When I first learned via Stett Holbrook ( http://twitter.com/svdining/status/13... ) that Alexander’s Steakhouse was serving ramen for lunch, I couldn’t help but grin. This was the kind of sly, sort of smug smile that comes from sharing a secret or being part of an inside joke because I know how much Chef Stout and J. C. Chen love noodles of every kind. Stout inherited his Japanese mom’s palate and Chen’s dad was a noodle-pulling Shandong chef. Before the restaurant opened five years ago, Chef Stout and his partner, J. C. Chen, hashed out many of their dreams and plans over many bowls of ramen around the South Bay. Then I’d get an email letting me know whether they agreed or disagreed with my opinion/ranking of that ramen shop. Maybe that helps answer the question posed by Tripeler in the earlier thread.
Driving down to Cupertino to give Alexander’s ramen a whirl, I thought back to those days trying to recall their favorites. I was trying to anticipate what style they’d offer in their own restaurant.
Lunch is served in the casual Alexander’s lounge Tuesday through Friday. The bound menu presented with flourish was a reminder that I was a guest in a fancy steakhouse. It was hard to not be distracted by the mouthwatering descriptions of piled-high sandwiches in this temple of meat, but I was here for the ramen. The beverage side offers fancy cocktails, as well as non-alcoholic beverages and a variety of teas.
Pot of flowering jewel tea, $10
I've also had the housemade lemonade, $5, and the non-alcoholic fruit cocktail drink, $8: fresh strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, orgeat, apple cider.
Ramen choices range from $10 to $12 with three broth flavor options: Alexander’s (cloudy and rich), Miso, or Aka Butter (spicy). My server explained that the miso and spicy broths were variations of the Alexander’s base.
I decided to pair the Angus beef shortrib topping with Alexander's cloudy and rich stock ramen, $10. My prediction that the ramen would be robust, concentrated and heavy came to life in this bowl. The Alexander’s broth was cloudy with emulsified fat and collagen, meaty rich, and gravy-thick. A huge portion, this was one of the few times I haven’t polished off all the noodles. Jam-packed into the bowl, probably not twirled in the stock to loosen, some of the noodles stuck together.
As one would imagine at a premier steakhouse, the beef short rib topping was fantastic. So succulent, velvety in the mouth and exploding with beefy richness from careful searing and braising of the fatty cut. And not just propped up on the surface, the short rib showing in the photo was only the tip of the meaty iceberg hidden below the soup. The 65-degree egg had a little firmer white than most other sous vide eggs, which I preferred, and the runny yolk spilling into the broth took this over the top. Toasty nori, fresh spinach, fish cake, scallions, and shitake mushrooms completed the bowl.
My second visit I picked Yaki Ebi (grilled white shrimp) and pork belly chashu topping with miso broth, $12. The large shrimp had great texture and fresh sweetness, but one was overcharred and had some bitter notes. The roasted pork belly was even better than the beef short rib, the best piece of cha shu I’ve come across on a bowl of ramen. Tender, well-seasoned meat striated with sweet firmish fat was punched up even more by the flavor contributed by the well-browned crust and some last-minute grilling.
The stock was not quite as dense this time, earlier in the lunch service. The miso flavor was rather monotonal. Once again the boatload of noodles were compacted in the bowl and stuck together. A scatter of tenkasu (bits of stray tempura batter) added richness and crunch.
These were both pretty impressive bowls, mostly for the quality of the meats, and deliver excellent value in the quality-quantity calculus compared to the price level. While the concentrated and deep broth was enjoyable, the palate-coating meatiness turned plodding and dull before too long. More complexity, brightness, or sweet-briny seafood elements would bring it to life. I have not had a chance to try the spicy version and maybe that broth offers the lift I craved. The presentation of the noodles needs work, separating them before cooking and then loosening them in the broth before adding the toppings. And one petty criticism, the knife work on the green onions could be more precise.
Comparing Alexander’s ramen composition with that at Orson in San Francisco, both kitchens turned out excellent toppings made with top-notch ingredients and cooked with great care. Orson’s housemade noodles beat Alexander’s, but Alexander’s broth was in a whole different league and much better crafted. Based on these two examples, Alexander’s Steakhouse enters the ramen ranking at #8.
My third visit here was for a birthday lunch with my mother. I had promised her a big pastrami sandwich. We started with sharing the Caesar salad, $10. This is half of an order.
I really appreciated that the kitchen split our order. And each half-portion of Caesar was topped with a 65-degree egg. A well-balanced lemony dressing, just the right amount of freshly grated cheese, nice croutons, aromatic snipped chives, and the lovely sous vide egg made for a very nice version of this classic salad.
Mom was away from the table when our split order of the Reuben was served. When she first saw this at here place, she asked, “What is that?” She didn't recognize it as a pastrami sandwich! And she was even more incredulous that this was just half. Later she wondered whether anyone really eats a whole one by herself. The house-cured pastrami had a good amount of tasty fat. Shaved thin and piled high, the meat was still a little chewy and just a bit too salty for me when tasted alone. But the whole package with the melted cheese, tangy sauerkraut, and dressing was eminently satisfying.
My half wasn't quite as abundant. But still, I could only eat a few bites and we both packed up our leftovers to take home. The slightly sweet Japanese potato salad was good too.
Here’s a closer look at the Premium Reuben Sandwich, $14 - Alexander's own pastrami, sauerkraut, gruyere cheese, 1000 island, toasted rye bread. Part of me wanted to hold out for the classic Russian dressing, but the 1000 island with the brunoise of red and yellow sweet peppers, onion and pickles was so well-composed, it won me over.
Maybe the biggest endorsement for this sandwich is that my discerning and budget-conscious mother asked me to tell my siblings about this place. She wants them to bring her back again.
Service was quite attentive and up to the standards I’d expect for a top dinner house even in the more casual lounge setting. The service and the quality of the food here feel like a splurge. Yet, the lunch tab makes Alexander’s Steakhouse an affordable luxury.
PERSONAL RAMEN RANKING
1. Ramen Halu, 375 Saratoga Ave Ste M, San Jose
2. Santouka @ Mitsuwa Hokkaido Festival, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
3. Himawari, 202 2nd Ave, San Mateo
4. Orenchi Ramen, 3540 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
5. Maru Ichi, 368 Castro St, Mountain View
6. Izakaya Mai, 212 2nd Avenue, San Mateo
7. Ajisen Noodle, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont
8. Alexander’s Steakhouse Lounge, 10330 N Wolfe Rd, Cupertino
9. Orson Restaurant Bar + Lounge, 508 4th St, San Francisco
10. Ramen Dojo, 805 South B St, San Mateo
11. Ryowa, 859 Villa St, Mountain View
12. Tanto, 1063 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale
13. Santa, 1944 South El Camino Real, San Mateo (post-move)
14. Do-Henkotsu House of Tokushima Ramen, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose (closed)
15. Sumiya, 2634 Homestead Rd, Santa Clara
16.Gen Ramen, 47890 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont (closed)
17.Hana Japanese Restaurant, 101 Golf Course Dr, Rohnert Park
18.Izakaya Restaurant, 1335 N 1st St, San Jose
19.BY Grill, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
20.Norikonoko, 2556 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley
21.Hana, 4320 Moorpark, San Jose
22.Ozumo, 2251 Broadway, Oakland
23.Muracci’s, 244 State St, Los Altos
24.Dohatsuten, 799 San Antonio Rd, Palo Alto
25.Katanaya, 430 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
26.Masa's Sushi, 400 San Antonio Road, Mountain View
27.Nombe, 2491 Mission St, San Francisco
28.Gochi, 19980 Homestead Rd, Cupertino
29.Oyaji, 3123 Clement St, San Francisco
30.Halu Restaurant, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco
31.Sanmi, 3226 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
32.Maru Ichi, 530 Barber Lane, Milpitas
33.Hatcho, 1271 Franklin Mall, Santa Clara
34.Kahoo, 4330 Moorpark Ave, San Jose
35.Tomoe, 810 3rd St, San Rafael (closed)
36.Ringer Hut, 1072 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
37.Noodle Theory, 3242 Scott St, San Francisco
38.Watami Shabu Shabu and Ramen, 5344 Geary Blvd, San Francisco (closed)
38.Where’s Buta by Elgin Espiritu and June Lee, Eat Real Festival, Oakland
39.Kumako, 211 E. Jackson Street, San Jose
41.Japanese Restaurant Hoshi, 246 Saratoga Avenue, Santa Clara
42.Ramen Club, 723 California Dr, Burlingame
43.Ryowa, 2068 University Ave, Berkeley (after ownership change)
44.King Won Ton, 1936 Irving St, San Francisco
45.Tazaki Sushi, 3420 Judah St, San Francisco
46.Ramen Rama, 19774 Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino (closed)
47.Ogi-San Ramen, 10789 Blaney Ave, Cupertino (closed)
48.Kaimuki Grill, 104 S El Camino Real, San Mateo (closed)
49.Tanto, 1306 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
50.Okazu Ya SF (Noriega), 2445 Noriega St, San Francisco
51.King's Garden Ramen, 39055 Cedar Blvd, Newark (closed)
52.Sushi Bistro, 445 Balboa St, San Francisco
53.Genki Ramen, 3944 Geary Blvd, San Francisco
54.Mitsuwa Hokkaido festival booth, 675 Saratoga Ave, San Jose
55.Lakuni, 325 E 4th Ave, San Mateo
56.100% Healthy Desserts, 1155 Taraval St., San Francisco
57.Mifune, 1737 Post St, San Francisco
58.H2A Noodle, 42318 Fremont Blvd., Fremont (closed)
59.Iroha, 1728 Buchanan St, San Francisco
60.Miraku Noodles, 2131 N Broadway, Walnut Creek
61.Manpuku, 2977 College Ave, Berkeley
62.Tanpopo, 1740 Buchanan Street, San Francisco
63.Sushi Yoshi, 39261 Cedar Blvd, Newark
64.La Shang Niang Ramen (OEC), 42 Dixon Rd, Milpitas
65.Oidon, 71 E. 4th Avenue, San Mateo
66.Taraval Okazu Ya, 1735 Taraval St., San Francisco
67.Suzu Noodle House, 1581 Webster Street, San Francisco
68.Bushido Izakaya, 156 Castro St, Mountain View
69.Fresh Taste, 2107 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
70.Asuka Ramen, 883 Bush St, San Francisco
71.Sapporo-ya, 1581 Webster St, San Francisco
72.Tokyo Ramen, 678 Barber Lane, Milpitas (closed)
73.Kamakura, 2549 Santa Clara Ave, Alameda
74.Mama-san!, 312 8th Ave, San Francisco (closed)
75.Katana-ya Ramen, 10546 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito
77.Hotei, 1290 9th Ave, San Francisco
78.Bear's Ramen House, 2521 Durant, Berkeley
Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino defies the recession with sumptuous dishes for well-heeled diners
By Stett Holbrook (May 19, 2010 )
10330 N. Wolfe Road, Cupertino, CA 95014