Perhaps we can credit the passing of Prop J in November, or maybe it’s just Daniel Patterson’s sense of nostalgia, but San Francisco institution Alfred’s Steakhouse is the most recent recipient of historical preservation and a wanted refresh, and the city is all the more delicious for it.
(A fresh coat of cherry paint brings new life to one of San Francisco's oldest restaurants.)
The storied steakhouse has been around longer than any other, since 1928—a few lifetimes and a nearly impossible tenure in this city of fickle tastes—so when avant garde chef Patterson (owner of Alta CA, Coi, and Oakland’s Haven and Plum) purchased the place back in October, it was a particularly interesting union of old and new, with an uncertain outcome.
But after cozying into one of the dramatic red leather booths to sample the iconic spread, it’s clear that what has changed is all good: They dropped the “Steakhouse,” so it’s now just Alfred’s, and with it shed any remnant of stale atmosphere or lackluster sides. In its place is a fresh coat of cherry red paint, new leather booths in the lounge to match those enveloping nooks in the dining room, and black and white photos by artist John Ricca featuring slices of cityscape that practically pop off the walls. Frank Sinatra croons about learning the blues as martinis are shaken or stirred tableside, and time positively stands still.
(Daniel Patterson does grilled artichokes like you never had them before.)
The menu continues the vintage expectations until further inspection, when unique twists on the classics reveal themselves as the Patterson-level apps and sides you’d hoped for: Grilled artichoke is a delicate exploration of the supple heart when served alongside buttery burrata, topped with briny and bright caper salsa verde, arugula, and saba—an Italian syrup made from grape must that’s been heralded as the new balsamic. The salt and pepper calamari trumps all those you’ve had before it, breaded in an airy flour and cornmeal crust with a surprising sweetness from a touch of cinnamon. And charred broccoli stands up to its hefter rivals (mascarpone mashed potatoes among them) with a flavorful romesco sauce. All are worthy to appear alongside the premium California dry-aged beef from San Rafael-based Flannery Beef, which is plucked from the glass-doored meat case and served in customary cuts (our 14-ounce ribeye being an ideal slice of tender meat with stripes of marbling that melted into heavenly oblivion).
(Oysters Rockefeller are among the classic dishes that remain on the menu here.)
We box up much of those ounces in order to save room for what proves an excellent choice to end the night: the bananas foster, served tableside. The cart that pulls up soon becomes the center of the dining room, with conversations hushed and necks craned as the scent of brown sugar and butter caramelizing fills the air, a flash of bourbon flame ignites the room’s excitement, and our server cooks our bananas to “about medium rare.” He ladles them over cubes of brioche and ice cream, which soak up all of the melty goodness it creates. It is a show, and the result is worthy of an ovation.
(A chocolate mousse for dessert.)
Full disclosure: I never had the pleasure of dining at the original, but I can say this new iteration of Alfred’s is as much a celebration of the past as it is a delicious step ahead. // Alfred’s, 659 Merchant St. (FiDi), alfredssf.com