Bourbon Steak, San Francisco CA
Sumptuous would be the best adjective to describe our entire dining experience last night at Bourbon Steak. For steak houses, it’s hard to beat Chef Michael Mina’s spirit. The spacious restaurant with columns lifting our gaze was reminiscent of a sacred place and we were the congregation, hoping for an answer that may never come. In this real space, though, the answer actually realized as spectacular service and food.
Marc Peyer, assistant general manager, was jovial and adept with a blow torch. He demonstrated and served our flight of Hudson Whiskeys, each poured into an individually smoked glass. The Four-Grain Bourbon got a treatment of orange peels, apple wood chips enhanced the Manhattan Rye, and the Single Malt Whiskey with inherent vanilla-caramel notes was more dense with coffee. Warm whiskeys, all delicious but very distinct, were great libations to entice the palate for the rest of the meal.
Complimentary for each table is an assortment of duck fat-fried fries, and like the whiskey, we get three of a kind. We nibbled on these even through the main course after they had cooled! Our favorite was in the middle – harissa dusted fries with a cool lemon cucumber yogurt dip. We’ve been seeing a lot of harissa lately, and we particularly liked the casual way it was incorporated here, adding a spicy kick without any overwhelming burn.
Three is a magical number. Three gnudi and three wagyu meatballs sat in a demi-glace with kale garnishes. The gnudi were light and fluffy with nice Parmesan and ricotta cheese flavors. With the balance of ricotta, they melted and disintegrated in the mouth – the ideal gnudi. The meatballs were so tender and packed with flavor, we wish there were more than three. The rich beef demi-glace suited the gnudi and wagyu, having a gravy texture without the corn starch feeling. The thickness coated the dumplings and meat bites, and was even good for mopping up with fries.
The corn in this side was from the small Bay Area agricultural town of Brentwood, which is close to our hearts. At one point we thought we were going to move there, but our path took a turn; had we stuck with the Brentwood plan, we never would have started Seasoning And Salt! The corn was crisp and exceptionally sweet with a light cream sauce. With many other restaurants’ cream corn, the corn is swimming in the cream, but here the proper ratio was achieved. The crispiness of the vegetable was a testament to Chef Mina’s aim of “utilizing seasonal West Coast ingredients.” Three chicharones were air-like pork skins, adding a different kind of crisp and crunch. The popcorn did the same, as well as playfully garnish the cream corn with a different incarnation of the same food.
We love spätzle. It’s like the German version of our favorite Italian pasta, gnocchi. As a stroganoff, this tender side had a sour cream sauce, intensely creamy and savory with a bit of tanginess. Featured were three croquettes of wild mushrooms, as well. Since first learning of croquettes in Spain almost twenty years ago, August is picky about them – and these were mouthwatering. A thin, crisp exterior hid a saporous filling, and again we were wishing for more than three.
The famous Maine lobster pot pie, like the flight of whiskeys, was another tableside show. A pound and a half lobster was baked in a copper pot with grilled onions, carrots, fava beans, mushrooms, two lobster gnocchi, and a sherry truffle cream sauce, with a flaky pie top. The anticipation of watching and smelling this fantastic entree being served up before us was rewarded by luxurious deliciousness. The sauce was something we’d love to have on a pasta dish with just a little bit of cheese, because the sauce is enough on its own, flavor-wise, to enhance simple noodles. But matched with fresh lobster, this is a meal that will be remembered for a very long time. Grilled onions added an extra element of caramelization to go with the delicate lobster, and truffles make pretty much anything better.
Ten ounces of tender, juicy, exceptionally seasoned and grilled beef from Imperial of Nebraska meant five ounces for August, five for Zach, and none for Bea the Dog. We love to bring our dog goodies from our dining jaunts, but this was too good to save for her. The flat iron steak is arguably the best cut of beef considering it is leaner than the typical rib eye, but as this wagyu piece was treated here, we would almost argue that it is the best cut.
The third show of the night was the dessert trolly, rolled to each table and demonstrated Vana White-style. From the top of the cart, as seen here, you may choose any five items, such as chocolate bark bites, seasonal macaroons, nougat bars, tableside smores, beignets, house-made Oreos, and lollipops. It was nearly paralyzing trying to decide! August absolutely wanted a lollipop, though, of tantalizing rose and vanilla-flavor fondant. It reminded her of a dessert at a fanciful tea party.
We knew for sure, also, that we had to try the house-made Oreo. Biting into the cookie, it crumbled and flaked like chocolate shortbread. Once the bite crumbled, it was followed by a smooth vanilla cream, and eating this brought us back to childhood, not just because Oreos were so abundant in our youth but also because the size of the cookie here made us feel smaller in perspective!
When we saw this cake, we couldn’t resist. If you choose a cake (there’s a few flavors), you can have the cake and any two items from the top of the trolly. The bottom layer of the jar held tangy and tart blackberry preserves, covered with creamy and rich marscapone. The top layer gave the cake its name: a poppyseed cake with vanilla streusel and three meringues. There were so many textures: crisp air-like meringue, crumbly buttery streusel, fluffy cake, and smooth marscapone. The perfect spring and summer dessert, it was scrumptious and left August with no urges for chocolate as she typically craves.
What’s this? Bonus dessert bites courtesy of the staff! We got to have chocolate after all! The final trio of the night had two of each: mini cherry macaroons, Bourbon Steak labeled caramel bars with cocoa nibs, and cocoa cookies with cinnamon and sugar glaze. The macaroon had the texture we had hoped for, as we noted that it was fresh and had not been sitting for long at all before being served. It was pleasant to get a crunch in caramel with cocoa nibs diverging from the current caramel sea salt craze. Light and melty with a dark, rich cocoa flavor, the cookies’ texture belied the flavor, making for a deliciously juxtaposed dessert.
San Francisco is the city of a hundred thousand restaurants, with so many turning over nearly monthly. Bourbon Steak, though, has a strong grip on the palates of their regulars, and we hope than anyone visiting the City will make their way here to find for themselves what a West Coast steak house can be. Chef Mina pushes for quality in food and service throughout his entire restaurant group, so if you aren’t near here, we’re sure you will enjoy any his establishments across the country.