The whole-animal tasting menu is an eight-course celebration of Hitachiwagyu beef.
Executive chef Eric Upper is holding a miniature cow in his hands. The figurine is adorned with a purple velvet sash with Japanese characters embroidered along its gold fringe. Clearly, this isn’t an ordinary bovine.
Nor is Alexander’s Steakhouse San Francisco an ordinary steakhouse.
The prized token is of a Japanese Black cattle, a breed that traces its lineage to the early 1800s in what is now Ibaraki Prefecture, according to Upper. The cattle are raised for more than 30 months “with a carefully selected fodder and a honed technology, resulting in beef of exceptional quality, tenderness and flavor,” according to the restaurant’s press release.
The presentation of the cow to Upper by representatives from Japan was no small gesture. It was a sign of their approval and blessing, lending the steakhouse the unique distinction of being one of the few restaurants in the country that is both certified and licensed to serve authentic Kobe beef by the Kobe Beef Association in Japan. Most recently, it became the exclusive provider in the country for authentic Japanese Hitachiwagyu beef. Which brings us to tonight’s experience: The whole-animal tasting menu featuring Hitachiwagyu beef ($261 per person; $145 for suggested wine pairings).
The belly dish is served with a bright herb salad to balance the richness of the beef.
This one-of-a-kind A5 Hitachiwaygu beef tasting menu utilizes all parts of a Hitachi cow, delivered straight from Japan. The menu comes with a wine pairing curated by head sommelier Sean Widger, whose expertise flows as freely as the wine he pours. If it all sounds a little intimidating, it is. Luckily, each member of the steakhouse’s staff stands ready to help a whole-animal newbie along each of the eight courses.
The tasting kicks off with a sliver of amply marbled leg, slightly seared, served on tamago and topped with caviar. The bite-size course—though delectable—leaves you wondering if the tasting menu will be enough to satisfy your appetite, but don’t let that fool you. The second course is the Zabuton, the superpremium cut of meat between the chuck eye roll and chuck roll. The dish is served tartare with huckleberry and wasabi. And you’re off.
From there, each subsequent dish manages to showcase the individual cut of meat, along with the seasonal Japanese-inspired flavors with which they’re prepared: brisket with grilled onigiri (Japanese rice ball), leeks and double fermented soy; shank with cappellacci, yuzu kosho (yuzu pepper paste) butter, corn and dry age stock; belly with Zaalouk, chicken skin and herb salad; trio with neck crepinette, shin bao and grilled tritip; dry-aged strip with tasting salts; and a sweet finish of lard with kouign-amann, plum fluid gel and Hitachi powdered sugar.
Even the dessert on this tasting menu features an aspect of the prized beef: lard.
The dishes are paired perfectly with wines that provide a balance to each bite. Ask the sommelier where the wine came from, and you’re likely to hear an anecdote about the vintner, the vineyard from which it came, the evolution of the grapes or all of the above.
Remember after that first course when you worried about still being hungry? It seems so long ago now. There’s a true art to the flow and cadence of this menu, a genuine respect for the meat and the traditions around it. You taste it in the rich yet delicate flavors; you see it in the beautifully presented plates; and you hear it in each careful description of how a dish is prepared.
There’s a reason they were presented with that miniature cow.
Photography by: COURTESY OF ALEXANDER’S STEAKHOUSE