook with recipes compiled from members. It includes the usual assortment of family favorites and potluck winners. There's even a special contribution by university co-founder Jane Stanford herself, a recipe for Roman Punch:

Roman Punch
Recipe by Mrs. Leland Stanford, Founder of Stanford University

2 cups boiling water
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cold strong tea
1 cup orange juice
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon rum extract
1 large bottle (3 1/2 cups) carbonated water

In large saucepan, boil water and sugar together for 5 minutes. Cool, then add tea, orange juice, lemon juice and rum extract. Just before serving, add carbonated water and ice. Makes 9 cups before adding ice.

While I've never made this beverage, it certainly looks intriguing and may be something you'd like to try making someday. Nancy tells me that some find it too sweet, so you can add more carbonated water. I can only imagine where and when Jane enjoyed drinking this over a hundred years ago. Let me know if you try it!