659 Merchant Street
A bugger of a place to reach but well worth the bother. Ignoring local advice (always a dim idea) that Alfred's is an excellent restaurant but hard to find, we tried to get there by bus rather than cab and ended up wandering the streets – Merchant Street is impossibly long and runs either side of a blasted mountain. Eventually a local chappie overheard our wailing and took pity on us: "I live above Alfred's," says he: "An excellent restaurant but can be hard to find!”
Standing at the bar quaffing a very nice brown beer ( looking longingly and also with anticipation at a selection of more than 100 whiskeys) and conversing with a clean cut well dressed local who had just finished eating a steak (while standing at the bar: go figure), we realised what San Francisco is all about. "Come with me to see my friend’s nice Victorian style home, the architecture is amazing." Hmm. Fortunately the call to table came in just the nick of time and we were escorted to a typical steakhouse setting, dark panelling and lots of leather.
“The chap at the bar seemed rather strange!” commented my wife.
We were seated in one of the smaller of 4 dining rooms just off the bar and introduced to Dave (name changed to protect his job) our host for the evening, a personable (good craic) and honest young guy. “Don't come here for prime rib” was an example of his excellent advice, so a 30oz Porterhouse it was. Simply awesome. Golden corn fed, aged for a minimum four weeks, slightly marbled but not fatty and cooked over Mexican mesquite charcoal (iron wood ) to a perfect rare side of medium. The selection of wild mushrooms that came as an accompaniment were pretty darn good as was the side of fresh seasonal veg. Normally you’d talk about the starter first in a review but this steak was so good I couldn't wait. Back to the starter, then: dungeness crab cakes with corn relish a chipotle aioli. Nearest and dearest had a classic Caeser salad without the anchovies (‘cos they make her puke, as Dubai Country Club once found out) followed by the tenderest 10oz fillet mignon ever.
A gargle of Californian house red (thanks again to Dave: as he pointed out, it's less than half the price of the cheapest bottle available and better by half again than a lot of them) washed every last morsel down, leaving a feeling of well being and an inability to move. At this point the regenerating powers of single malt came to the fore along with an Irish coffee to round off a feast fit for a king and queen, never mind a Geordie engineer and an Irish teacher. Now all this came to us for a mere $184.44 which included a 17 % taxable service charge. Unlike the rest of the U.S. no tip is required at Alfred’s as a fixed service charge is added to each bill regardless of the number of guests or size of the bill, a practice that apparently ensures the back room staff get a share. They say they do this to help build a team and, from our experience there, the plan certainly works. If you’re in San Francisco and enjoy good steak, go to Alfred’s.
Fat Expat Guest Reviewer Derek Kirkup and his long-suffering wife Anita spent much of last summer wandering around