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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.

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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.

trio of fries

trio of fries

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.

fresh ricotta gnudi

fresh ricotta gnudi

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.

brentwood cream corn

brentwood cream corn

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.

wild mushroom stroganoff

wild mushroom stroganoff

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.

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reconstructed

reconstructed

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.

imperial flat iron

imperial flat iron

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.

dessert trolly - pick any five!

dessert trolly – pick any five!

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.

house-made oreo

house-made oreo

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!

poppyseed cake

poppyseed cake

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.

special trio of treats

special trio of treats

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.

The Lunch Box, Oakland CA

Anyone can make a sandwich, but not everyone can cook their own meats.  The Lunch Box is a wondrous find because the quality of the meat is impressive, and the freshness of the produce, breads, and, well, everything, matches.  It is like most deli/sandwich shops in its layout: order at a counter, and either sit at a tinier counter or take your food to go.  But what keeps a steady flow of customers in the small establishment is the consistency in uber-friendly customer service, speed, and the finest ingredients made and used by expert hands.

wrapped to-go, no matter what

wrapped to go, no matter what

To minimize water and energy waste, foods are packaged in biodegradable or recyclable materials.  Whether you choose to stay or go with your food, it will remain piping fresh until you open it, be it sandwich, soup, salad, wrap, or hot plate.

The gumbo soup had a base of a rich and mildly spicy chicken broth, slightly thickened from the okra (the origin of the name of the dish; gumbo is derived from the Bantu word for okra).  The chicken was tender and juicy, and the plentiful vegetables were still somewhat crisp and not at all overcooked or mushy.  Green pepper is one of our least favorite ingredients, but its use in this soup didn’t phase us in the least and we both enjoyed it thoroughly.

baked ham and swiss

baked ham and swiss

On one of the softest french rolls we’ve tried with a thin crispy, crunchy exterior and soft, chewy inside, came the fork-tender baked ham sandwich.  We got it with all the fixings: choice of cheese, mayonnaise, zippy brown mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and choice of homemade tapenade.  Zach always loves a good ham and Swiss, so that was the choice of cheese.  The tapenades included olive & garlic, sweet pepper, and jalapeño carrot.  It was tough choosing among those, but he went with olive & garlic.  He was a little apprehensive that it would overpower the delicate, smoky, delicious oven-baked ham, but the balance was perfect.

classic rueben

classic rueben

Mexican sodas are making their way into the most unexpected places.  This is due in part to increasing awareness of the issues of hyper-processed ingredients, therefore natural sugar sodas instead of American versions with high-fructose corn syrup are being sought out and embraced.  The Mexican Pepsi, not yet as popular as Mexican Coca Cola, was refreshing with the classic Rueben on soft marbled rye with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, creamy and tangy thousand island, and the shop’s own corned beef.  The meat was extremely tender, so much that we could bite right through without having to tear away.

roasted turkey hot plate

roasted turkey hot plate

And there’s the Mexican Coca Cola, sabroso and great for washing down this giant hot plate.  For about $8, you get thick, moist, abundant roasted turkey, smothered in savory gravy, on a bed of creamy homestyle mashed potatoes with the skins mixed in, plus a hefty house or caesar salad and a hunk of bread.  Add a side of cranberry sauce, and it’s almost Thanksgiving (yes, you can get a side of cranberry sauce if you ask).  With the house salad we chose ranch dressing, which is house made.  It is very creamy as it is made with buttermilk and sour cream.  The herbs come through as a pleasant aftertaste, with dill being the star of the salad show.

There is a paid parking lot right around the corner that’s “never full,” and while the lots’ and meters’ fees might be a tad bit steep, the surprisingly low costs at The Lunch Box help mediate what you pay for your vehicle.  It’s worth it, though, to drive in for lunch, but if you’re already in the area, you have no excuse not to eat here.

Texas Roadhouse, Tracy CA

Corporate restaurants tend to forgo quality for profits.  Shipments go out to each establishment with boxes and crates of frozen, canned, and hyper-processed ingredients.  Oftentimes, that feeling you get after eating somewhere like the Cakecheese Factory or Backout Steakhouse is an indicator of your body reacting poorly to what you’ve just fed it, and you’re getting charged a hefty bill for the damage.  But dear reader, we have found that Texas Roadhouse, a corporate restaurant, makes nearly everything from scratch at each of its 300+ restaurants across the country.  The only items not made in-house are the applesauce, light ranch dressing, and steak fries.  And to sweeten the deal further, this casual eatery doesn’t put nearly the same dent in your wallet as some of the other corporate places do.

killer ribs

killer ribs

The award-winning ribs are very popular and there is an entree option, but we wanted to show you variety so we got the appetizer version.  Served on a bed of steak fries, the rib meat was smoky, sweet, and fell off the bone like it was waiting to let go.  There was a great bark enhancing the smokiness, which also helped to highlight the sweet side.

cactus blossom

cactus blossom

The fried onion’s crispy batter was not at all greasy, nor was the onion overcooked.  With the crispness of the batter plus the slight crunch of the onions, the texture of the “cactus blossom” appetizer was ideal.  The onion was slightly sweet, and the creamy, tangy dipping sauce, called “Cajun horseradish,” offered a tiny bite of heat.

house salad

house salad

“Each plate is served with your choice of two sides.”  We each got a house salad with blue cheese because we both wanted some greenery.  Remember that (almost) everything is scratch made, so that includes the dressing and the croutons.  The house salad is also piled with cheddar cheese, fresh tomatoes, and hard boiled egg, making for a simple yet satisfying salad.

bone-in ribeye with loaded sweet potato

bone-in ribeye with loaded sweet potato

August went for red meat, since this is a steakhouse after all.  “Hand-cut to perfection,” this is Texas Roadhouse’s “most flavorful steak.”  With just the right seasoning, an excellent char, and cooked to the desired temperature, this was a great hunk of meat with a nice bone to take home for Bea the Dog.  August’s second side was a baked sweet potato, and she upgraded to the option of loading it.  In fact, any of the potato sides can be loaded in its own way (sweet potato as you see here, regular baked potato that you’ll see below, and even mashed potatoes and fries have their own treatments).  For the sweet potato, “loaded” means it is topped off with caramel sauce and marshmallows.  Baked to model doneness, the creamy sweet potato with such toppings was a side and a dessert in one.

loaded baked potato

loaded baked potato

Zach’s second side was also a potato, but savory and, as Zach says, “loaded to the gills” with sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon.  The skin was rubbed with salt, a nice touch to add greater depth of flavor.  The potato insides were fluffy, and when mixed around with the toppings, this was a hearty and delightful side.

country fried chicken

country fried chicken

Zach’s main dish was this massive country fried chicken, pounded from an all white meat chicken breast, then hand-battered, fried, and topped with cream gravy.  The chicken was crispy from the light breading, yet tender and moist – tender enough for a fork and no knife.  The cream gravy was rich and pepper-based, which was “perfect with the chicken,” according to Zach.  It could have been very easy and convenient for the kitchen to throw together a frozen chicken breast and powder-based gravy, but Texas Roadhouse takes the time to make real food with real cooking techniques.

There are significantly more locations in the eastern half of the country, but there is at least one restaurant in every single continental state.  If you’re out of your area, maybe doing a road trip for the summer or a business jaunt, look for a Texas Roadhouse nearby and you can trust in the quality.