World Wide Wagyu at 5A5
Valentine’s Day has become such a Hallmark holiday that I have an aversion to doing anything “typical” on that day, whether I’m in a relationship or not. For my guy friends, it’s an anxiety-ridden event trying to “get it right” and make their girlfriends or wives happy. Most guys assume women want to go to a romantic little French bistro or sit down for a four-star extravaganza, but many of my female friends would be just as happy with a hamburger – or better yet, a steak. And since all the pressure tends to be on guys, why not switch it up and plan a night for him? Most of the guys I know would be thrilled to ditch the stuffy, fancy, predictable Valentine’s Day for a slab of red meat and some whiskey.
I ate my way through the steak restaurants of the Northside and beyond over the last few months and chose my favorites based on Valentine’s vibe – from old-school cool to uptown splurge. Here, in alphabetical order, are my Fab Five places to find a great hunk of meat on Valentine’s Day in the Northside and a bonus pick across town:
244 Jackson Street (between Battery and Front), 415-989-2539, www.5a5stk.com
Known for serving Wagyu A5 grade beef (the highest quality steak in the world), 5A5’s dining room sits below the retro “spaceship” ceiling lit with orange, pink and yellow circles left over from Frisson, but the rest of the room is markedly different, decked out in swanky black patent crocodile patterned seats backed with soft, white sparkly velveteen; there’s also a lively bar scene up front. Most people know Japanese A5 Wagyu as Kobe beef; but while all Kobe beef is Wagyu (the breed), not all Wagyu is Kobe (the prefecture). True A5 Kobe beef is a rarity, and the scarcity is reflected in the sticker-shock price; however, with its velvety texture and rich, buttery flavor, it’s more like beefy foie gras than steak, and for the true connoisseur, it’s worth every penny. Due to a temporary ban on the import of Japanese beef, this Valentine’s Day you won’t have to worry about your date breaking the bank, but there are plenty of other first rate options at 5A5, including Wagyu from other countries.
Best hunks of meat: Cabassi & Rea Australian 100 percent pure Wagyu rib-cap (4, 8 or 12 ounces, $19 per ounce); bone-in rib-eye (25 ounces $43); slow-roasted prime rib (limited availability, 10 ounces $25, 15 ounces $35); buffalo filet (6 ounces $36, 10 ounces $49), dry-aged bone-in New York (22 ounces $43), dry-aged T-bone (22 ounces $44).
My favorite hunk: Take a trip around the Wagyu with the “World Wide Wagyu” sampler, which includes Wagyu New York steak from Chile, Australia and the United States ($145).
Old-school cool: Alfred’s Steakhouse
659 Merchant Street (at Kearny), 415-781-7058, www.alfredssteakhouse.com
Walking into Alfred’s is like stepping into the glory days of Herb Caen’s Baghdad by the Bay – the dark wood walls are accented with black molding; brass and crystal chandeliers cast a soft, flattering glow; ample, cozy booths of scarlet leather with brass rivets contrast with elegant white tablecloths; and the well-stocked bar’s stools beckon patrons to imbibe in a traditional cocktail before sitting down to dine. The grass-raised, grass- and corn-finished beef at Alfred’s is all top choice or higher grade and arrives in primal cuts (short loin, rib, tenderloin, and New York) and is dry aged behind glass in the foyer four to six weeks before being hand cut. Most steaks are broiled with no salts, rubs or peppers – what you get is pure beef essence and a wonderful smokiness from the Mexican mesquite charcoal, used for its high heat point to seal in the juices and all that flavor. Add a classic martini and some oysters Rockefeller, and the experience is complete.
Best hunks of meat: “Alfred’s Steak” – bone-in New York (20 ounces $32.50), bone-in Chicago rib steak (30 ounces $41.50), “Deficit Busting Dinner” (salad; choice of filet, New York, rib-eye, or rack of New Zealand lamb; one accompaniment; and dessert – all for $38).
My favorite hunk: The plate-filling “King of Steaks,” a 28-day-aged Porterhouse, is my idea of a romantic meat for two (30 ounces $42.50)
Sexy but comfy: Bobo’s
1450 Lombard Street (at Franklin), 415-441-8880, www.boboquivaris.com
Bobo’s manages to walk that thin line between sexy and comfy – kind of like wearing your guy’s white button-down shirt in the morning. It’s great for a date, a girls’ or guys’ night out, and for a business meeting, but it’s also a neighborhood favorite with a lot of regulars. There’s nothing “typical steakhouse” about Bobo’s – forget the masculine appointments like dark wood and 30 bottles of sauce on the table. With a red and black Euro theme and cozy private booths for two, Bobo’s is all about seduction, and the most seductive thing about Bobo’s is their 100 percent USDA-certified steak, dry-aged four to six weeks. The steaks are pan seared with garlic and rosemary, creating a crisp, aromatic, caramelized exterior that locks in the flavor and the juices, and they arrive sizzling hot and perfectly cooked every time (medium rare, unless you request it otherwise).
Best hunks of meat: Bone-in New York ($39) and Porterhouse ($59). With the Porterhouse, Bobo’s cooks the New York and the filet separately so they are always consistent (very clever).
My favorite hunk: It’s no secret that my favorite steak at Bobo’s
has always been and continues to be the bone-in filet mignon ($39), which is towering, glistening, crunchy-outside-like-butter-inside carnivore nirvana. The bone adds immense flavor to a cut that can otherwise be tasteless and dry because it’s too lean (steak lesson number one: fat is flavor). The bone-in filet mignon is a hard-to-find hunk, and no one does it better than Bobo’s.
Sophisticated splurge: Bourbon Steak
The Westin St. Francis, 335 Powell Street (at Post), 415-397-3003, www.westinstfrancis.com/dining
You know when a meal starts with complimentary French fries cooked in duck fat (for ultimate crispness) you’re in for a treat. With its grand columns and dim lighting, the former home of Michael Mina’s eponymous eatery morphed easily into the renowned chef’s upscale steakhouse. Alongside Mina classics like ahi tuna tartare and his signature lobster pot pie, you’ll find some impressive hunks of meat ranging from certified Angus to Australian Wagyu. Don’t skip the decadent and addictive Yukon gold potato puree.
Best hunks of meat: Certified Angus bone-in rib-eye (18 ounces $42), Porterhouse for two (28 ounces $68), Brandt Farms dry-aged rib-eye (10 ounces $45), Australian Wagyu New York strip (6 ounces market price).
My favorite hunk: The tastiest cut of them all is the rib-eye (prime rib is a rib-eye roast) because it’s beautifully marbled. Rib-cap, the crescent-shaped outer section of the rib-eye, is not a common cut, and Mina’s Snake River Farms American Kobe rib-cap (8 ounces $50) is incredibly tender, leaner than you would expect, but still packed with flavor.
Neighborhood gem for those in the know: The Brazen Head
3166 Buchannan Street (at Greenwich), 415-921-7600, www.brazenheadsf.com
To celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2010, Brazen Head owner Eddie Savino did put up a shiny new awning, but there’s still no sign – and the legions of regulars like it that way. The menu offers an eclectic mix of Italian specialties, big steaks and a few French classics (you’ve got to love a neighborhood steak joint that serves wonderfully prepared escargots redolent with garlic butter and parsley). There’s also the deservedly much-lauded “Brazen burger” – a gargantuan grilled-to-order patty topped with grilled onions, choice of cheddar, jack or Swiss cheese and served on a soft bun. The ambiance is warm and intimate – I describe it as the kind of place Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would live if they moved to the Marina, with warm, dark wood, walls covered with old photos and news articles, and little brass lamps on each table casting a soft orange glow.
Best hunks of meat: Filet mignon with grilled portobello mushrooms (7 ounces $30, 3.5-ounce “petite” filet $17), Monday and Tuesday prime rib night (10 ounces served with baked potato and sautéed vegetables for $20.10, as in the year of their 30th anniversary).
My favorite hunk: The signature certified Angus New York strip pepper steak (8 ounces $20, 12 ounces $29) is a must – juicy, tasty and tender, topped with a rich brandy-veal demi-glace cream sauce.
Bonus Pick – Get Across Town
Chic magnifique: Alexander’s Steakhouse
448 Brannan Street (between Third & Fourth), 415-495-1111, www.alexanderssteakhouse.com
Growing up in the Silicon Valley and working at Apple, Alexander’s in Cupertino was by far my favorite steakhouse in the South Bay, and it still is. But I don’t get down there as often as I’d like, so I was thrilled to see executive chef Jeffrey Stout open a south of Market location. Stout’s cuisine ranks as the most inventive you’ll find at a steakhouse (sweetbreads with onion “glass,” Nantucket Bay scallops with vadouvan [an Indian spice mixture] bubbles, pan-roasted branzino with Parmesan espuma [foam]), and he’s talented and skilled enough that the hunks of meat don’t overshadow his creativity. Still, the main attraction at Alexander’s is the meat, including Japanese A5 Wagyu (when it’s not banned). The ambiance is big-city chic, reminiscent of high-end hot spots in New York, and the evening is tailored with that in mind, including the thoughtful service.
Best hunks of meat: Dry-aged bone-in New York with brandied-peppercorn cream sauce (24 ounces $52); prime “tomahawk” chop – wood-roasted giant rib-eye on a 10-inch bone (“big” $68), dry-aged T-bone with grilled lemon and a trio of salts (24 ounces $54), Cabassi & Rea Australian Wagyu (all cuts $200).
My favorite hunk: When it was available at the Cupertino location, the A5 was a special occasion splurge and not to be missed, but in its absence (until the ban is lifted), the prime rib (14 ounces $37, 20 ounces $42), simply served with natural jus and a horseradish trio, is a winner. While I prefer my prime rib on the bone, the cut here is generous and tasty, with just the right balance of glorious fat.