I went to Alfred's last night for the first time in awhile. It's my favourite place for a steak in SF, very comfortable and delicious. I was worried about the place after reading here that they were no longer open for lunch. But what I found last night (a Thursday) was the place totally packed and some changes, not all for the better.
First, the packed. I was able to call at 7:30 for a table for two at 8pm, so it wasn't overflowing. But they had both dining rooms full as well as the private rooms past the kitchen. I also noticed a lot more tourists there than I'd ever seen before. All great news for their business.
Now for the bad stuff.. First, they've done away with the valet parking. Call me lazy but I really appreciate valet in the city. They are validating parking at a nearby garage, so it's not a big deal, but I'm sad to see it go.
Second, I noticed a lot more chaos in the staff than usual. Sitting at the bar I heard at least two arguments about who was responsible for what, and in general the staff seemed really harried. Maybe because it was more busy than usual? The place has always been a bit nutty but this was a bit much. Then again the actual service we got was excellent, so no real complaint here.
They've changed the menu a bit, simplified it. They only have two size steaks, having dropped the smallest option. A few non-steak dishes seem to have been removed. The wine list was better than I remember seeing it in a while. (Chowhound tip: they have a reserve list if you ask for it).
And the food was all excellent. I love their oysters rockefeller. Our filets were fantastic. They still have the maddening habit of bringing the main course to the table before we're done with our salads, but at least they were responsive when we shooed them away.
I tried to draw our waiter out about the implications of them being closed for lunch. He looked sad, but also remarked that lunch was not profitable for them. They've also cut out Monday night service.
Overall, the news was mostly good. Looks like they're streamlining the business a bit. But the place was busy and the food was excellent!
I visitted Alfred's for the first time this last weekend. I'd been tipped to it after reading a number of positive comments here, though I note that many of these posts are fairly old.
Unfortunately my experience wasn't entirely positive, though much of what I complain about could be easily remedied or may just be unique to the individual night I visitted.
I'm interested in hearing details from others with recent dinner experiences there.
First, our waiter was uniquely bad -- almost comically bad. This contrasts sharply against the "friendly" service I'd been expecting based on previous posts. The waiter would literally run to our table and arrive looking very agitated and nervous. He'd then stand near our table speaking very quickly, with his eyes occassionally darting off in various directions, rarely making eye contact. What's more ridiculous is that the restaurant didn't seem especially busy; many of the tables were occupied, but most of those appeared to be handled by other waiters. My hunch is that this guy either had some overwhelming parties to handle in another part of the restaurant, or -- and this seems very likely -- was a couple days into a methamphetamine run. The sweatiness and agitation seemed excessive, even for waiters in the busiest situations.
About 5 minutes after ordering, my associate realized he hadn't
been asked to select side dishes with his filet. This could have been easily corrected, but our waiter was nowhere to be found. He didn't walk by again until AFTER the server brought
our meals some 20 minutes later. The sides that arrived were
arbitrary selections (and not the same as the sides that
I ordered). Only plausible explanation is that the waiter
or kitchen decided to simply "fill in the blanks".
But the discomforting mannerisms were only one aspect of the
weak service. After our meals came, our table wasn't visitted again until after we were finished. No water refills, no checking in to see if we wanted additional wine, and no query about the quality of our meals.
Can't imagine that the other staffers are this scatterbrained.
But onto the food: I started with a Caesar salad and thought it was quite delicious. This was essentially the classic Cardini prep with additional anchovy flavor representation. Romaine was crisp and fresh, temperature was just right, and the dressing was flavorful. Did have high hopes
after reading another post that we'd get to experience the
"table side prep", but unfortunately that wasn't performed.
Is the tableside Caesar prep still happening at Alfred's or has this been jettisoned?
My executive cut filet was very good, though both my associate and I felt that our meat was just a bit overcooked given what we ordered. I ordered my filet medium-rare, and the meat was gray all the way through on the perimeter and pinkish toward the very middle of the cut. The quality of the meat itself was top notch, but a little bit drier from cooking than I would've expected, especially given that I'd read earlier Alfred's understands the importance of not overcooking. If "rare means blue" I would not expect that "medium rare means gray". Wasn't so overcooked that I would've sent it back, but given the waiter's absence, that wouldn't have been an option. But the sides -- baked potato and sauteed vegetables -- were surprisingly good. Simple, but executed well.
Overall I think this place has enough potential to warrant revisitting. The quality of the meat was great and the Caesar was solid. I also really like the red "old school" interior and am excited about their reportedly large single malt collection. Quality of service was a huge issue though, and
I was surprised that the meat was overcooked. But if these two
problems were corrected, I'd return with enthusiasm.
Is my experience unique or does Alfred's have trouble executing consistently? Or have they gone downhill since some of the more gushing reports were posted?
Would also be interested in any other steakhouse recs here in San Francisco.
re: Robert Lauriston
Thanks -- had seen these too (and participated in the second one). And while I see scattered praise for Alfred's here and there, I don't see many recent comprehensive analyses / reviews. Would like to decide if Alfred's is worth revisitting. Suspect you're right though that other threads are already handling "general steakhouse recommendations", e.g. Harris', Ruth's Chris, Izzy's, Bob's, etc...