We scoped out the restaurants of Silicon Valley Restaurant Week 2013 and couldn’t decide on just one recommendation. As per tradition, participating Bay Area restaurants will offer a discounted prix-fixe menu from Oct. 16-23. Here are our two top picks for joints to hit up for discount — but still gourmet — dining.
Confession: I love steaks. They’re sexy, sizzling and best experienced with little or no dressing — the criteria for a lifelong soul mate, basically. If I could get legally married to a steak in the state of California, I’d totally ride that gravy train.
But as much as I adore steaks, and as many times as I have encountered Morton’s Steakhouse around the world, I’d never really given the restaurant much serious thought before. “After all,” as a close friend told me once, “that it is the world’s largest unfranchised steakhouse chain certainly means that they serve tough, tasteless slabs of meat.” I was perfectly happy remaining at the restaurant bar for its Happy Hour anyway.
Which is why, when I sat down in the Morton’s dining room for the first time last week, I was absolutely blown away. The handsome wood panelling, dim lighting and crystal chandeliers certainly made it feel a lot less like a global restaurant chain and more like an uptown dining establishment in 1930’s Art Deco Chicago.
“Anyone can buy a New York strip steak from Safeway and cook it at home,” said General Manager Margaret Elkins, “but our customers come back here time and again for the magical Morton’s experience.”
Magical indeed — and then the food started coming.
It began with the egg, onion and poppy seed bread, a hulking loaf of freshly baked brioche that came with an all-too-knowing warning not to overload on.
After being physically restrained from funneling the whole thing down my throat, I moved on to the Morton’s salad, an impressive mountain of romaine lettuce coated with a blue cheese dressing. Chopped eggs added subtle textual variation to the dish, while the brininess of anchovies combined with sharp hits from the blue cheese crumbles elevated the dish to ambrosial heights.
The highlight of the menu for me, naturally, was the 6-ounce single-cut filet mignon, a fist-sized chunk of incredibly meaty flavor. As Executive Chef Damien Dueñas explained to me, Morton’s Steakhouse exclusively uses Midwestern beef — renowned around the world for its rich, earthy taste — sourced from farmers with whom the restaurant has worked with since its inception in 1978.
Flawlessly charred on the outside, the filet mignon yielded under my steak knife to reveal a bright pink center that was succulent and tender to the bite. Elkins, a certified sommelier, recommended veteran vintner Bill Nancarrow’s Duckhorn Decoy Napa Valley 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($15 a glass), whose bold tannins and delicate berry notes were a veritable match for the steak’s meatiness. Assuaging the carnivore’s guilt was a whole head of broccoli with Hollandaise sauce, as well as impossibly silky mashed potatoes that were topped with sour cream and bacon, and which incidentally also dealt the final blow to my half-hearted delusion of a low-carb diet.
Expanding its range of culinary options, the steakhouse will also feature non-bovine dishes on its Restaurant Week Menu. The deceptively ordinary chicken bianco — pan-seared chicken breast smothered with tomatoes, capers, artichokes and a lemon butter sauce — was a cosseting slab of poultry so tender that even I, usually keeping only to dark meat, not so much ate it as inhaled it.
The jumbo shrimp Alexander, paired with a lush beurre blanc sauce and basil oil, was a similarly satisfying combination of textures and flavors that exploded across the tongue with every bite. Both these dishes paired phenomenally with the effusive Conundrum California 2011 White Blend ($13 a glass), whose rich floral bouquet and pear and melon notes complemented the natural sweetness of chicken and shrimp.
The homemade double chocolate mousse, a dense Milky Way of whipped chocolate cream and tiny dark chocolate crumbles, was a perfect conclusion to the magnificent meal, deftly managing to avoid the all-too-common pitfall of being excessively sweet. Paired with a robust Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port ($11 a glass), it made me wonder why I had been wasting my calories on gummy premade junk all this time.
Morton’s turned out to truly be one of the finest steakhouse experiences I have ever had the privilege of trying. Moral of the story? Don’t listen to your friend’s advice on worldwide steakhouse chains, no matter how much he thinks he understands your steak obsession.
– Renjie Wong
177 Park Avenue
San Jose, CA 95113
LOFT BAR & BISTRO
It’s the age-old Friday night question: What do we do for dinner?
It’s too depressing to close another week in the dining hall on some wilting couches with fluorescent lights; after all, a young person’s arteries can only take so much Axe and Palm in any given week. “The Marguerite?” someone suggests weakly, rolling over in bed. Everyone spends a few contemplative moments scrolling up and down Yelp reviews just to end up at CoHo an hour later.
It’s so easy to get trapped in the Stanford bubble that we don’t even think about the options off campus. Silicon Valley, as I discovered last week, is a rich place for all kinds of cuisine, beyond Oren’s Hummus or CREAM.
One of our picks for Silicon Valley Restaurant Week is Loft Bar and Bistro, a swanky downtown joint with two stories and a rooftop patio just off the Caltrain station in San Jose.
Near an improv club and a new P.F. Chang’s, Loft is part of the growing movement that’s making downtown San Jose an it-place to be. If we’re advocating that you not only skip the Marguerite but wait for eight Caltrain stops, it has to be something special.
Owner Kam Razavi and Executive Chef Adrian Mullen, roommates themselves 25 years ago, know how to make an environment that can suit any college type. Sit downstairs for a quieter, more intimate dinner with friends. Come upstairs on Thursdays through Sundays for entertainment and dancing ranging from jazz performances to a live DJ. For the truly elite experience, reserve the rooftop patio and party like the Silicon Valley execs do.
From the Silicon Valley Restaurant Week menu, we bring you four of our favorites:
For a sweet, smooth, and summery spread with a crispy shell, the ahi tuna tartare makes for a truly breathtaking appetizer. We enjoyed it with the Great White, an incredibly refreshing drink with guava rum that adds the characteristic berry-like fragrance of fruit. It’s a strong drink because of the Bacardi 151. If finals didn’t knock you out, this drink might.
Too often prawns are small, rubbery, and tasteless — Loft’s grilled prawn skewers are tender and well-cooked, a true shout-out to the San Francisco Bay roots of the restaurant. We paired it with the Loft Hurricane — a house special that adds the caramel flavor of aged rum, a buttery depth to the otherwise cloying sweetness of passion fruit syrup.
The teriyaki short ribs – a personal favorite of Razavi — has tender meat braised for so long that it literally falls off the bone at a prod. The Speak Easy brought this classic home with a clean, botanical, metallic tang that bloomed into the creamy warmth of bourbon, with smoky undertones and the unexpected finish of Madagascan vanilla.
The braised lamb shank, another powerful dish, is slow-cooked with garlic and herbs and served with a side of rich and creamy mashed potatoes. A Lychee Martini completed this meal, with rose notes from the lychee syrup, pineapple and passion fruit adding a uniquely tropical touch to the most urbane of drinks.
If these San Jose classics aren’t enough to drag you off campus on a Friday, we don’t know what will. Let Silicon Valley Restaurant Week take you off the Farm and teach you a little bit about the Valley around you.
– Ella Aitcheson
LOFT BAR & BISTRO
90 S Second St
San Jose, CA 95113