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Chef Jeffrey Stout On Alexander's Steakhouse, Opening Today

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[Photo: Naseema Khan]

Opening today in the three level space that housed Bacar restaurant for nearly a decade, is the second outpost of the cushy Alexander's Steakhouse that's steadily become a fixture in Cupertino. Executive chef Jeffrey Stout (pictured), who will now hold the reins in both locations, oversees a lengthy menu with Japanese and American influences reaching well beyond the expected. We caught up with the 44-year-old Bay Area native to learn more about his inspiration, the hard-to-find Certified Angus Beef® he'll be offering here in San Francisco and everything else.

Alexander’s has been a hot spot in the South Bay for a while now. What’s going to be different here in San Francisco? Cupertino has a soul of it's own. It has five years of history and evolution...San Francisco will have a different soul all together. It will feel similar, but different...The layout of the kitchen is different, the equipment is different and so the menu must work to the environment. I have an espresso- and tonka bean-roasted tenderloin of beef here. The chicken tobanyaki in SF is superior to that of Cupertino as our oak- and Korean binchotan-fired oven makes magic on those items. The layout of the restaurant is unique so our steps of service have to be altered to accommodate the flow. The level of food and service that we strive for is the same, yet the way that we have to approach it will be unique to San Francisco. I am very excited.

So how does it feel, taking over the old Bacar space? Feels great! I used to go to Bacar when it first opened. It was very busy. I don't remember the food, but I remember liking the desserts. The space has always had a great feel with multiple levels so taking over Bacar is very cool. We wanted to change somewhat, yet not too much...Sometimes new is not better. Over the years, with the chef changes and drama, the strength of Bacar has always been the room. It is the one constant that people remember and came for. The lighting in the restaurant is incredible and very warm. The neighborhood is fantastic and exactly where I would want to be. What are the biggest changes you've made to the interior and why? In listening [to customer feedback], noise level had been a concern of the past - lots of hard surfaces. We want Alexander's to be a destination. We softened it somewhat by adding carpeting over the hardwood floors, replacing chairs with richer black leather ones, opening the bar so it feels less cramped -- a bit more of a relaxed feel on the main bar though the use of a couch and comfortable lounge chairs. We transformed the kitchen to have transparency to it, by scaling down the glass wall and removing the frosted panels. All the bar and counters surfaces have been redone. Lighting has been reworked. Upstairs, we added a sliding shoji screen for privacy. Downstairs, believe it or not, after all these years, Bacar never had had a controlled wine room. We made a significant investment to ensure that our wine is handled properly. After-all we do have Master Sommelier Eric Entrikin overseeing our program. I think what people will find is familiarity and know that things have changed, yet not really [be] sure what has changed. All in all, the restaurant should have a slightly richer, more comfortable feel.

You grew up in the Bay Area, when to the CCA and have worked with some great chefs, like Roland Passot, along the way. Is there anyone or anything that stands out as a defining force in your cooking today? They all stand out for good or for bad. Some stand out for their people skills, some for their food. There is more to being a great chef than just food. Gifted cooks, great with food, do not always go on to become great chefs. The one that contributed most to me as a chef was Elliot King. Though not recognized, he had worked in New York with star chefs in the 80s. I was lead cook for him at the Blackhawk Grille [in Danville, CA], part of the California Cafe [Restaurant] Corporation, which does not exist now. I wanted to be [executive] chef and had given my notice. He spoke to me and his words have remained with me since. He said "You kick my ass with food, but I am better than you running a restaurant. Stick with me and I will teach you the rest." I was young. I did not listen. The first part of the statement is all I heard at the time. Later in life, I realize the gravity of the latter part. Consequently after leaving California Cafe Corporation as a cook, I later returned to it as a sous chef, then chef and finally as a corporate chef. [It was a] great experience and I benefited from his wisdom. Now I have cooks who I see with similar paths as mine. Interesting. So what influences your cooking the most today? Restraint and dryness. [I try not to] appear too contrived - too forced.

I’d love for you to tell me more about the menu at Alexander’s. What can we get excited about? I like to think of Alexander's as a contemporary restaurant that flows around steak. I root the steaks and sides in the tradition of a steakhouse, but with a simple clean approach that feels modern and then cast the supporting players of appetizers, salads and desserts with more imagination and foreign influence. Why should get you excited? The complete package: food, service, wine, ambiance and cocktails. We are trying to reach for a very high level that still feels approachable. Oh wait, We are doing Certified Angus Beef® prime in this restaurant, something that I am very proud of. This is the top 1% of all beef and nobody in San Francisco is serving this quality. Truly, there are but a handful of restaurants that go this route in the country. Prime, some restaurants do, but often prime Holstein, Hereford or non-branded beef. Certified Angus is always the most consistent product to work with.

You also have things like hamachi shots, lamb riblets, crab fritters and oxtail soup on your menu; so you clearly enjoy cooking way more than a steak. Why the steakhouse concept? Why now? I always believe a restaurant has to be focused. Trying to be all things to all guests is a recipe for failure. We are who we are. It took us over five years to evolve into Alexander's Steakhouse. There are going to be the naysayers and then there will be those that appreciate what we do, our core clientele. We know this. We have to stay true to our core concepts. The first year for us will be people learning who Alexander's is.

Have you eaten at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak? What do you think of it? No I have not eaten at Bourbon Steak. I don't really know much about it. I am sure we are different. I've had the last five years to focus in our identity and nail it. I believe in what we have learned and what we do.

With that and Lark Creek Steak here in SF, you’ll have a bit more competition than you’re used to. Have you and your partner JC Chen put any thought into that and what makes Alexander’s different? Of course...I like Lark Creek Steak! Unfortunately, I just don't want to park across the street, go through a department store and three floors of escalators to get there. As for competition, I'd rather compete against all restaurants in our price point that just steakhouses. There is more to our restaurant than just steak.

We noticed you have a large selection of cocktails. Years ago, my partner, JC and I had the opportunity to eat at Providence in Los Angeles. There we met Vincenzo Marianella, a highly regarded mixologist. We have remained friends. He opened our eyes to the beauty of the bar and craftsmanship of proper bar service. Having had him consult in Cupertino, we wanted to hit San Francisco with a strong bar program. Our Mixologist, Jessamine McLellan takes great pride in what she does. I know people will be quite happy with our drinks. I don't really drink, but for me, something as simple as cranberry, soda and lime, took on a new existence in the way that it was made and presented [by Jessamine]. I was impressed! Please come in and see for yourself. I don't think my descriptions could paint the full picture of the show. Do you think you’ll play around with culinary cocktails more in San Francisco than you do in Cupertino? As we learned long ago, the kitchen and bar need to play hand in hand to have a strong program. Everything is an evolution.

Did you see that Morton’s got 0 stars for food from Michael Bauer? What do you think of that? I saw it. Unfortunate. We all have our good days and our bad days. There is a place for everyone.

Thank goodness this is just hypothetical, but if Bauer were going to come into the restaurant next week for dinner, what would you hope he'd order? I would want him to order what he enjoys! I never want to tell our guests how or what to eat. In the end, it is just food. Is it yummy? Did you enjoy it? Some dishes are stronger than others, but then it's just personal opinion. As a chef, I am not cooking for me or for just a select few, I am cooking [for a] broad range of opinions. Hopefully along the way, you get something that stands out, something that you crave, something that is memorable and in the big picture, come back.

Will you spend more time in Cupertino or SF once things are up and running? I will be where I'm needed. We have a great team in Cupertino keeping things consistent. I believe in the team we have assembled in San Francisco: chef de cuisine Marc Zimmerman, sous chef Matt Bata and pastry/sous chef Dan Hyunh are great! They have taught me much and bring something new to the game. I am a better chef because of them. Always my success is built upon those around me. I appreciate it greatly! Front of the house, Stephanie Plumpton and Patrick Prohaska are amazing individuals, professional and driven.

What and where are you dying to eat in San Francsico? Good question. Something that is not predictable. Something soulful? Something personal? Coi? Commonwealth? How about Commis in Oakland! That's my number one on my list!

All Previous Alexander's Steakhouse Coverage [~ ESF ~]