On the 19th and 25th my Father and Mother celebrated their 60th birthdays. Julie and I decided to super-splurge and take them to a life-changingly good restaurant — Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino.
Julie and I had been here before. We celebrated the engagement of Hannah and Amanda, and we really needed the almost two year gap to recover. The food there is… Well let me back up.
As we walk in, just inside the door is a refrigerated section behind glass where they keep the sides of beef to dry-age them before cooking. It’s a floor-to-ceiling glass case with maybe 20 shelves of beef just hanging out. My parents and I walk past and have the same reaction Julie and I had when we first visited– and they even have the same joke: This is the sign this restaurant is not for vegetarians.
There’s a small sitting area in front of a fireplace where the party gathers and once ready the host walks us out past the windows into the kitchen where–despite being a very active kitchen–everything seems like it just came out of Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, and Domus all shiny and clean. Even the chefs’ aprons look ironed. We sit and the wait staff begins to circle: one pours water, one hands out menus, and the primary waiter goes over the menu a few times answering questions and giving mouth watering details for all the menu items.
A minor appetizer of finely diced vegetables and shrimp comes out, and Julie and my Hamachi shots are quickly downed. Orders are taken, and the drinks come out. My dad gets the New York Comparison: four ounces each of a dry aged beef from the US, one from Australia which is a crossbreed between one of their holstein cattle and a Japanese wagyu, and a full-on Japanese wagyu beef. My mom gets the Beef and Reef: a filet mignon along with butterflied grilled shrimp. Julie has the Melange a Trois: a patty melt of kobe beef, shortribs under a puff pastry and brie, and a cut of beef with blue cheese. My prime rib sounds boring in comparison, but oh, nothing is boring here.
When food is served, the same waiter swarm comes around, and the food is served to every guest simultaneously. No balancing by the single waiter and no large tray and fold out serving table– just a very well orchestrated food presentation that happens so fast that we need the waiter to point out what all the food is. We get a few sides to go with the beef: the haricot verts (i.e. green beans) , the white truffle oil french fries, and the lobster mac’n’cheese. Drinks are refiled, everything is savored, and my dad can tell the difference between the different steaks very clearly. The food is nothing short of exquisite. Everything is brimming over with flavor and complexity.
When Julie and I first ate here we were bowled over. I am not joking when I say the experience was life-changing. We both decided pretty shortly after this that our food consumption was really lacking. We took very seriously eating for enjoyment and paying attention to the flavors more acutely. I still enjoy a cheap bowl of noodles, but after eating in such an atmosphere with food so excellently prepared our senses were turned on and we are much more aware of the subtleties in flavor and the ingredients that go into them. These newly activated senses led us to also eat at such great restaurants as the vegetarian mecca of Millennium in San Francisco which you might think is an odd transition, but they’re not that far off. The food there is also prepared and served with that level of daring and flair that you can’t help but appreciate. Flavors are expertly woven together. Some are inventive and unique, and some are echoes of comfort food from childhood.
After we finish our meals the wait staff silently removes the empty plates, and we just keep talking and laughing. The meal passes so smoothly that you wonder if the waiters go through ninja training during off hours to be able to sneak of the plates and utensils so unobtrusively. Julie orders the Melt Down; a creme brulee that a chef brings out and finishes in front of us with a small butane torch to melt a small sheet of sugar onto the custard. The waiter comes out and puts out a metal stand with a full cone of cotton candy. Also, as a really great treat my parents get plates with a small cupcake and dollop of ice cream with “Happy Birthday” written with lots of script and flourish in chocolate on a full size plate.
The food is extremely rich, the wait staff is just the right blend of attentive and invisible, and the whole dining experience is choreographed so well that you don’t even notice the 2-3 hours evaporate. If you’re paying, however, you will notice that detail. The bill is not for the faint of heart. But hey, my parents don’t turn 60 every year.