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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.

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.

Biscayne, Las Vegas NV

Our second Las Vegas meal of our NASCAR weekend was a delight.  As we are staying in the lavishly renovated Tropicana with a spa, a sauna, and a steam room in our suite, we didn’t want to stray too far from our relaxing sanctuary – it’s always convenient to eat, play, and stay in one place.  So tonight we went to the Biscayne steak house, an elevator ride and a short walk away, and had a sumptuous meal.

foie gras monte cristo

foie gras monte cristo

With a little bowl of peppered cotton candy popcorn and a small vessel of red wine sauce, this monte cristo was unlike any other not just for these reasons but also the feature ingredient: foie gras.  Since we’re unlucky in California and it is now against the law to sell foie gras, we’re very, very happy that we can get it in Nevada as a special treat when we’re on vacation.  Thick slices of Parmesan and Swiss and savory egg-battered bread further enhance the flavor experience.

baby iceberg wedge (split for us)

baby iceberg wedge (split for us)

The wedge salad here is essentially the elements but you get to construct it: an onion ring, fried bacon, blue cheese chunks and dressing, one halved cherry tomato, and a mini head of iceberg lettuce.  It was everything you would expect from a traditional wedge salad with crisp, lettuce smoky bacon, blue cheese with a bite, sweet tomato; one different thing, though, was that the onion ring was a nice change from the usual raw.

bone-in rib-eye (18 oz)

bone-in rib-eye (18 oz)

We’re going to have to investigate about bringing Bea the Dog with us to Las Vegas, because it’s not fair that we can’t save the bones for her while we’re away on vacation.  She would have loved this one, along with all the meat that I couldn’t finish (for being so full and wanting to save room for dessert).  This perfect temperature rib-eye came with a trio of sauces: homemade steak sauce, Bearnaise, and red wine sauce, and August couldn’t pick a favorite.

filet mignon (8 oz)

filet mignon (8 oz)

Zach loves Oscar style, so you know that’s what he did here.  There are five “steak enhancers” at Biscayne, but Oscar is always a winner  The filet mignon was grilled superbly, resulting in a nice crust on the outside yet still tender and juicy in the middle and cooked to the desired temperature.  There was an abundance of chunky, flaky lump crab, and the asparagus cooked just right.  The Bearnaise was rich and buttery with a mildly tangy tarragon flavor.

lobster mac & cheese

lobster mac & cheese

Orecchiette is an oft-overlooked pasta, but it was really cute in this side dish.  Macaroni and cheese has gotten a bad name for itself among food purists/realists, so maybe this recipe will show you that not all mac & cheeses are created equal.  Zach enjoyed the texture of the pasta, and the cheese sauce actually tasted like real cheese instead of absorbing the lobster flavor.

bittersweet chocolate torte with caramel gelato

bittersweet chocolate torte with caramel gelato

Like a slab of ganache, this flourless chocolate torte was rich, smooth, and deep.  The caramel gelato was a nice touch with true caramel flavor and a hint of salt.

coconut candy bar with almond horchata

coconut candy bar with almond horchata

Essentially a house-made Almond Joy bar, this coconut candy bar was right up Zach’s alley.  It had a chewy coconut nougat-like center, which was topped with chopped nuts, and then covered in a silky smooth chocolate ganache.  The horchata was a refreshing change from the typical taqueria/roach coach horchata, in that it was real with ground almonds so it had a nice nuttiness with a mild cinnamon flavor.

Biscayne tries to keep in real in a few other ways.  They serve “seafood with confidence” that has been tested and approved by the Safe Harbor Foods guidelines for mercury, histamine, bacterial pathogens, and radiation, so you can trust the origin of the ingredients here – they are all of high quality.