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Silicon valley steakhouses


MaxH
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I’ve searched, slowly, for a solid steakhouse in that area. Not hoping for New York or Chicago or Texas, mind, but if possible, something a little interesting. Below are experiences from 10 prospects, eight briefly and two in detail -- one "bad" (Grill on the Alley) and one "good" (Spencer’s).

The Black Angus, aka Stewart Anderson Cattle Company, chain, when opening in western states in the 1970s, seemed an above-average formula at moderate prices. It survives (unlike many concept restaurant chains, characteristic of 1970s area dining by the way, that faded nearly or fully). But by the 1990s, visits to the Sunnyvale Black Angus brought indifferent meats almost grimly served. Some neighborhood steak houses, also moderate, draw regulars, but visits found no special angle. Cattleman’s in Sunnyvale (Ross Drive off 237), Mister Steer in Santa Clara, Blake’s on San Pedro Square in downtown San José. The Outback chain opened a location in Cupertino a decade or so ago and I thought it gave decent value. The forced "G’day" Aussie theme intruded though, and orders were chaos in the hands of very young employees once or twice (haven’t visited in some years).

Moving up a little in my opinion, The Garden City, famous card club at Saratoga and Stevens Creek, was known as much for its steak/chop restaurant as for gaming and scandals, 10-15 years ago. I never went for cards, but enjoyed a couple of outstanding steakhouse meals in middle 1990s. (Kitchen was simpatico: learning that my companions agreed to bone-in steaks not just for flavor but to leave me leftovers for stock, kitchen provided with the "doggie" boxes some well-done Prime Rib ends that enhanced the broth.) But the scene evolved; recent reports discouraged revisit. A friend favors Sundance [Mining Company] in Palo Alto, which I thought decent, noisy; sort of a 1970s look (and name; in fact "Established 1974") -- reminiscent of Black Angus when that chain was new. Forbes Mill in Los Gatos, a large bustling place, offered broad wine selection a year ago, highlighting nearby Santa Cruz Mountains producers (Ridge, Cooper-Garrod, Ahlgren, etc.) Such a place by the way can be as expensive as any "high-end" restaurant, when all is tallied. There I got a fine piece of meat and the hobgoblin of steak houses, hokey side dishes. Fresh vegetables accompanied the "à-la-carte" steak, but the "wild mushrooms" dish looked mostly ordinary cultivated buttons and the "pilaf" was an institutional parboiled-rice mix, lukewarm. The béarnaise sauce came, after a second request, late and cool, but was the right stuff, we must count our blessings. (One chef who knows sauces was badly disappointed dining at the Santana Row Left Bank, for example, receiving a hollandaise instead, from a server who then argued with him that it was a béarnaise.)

Lately, High Concept steakhouse chains are a growth segment in US restaurant business. In-flight magazines are thick with advertisements for them ("Locations in Denver, Houston, Miami, ..."). A little of this has come to silicon valley, as follows.

In the late 1990s a "Grill on the Alley" replaced Les Saisons (an old-style French restaurant) in the Fairmont Hotel, downtown San José. The remodeling laid on, with a heavy hand, Old-Fashioned Hard-Boiled Steakhouse Look. Green-shaded banker’s lamps in the dark leather-covered booths, Cole Porter music, "Hand-Stirred Martinis" neon window sign, separate Martini menu. After it had been open for some time, a visit found inconsistency. My steak was cooked very wrong, and unflavorful; companion’s tournedos were fine. Second visit half-year later yielded decent dishes for three of us but my porterhouse, ordered medium rare, came seared outside, completely raw and cold inside. (You’d get that if you cooked steaks by time, but the time was set for steaks at room temperature and this one was from the fridge.) Andrew Trice has said that cooking steaks to order is tricky in a general kitchen, but this place specialized in them. Oddly, when I mentioned the uncooked steak to the waiter, he acknowledged it and vanished, never to be seen again, deepening the error. (I didn’t pursue it and the steak wasn’t fully wasted -- the stockpot again.) Evidently Sheila Himmel of the SJ Mercury News and other commentators were lucky and missed this facet of the Grill, but two gaffes in a row (and failure to correct one of them) argued a restaurant out of control, warning me away.

Spencer’s, in the San José Doubletree Hotel (off 101 at SJ airport) is a Hilton concept that opened there in 2004. I heard of it soon from locals, going actually to enjoy California wines from the broad list. This list has a continuum of prices and is dominantly California. Very many wines are also available by glass, thanks to a large wine-bar cooler-dispenser that preserves partial bottles. So the venue is also a wine bar (de facto if not de marketing). I’d been by it once before to meet someone in the hotel, the lobby then full and bustling, steakhouse to one side, friendly-looking sunken bar-lounge and sushi bar nearby. Open Table (www.opentable.com) takes reservations.

On a recent Saturday the near-empty hotel parking lot underscored that it’s a business hotel, getting most of its guests weeknights. Likewise the steakhouse, which had a fair crowd by mid-evening but was not nearly full. The staff we talked to were sharp and solicitous and seemed well-trained. Temporary sommelier Scott Casey, filling in from Arizona, was very helpful, offering details and tasting experience with the wines. He said that he grew up with European parents enjoying wine at meals, and took to wine professionally fairly young. This gave him a depth of insight, obvious on our visit (much harder to get if you come to wine later in life, I think). It also equipped him to deal tactfully with occasional brash wine collectors who like to mess with restaurant wine professionals (an occupational annoyance).

We took our time, to pace things out and try multiple courses. First "crusty" onion soups. These came in individual one-liter tureens covered with thick layers of mixed melted cheeses. Mindful of food coming, we sampled the cheese layers, but treated them as lids. The soup had an herbed, lightly sherried broth and plenty of onions. Better balanced, to my palate, than the Left Bank soup formula (so sherried or brandied, it’s cloyingly sweet). After a pause to digest, we ordered steaks and side dishes: broiled beefsteak tomatoes, mushrooms, almond rice (the server warned of large portions for some items and, following his advice, we asked for a half order of the rice, which was about right). We ordered different steaks (which Spencer’s broils) and shared them. My porterhouse was fine and well cooked. My intrepid dining companion’s rib-eye (house specialty), though, was outstandingly flavorful, I’d order it on a future visit. With these steaks came small salads and the side dishes. The rice was rice, mushrooms indifferent; tomatoes were very ripe, seasoned with fresh basil shreds, but covered, like the soup, with heavy melted cheese -- not what I’ve gotten elsewhere when the menu said "broiled tomatoes," but easy enough to remove. Another, long, pause later, for duty’s sake we finally tried a dessert course, the apple "pie." This staggeringly deep-dish assembly had thin crusts filled with flat dried apples and a few raisins, not overly sweet, and arrived flanked by a blob each of ice cream and heavy, lightly sweetened whipped cream. This dessert could serve three.

Actually you could make a pretty good meal from any two of Spencer's soup, a salad, and the apple "pie." Or just the "pie" by itself, with coffee or tea. Especially if you don’t have the hours we allocated to this. (Of course, in such premises it may be hard to resist trying a steak.) In this one visit we thought the service solid, steaks excellent, side dishes adequate, and that it would be worth going back just to get that soup or "pie" once more. It was the best experience of those here.

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Thanks for the great reviews! I'm always looking for good places to satisfy my beef cravings around the Bay Area that aren't the standard chains of Morton's and Ruth's Chris and Cattleman's.

I've heard that Alexander's in Cupertino is pretty good. It's fairly new too and not in the most obvious location.

<a href="http://www.alexanderssteakhouse.com/">Website</a><BR>

<a href="http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2005/06/24/PNGMNDBRT01.DTL&type=food">SFGate Review</a>

I have been to Sundance in Palo Alto, which is pretty decent too. Plain, but decent.

My favorite, though, when not in the mood to go to Ruth's Chris or House of Prime Rib in the city is Izzy's in San Carlos. I know they have locations in Corte Madeira and the city. The don't have my favorite cut, the porterhouse, but they have great sides and a good NYStrip.

<br><a href="http://www.izzyssteaksandchops.com/">Web Site"</a>

Should check it out!

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Thanks for the further suggestions, alycemoy.

The Ruth's Chris chain had a particular complex history. The original in New Orleans and early clones had very high standards, I thought, when Ruth Fertel was still alive (she died a couple of years ago). I was disappointed with some of the remoter ones even many years ago, and a reliable native food-fanatic informant in New Orleans has mentioned writing off Ruth's even there ("... no longer dry-age their beef ..."). As you may know, Fertel, then a chemist and divorced mother, originally bought the Chris Steak House under contractual requirement to preserve the name.

I've heard that Alexander's in Cupertino is pretty good. It's fairly new too and not in the most obvious location.

If you have a chance to try it, please report. There's an issue with its Web site (discussed on another forum). It's one of those with thick layers of interface that can throw successive obstacles into the path of readers. I gave up part-way through; one patient reader got through the goop (first asking software permissions to execute who-knows-what on your computer, then requiring you have latest-hippest animation software installed, finally some tedious concept "Intro" -- none of which are necessary for an excellent interface) -- only to find that content he sought wasn't there. Such "trash-oriented" Web presence (as he put it crisply) may have nothing to do with the quality of the restaurant but may have been farmed out, etc.

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Is Charlie Browns still next to the Sunnyvale Hilton, just off 101 at the Moffat field exit by the blue cube?

I've had sone very acceptable beef there. When I was co,,uting regularly there I would get off the plane, collect thehire car, drive down 101 check in, eat there and then sleep...

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OMG!!! Charlie Brown's...I think it went out of business in the late '70's or early '80's!!! We used to go there when we were first married...had a friend whose band performed there, but, like I said, late '70's or early '80's!

"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."

- Dr. Hannibal Lecter

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  • 1 month later...

I had a great dinner at Alexanders. Pricey, but that's the nature of the beast. Some interesting and playful non-steak items as well.

"Gourmandise is not unbecoming to women: it suits the delicacy of their organs and recompenses them for some pleasures they cannot enjoy, and for some evils to which they are doomed." Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

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I too had a good meal at Alexander's some weeks ago (after earlier note above on SV steakhouses). Only one visit so far, which doesn't give very deep insight of course [1]. The layout of the place is painstaking, the front staff I met were all obvious veterans and knew their business. A steak (nominal focus of the meal) was of high quality by the standards of the others I mentioned above; it had unusual, colorful flavor-accent garnishes, a departure from the simple service common in steakhouses. The comfort-foody side-dish offerings -- tried several, took leftovers home -- these dishes were much cited by two good local dining critics I'd researched (Himmel and Holbrook) -- were interesting but I thought tended to unnecessary fattiness, just as one critic had complained. Unusually knowledgeable wine buyer, this was evident from the wine list which featured some wines that are wine-geek favorites but untrumpeted; at least one example (De Meric "Sous Bois") of the small-house Champagnes now increasingly imported, in numbers, directly to California. These can be outstanding values as well as individualistic. Some of them outdo the big labels in blind tastings and are also cheaper -- see K and L Wines for a good selection, Gary Westby is Champagne buyer there, has aggressively sought out the small houses. Sorry for this long digression: we'd just done a blind tasting of these small-house Champagnes in a co-operative wine group I'm in; Gary Westby kindly joined us and led the discussion; I had the notes in hand at the steakhouse. It was good to see a restaurant featuring these and other good-value wines. A moderately priced dryish (QbA) German riesling went well, as expected, with the heirloom tomato salad and the macaroni-and-cheese. This salad was a high point, unusual, stylish layout; very fresh and ripe.

Note 1: Three visits to Spencer's in SJ (mentioned above) were purely positive, the next two had off notes that didn't surface earlier. Still many high points in my experiences. The apple pie has been consistent, and they corrected me: the many apples are all fresh, not dried. The style of pie made there gives a deep dry-fruit result instead of the more familiar, shallower, saucy style of US apple pies.

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By the way, the considerable restaurant news lately from New Orleans included that the Ruth's Chris chain mentioned upthread has now abandoned its corporate HQ site in nearby Metairie. The chain originated as Ruth Fertel’s single restaurant in New Orleans -- still very good when I first ate there in 1990.

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It has been a couple of years and maybe a bit too far north (in SF proper) to qualify as Silicon Valley, but two monuments to steak are on the same block on Van Ness: House of Prime Rib and Harris' Steak House (2100 Van Ness).

In my recollection, Harris' might edge out House of Prime Rib just for seared steak itself, but the prime rib, sides (including signature spun Caesar) and the atmosphere of House might be better. House also had better alternatives for non-steak eaters.

I also bought aged prime steaks at the market in Berkeley's Cafe Rouge and cooked them at home.

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I'll also cast my vote for Harris'. I've been there 3 or 4 times and I have always been impressed by the quality of their meat. Excellent wine list too, and great old-school ambiance.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Yes indeed, those places in SF are very popular. House of Prime Rib is an old-line institution almost to the level of the Tadich Grill or some of the beloved SF institutions still remembered by many residents but no longer open. House of Prime Rib reflects the old tradition of portable carving carts with the hot meats and garnishes. (A step in the direction of the old-line Tafelspitz places in Vienna, with their connections to Habsburg days and their even more elaborate service carts -- a few still do that, fewer and fewer.)

These SF restaurants are well away from silicon valley, the subject of the thread (even if the "angle subtended is very small" from far away -- as a professor friend in Cambridge Mass said to me in the 1970s, excusing some Northeastern confusions between Los Angeles and San Francisco at the time). Other regional favorites are in the upper SF peninsula, well away from SV but not in SF either. Bay Area-wide steakhouses might be a useful complementary thread. Although as I said at first, for steakhouses the Bay Area isn't New York or Chicago or Texas. (Or Oklahoma or Nebraska or Colorado.) (Or Kansas City.)

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  • 1 month later...
I had a great dinner at Alexanders. Pricey, but that's the nature of the beast.  Some interesting and playful non-steak items as well.

Another review on Alexander's Steakhouse in Cupertino. The asian-inspired accents on the appetizers and desserts sound very interesting.

Did anyone have the signature cotton candy for dessert or the Kobe Beef?

Here is the link to a recent SF Chron (M. Bauer) review: click

Alexander's Steakhouse

10330 N. Wolfe Road (near Interstate 280), Cupertino; (408) 446-2222.

Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday; dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, until 9 p.m. Sunday. Full bar. Reservations and credit cards accepted. Free parking lot.

What helps set Alexander's apart from more conventional steakhouses is its ambitious approach to starters, including several choices of crudo, or raw fish dishes. Here's where Stout shows off his Japanese heritage, offering marinated hamachi, maguro tuna three ways ($13) and Kumamoto oysters ($14), as well as cooked seafood dishes.

The top-notch fish is presented artfully, with the hamachi served in porcelain soup spoons. The maguro comes seared; diced into tartare; and sliced into sashimi, accompanied by marinated cucumbers and other Japanese-style salads. A lovely hijiki seaweed/lotus root salad provides the backdrop for the briny oysters. But the dishes were somewhat overwrought, with too many flavors and garnishes, overwhelming the seafood.

….

However, that adventurous spirit is part of what makes Alexander's so attractive. Stout and his partner, J.C. Chen, both come from Asian backgrounds and have firsthand knowledge of Asian cuisine. Stout's mother, an accomplished cook, is Japanese-born, and he lived in Japan for two years; Chen's heritage is Chinese, and he was born and raised in Korea.

Other appetizers and salads mentioned:

Minced lobster and shrimp dumplings ($12) on top of peas and a mince of cucumbers and beets, bound with a light curry creme fraiche.

A stack of crunchy sweetbreads ($13) with roasted salsify and a mince of shiitakes, with dabs of soy mustard and black truffle vinaigrette.

Salads:

roasted grape and endive ($10)

Caesar ($8).

Beet salad ($9), a mix of thin slices of golden beets and a dice of red beets with Sonoma dry Jack

Iceberg salad ($8), with blue cheese and creamy blue cheese dressing

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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I don't think Bauer did this review.

You're correct; sorry for the error. The article is signed by Miriam Morgan.

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've been to Alexander’s a few more times since posting here, had some decent food. The place has a lot of evident concept and investment behind it and, for a steakhouse, is about the most interesting I've encountered near silicon valley. (Despite the minor annoyance of what's been called a flash-trash Web site, possibly farmed out, which managed not to answer some people's basic questions, yet did this with high-bandwidth overwrought cute graphicality; pity the innocent traveler who tries to read it over a laptop phone modem).

Last visit, a lunch, tried the much-mentioned Kobe beef burger made from trimmings in kitchen. It was very well garnished and beautifully presented but (in that one random sampling anyway) didn’t strike me as good as what one can easily make at home with a grinder. (Haven’t tried the shaved-prime-rib French-dip sandwich, another lunch favorite, but other locals have, and describe it as vast, enough for two easily.) Time before that, two well-known US chefs were dining there, to the evident pleasure of the restaurant's employees. The youngish J C Chen, who manages, is hardworking and has been consistently gracious in my experience.

One less-obvious strength is the extraordinary wine inventory (said to be work of the sommelier, whom I haven't met) which though not large, manages to hit a lot of very moderately priced in-the-know wines such as among the small-house Champagnes and Oregon pinots and even -- I am not kidding -- good-value German (Kabinett and-or QbA) Riesling all ready for you to order with your steak, which is not a common practice in the US but can work well, since the Rieslings with good sugar-acid poise that are not too heavy are astoundingly versatile food wines, as wine geeks have said for some time (even in the US).

-- Max

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  • 4 months later...

Just ate at Alexanders this evening. This was our first visit and won't be our last. The steaks are the best we've had in Silicon Valley (granted, we've only been here a few months and Black Angus shouldn't even count). But really, the quality of the meat we had was comparable to New York steakhouses, in our opinion.

We were just having a regular dinner, so didn't go overboard. I had the small filet mignon (is that redundant?!) and my husband had the small prime rib (still not too small!). we had the "simply spinach" side dish which was actually sauteed spinach and onions with chopped chives as a garnish. My filet had tarragon leaves on top and was served with a side of bearnaise. The prime rib was served with jus and horseradish cream sauce. Excellent! Not only was the quality of the meat good, both were cooked exactly as ordered (medium rare).

Dessert is another story entirely. I'm sure that the "normal" desserts on the menu are fine. We, however, ordered the "Spice Rack"...subtitled "exotica". I wanted to see what they considered exotic. I should have trusted my intuition and stayed away. It was largely unpalatable. There were three main components to this dessert:

basil panna cotta topped with a blueberry gelee (for some odd reason, garnished with thyme)

coconut cake topped with a quenelle of milk chocolate mousse (again, an odd garnish, two orange segments)

finally:

saffron sorbet(? possibly sherbet) on a shortbread disc

the only thing edible was the coconut cake. the basil panna cotta was set with too much gelatin and tasted like they used an entire (large) container of dried basil to infuse the cream. they also used green food coloring :shock: .

the saffron ice was way too saffron-y (disclaimer, I HATE saffron, so it wouldn't have mattered how much they used, it would have been too much)

When the server asked how we liked it, I told him it was awful. I tried to put it in the nicest way, but I don't think he understood. I think he thinks the pastry chef is very avant garde...he responded with a rather unconvincing "Yes, you either love it or hate it" sort of answer. I don't think he understood that 99% percent of people would probably hate the panna cotta. Most people would eat the coconut cake (very average tasting) and maybe 50/50 on the saffron sorbet.

If you've read any of my posts on the pastry and baking forum, you'll understand why I'm so opinionated about this! :biggrin:

But...we love the steaks and will definitely eat there again...we'll just go somewhere else for dessert!

Edited by alanamoana (log)
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  • 10 months later...

We ate at Alexander's last night. The steak was amazing, I had the dry aged t-bone, but my friend splurged and got the kobe ny cut. It looked delicious. I have pictures up here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mjwiacek/sets...57594570050328/

The cotton candy is complimentary, but the real star of dessert was the deconstructed inside out root beer float. It was to die for. My only comment is that I wish it had more of the ice cream with it. :-)

WhizWit.net -- My blog on Food, Life, and Politics
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We ate at Alexander's last night.  The steak was amazing, I had the dry aged t-bone, but my friend splurged and got the kobe ny cut.  It looked delicious.  I have pictures up here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mjwiacek/sets...57594570050328/

The cotton candy is complimentary, but the real star of dessert was the deconstructed inside out root beer float.  It was to die for.  My only comment is that I wish it had more of the ice cream with it. :-)

Thanks for the report, these reviews of Alexander's intrigue me. I like the non-typical (for a steakhouse) appetizers and side dishes on offer and it sounds like they have some interesting desserts, despite the hit and miss experience of alanamoana in this regard.

Any more details on the rootbeer dessert, ghost?

We were just discussing some root beer desserts on this thread started by gfron1. Not ultra original perhaps, but I was thinking I would like a parfait-type dessert with layers of rootbeer granita and vanilla ice cream...

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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We ate at Alexander's last night.  The steak was amazing, I had the dry aged t-bone, but my friend splurged and got the kobe ny cut.  It looked delicious.  I have pictures up here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mjwiacek/sets...57594570050328/

The cotton candy is complimentary, but the real star of dessert was the deconstructed inside out root beer float.  It was to die for.  My only comment is that I wish it had more of the ice cream with it. :-)

Thanks for the report, these reviews of Alexander's intrigue me. I like the non-typical (for a steakhouse) appetizers and side dishes on offer and it sounds like they have some interesting desserts, despite the hit and miss experience of alanamoana in this regard.

Any more details on the rootbeer dessert, ghost?

We were just discussing some root beer desserts on this thread started by gfron1. Not ultra original perhaps, but I was thinking I would like a parfait-type dessert with layers of rootbeer granita and vanilla ice cream...

not to hijack the thread, but about ten years ago, aqua in sf used to do a rootbeer float that was very hip and new back then. probably still on the menu as it was sort of a signature item...even though george morrone is long gone and michael mina is all too concerned with vegas and new ventures!

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