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.
This Cinco de Mayo we stayed at home instead of celebrating the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Puebla in public with lots of reveling Oakland denizens. We didn’t go all out to do a party or anything, but instead Zach put a gourmet twist on two Central American standards for a snack lunch. We try to follow sustainable seafood guidelines, so the ingredients used were with thought towards the impact on the environment.
Makes enough for 4-6
• For the chips:
3 liters of peanut oil for frying
18 corn tortillas, white or yellow, sliced into sixths
Truffle salt for seasoning to taste, but you’ll probably use at least 1 tbs.
Heat oil to 370 degrees F in a deep fryer (it’s possible to fry in a cast iron pan or a dutch oven, but then you’ll have to monitor the temperature with a candy thermometer). Cut the tortillas in half, then slice each half into thirds, creating evenly-sized triangles.
Place one fourth of all the triangles in the fryer at a time so as to make small, thoroughly cooked batches. Cook for about 4-5 minutes but stir a couple times with a skimmer.
If you have a sturdy fry basket, shake and/or tap it to knock off any excess oil, and let drip for about 20 seconds before tossing the chips in a stainless steel bowl with truffle salt. Transfer to another bowl lined with paper or cloth towels (to be green) to soak up the remaining oil. Chips will stay good in a sealed sandwich bag for days!
• For the ceviche (all local ingredients except the Hawaiian pineapple):
1/2 lb. of line-caught Californian halibut
1/2 lb. of line-caught Pacific salmon
1 cup of pineapple
3/4 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup of Roma tomatoes
1 extra large jalapeño pepper
1/4 cup of minced cilantro
Salt to taste
Cube the fish 1/4″ pieces, and soak in lime juice for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Dice the pineapple and tomatoes in the same size as the fish, first removing the tomato seeds. Remove the seeds from the jalapeño, and cut into 1/8″ pieces. Finely mince the shallot and cilantro like the jalapeño.
After the fish has finished soaking, drain with a strainer and discard the lime juice, shaking off any excess juice.
Toss all ingredients together, tasting for desired saltiness, and serve cold in Arakawa Pottery.
Last night we practically closed the restaurant. Despite having 8:45 reservations for a party of four, Wood Tavern is so popular that we had to wait for other guests to clear their checks and leave, which meant we ended up getting home after midnight; we hope you understand why we waited until this morning to post.
Before we even start talking about our wonderful meal, though, we must offer this disclaimer: Lighting was horrible. We improvised and did what we could, but the pictures aren’t as pretty as they could have been if the place was better lit. Dim lighting is “so 1920s” (according to Zach), and one votive wasn’t sufficient for mood lighting at the table, so forgive us for the funky shots.
We were immediately and graciously brought this variety. A “butcher block” and a “cheese board” were at the top of the day’s menu, but we got a combination of items from each. Brillat savarin (French triple crème cow’s milk cheese), head cheese, whiskey laced chicken liver pâté, honey chipotle almonds, sliced apple, and a pair of spreads were all delicious for smearing and placing on the rustic table bread.
We all loved the flavor of the tender pork belly. It was a bit rich for some (hey, it’s fried meat and fat) but that left more for August. With refreshing and tart green tomatoes, feta cheese, Sausalito Springs watercress, dry cured black olive aioli, and chili oil, this was a succulent salad-like treat.
Tiny, tender gnocchi were dressed with roasted wild mushrooms, ricotta salata cheese, sautéed wild ramps (a type of mild onion/garlic), rich and savory brown butter pan sauce, and truffle oil. The delicious mushroom morsels were varied and perfectly sautéed to provide a contrasting texture to the light and fluffy gnocchi. August and Zach already love mushrooms of all types, but our friend Jessica is a super-fan so this was particularly enticing to her.
Jessica ordered the halibut and gave us a taste. On a bed of Yukon Gold potato-fennel purée, roasted wild mushrooms, pea tendrils, and spring onions in a fennel broth, the fish was mild and delicately flaky with a crispy sear. The fennel flavor wasn’t overpowering (it can be too much for some). The mushrooms, pea tendrils, and spring onions melded well and added a lot of depth to the dish.
Our friend Tal picked out the pork chop with guanciale, Yukon Gold potatoes, spinach, fava beans, and green garlic-Marsala cream sauce. His creamy and rich sauce was the favorite at the table, as we all love Marsala. For being double cut, it was not overcooked at all – it was tender, moist, and juicy, so the thickness did not hinder the cooking process one bit.
This fresh, hand-made pasta concealed the wonders within: tomato braised lamb shoulder with tarragon, chili flakes, and ricotta salata. The pasta had a pleasant give to the bite, and did not compete with the texture of the braised lamb. The spices, in particular tarragon, pulled August back to the memories of food during a weekend jaunt to Morocco while she was living in Spain. The tarragon wasn’t overwhelming, and don’t be scared of the spiciness, either; she was apprehensive about the chili flakes, but the heat of the plate was minimal.
Zach was in a burger mood, and he added lots of optional toppings. It’s already served “with all the fixings” like pickles, onions, lettuce, and tomato, but he requested emmenthaler, applewood smoked bacon, and avocado (August is so proud that he’s liking avocado more, because he used to not). The La Farine baguette was artful for the burger and had an excellent crunchy crust with soft insides like a good European-style baguette should, but honestly it was a little impractical if you wanted to eat this like a burger; you can’t bite through both pieces of bread without the insides squishing out. Zach had to resort to a knife and fork to deconstruct it, but it was delicious all the same.
Like we said in the introduction, reservations are a must because the place is so popular, there is no room for walk-ins. Even still, be prepared to wait, because it’s worth it. Parking can be tricky as well, but College Avenue is easy to walk with lots of shops to distract you along the way.