Wagyu, come to Mama: 5A5 Steakhouse
I used to basically live at this place when it was Frisson. I host many happy hours, and 2/3 of the time, I would opt for Frisson’s lounge area.
So it was a sad day for me when I found out they had died.
Some time later, I noticed all of the birthday parties and events I was being invited to were being held at some place called “A5″… or sometimes “5A5″ – and without a sign on the front door, I still have no idea which is the real name but I have been here 3 times now. New party venue?
Located at 244 Jackson Street in the Financial District of San Francisco, 5A5 offers valet parking in front for a reasonable $10. Reasonable, by San Francisco standards, that is.
The first two times, I went to A5 for late-night parties, and I was impressed in that the lounge area was just as inviting as it used to be when it was Frisson. The problem w/ Frisson, though, was the food. I ate there often but the food was mediocre – but when you call yourself a “steakhouse” – I’m enough of a fool to try it once before ripping on it.
Let’s be clear – I am extremely picky about my steak. I am the diva of meats. I will take down any kind of meat and give it a shot. I will take a chunk out of a newly slaughtered animal if someone says it tastes good. Be it grass or corn-fed, be it in Australia or Argentina – I have eaten there, and I know my meat – and more importantly, I love and respect meat.
Meat is my friend.
Well, folks – 5A5 does NOT disappoint.
They managed to snatch Executive Allen Chen, originally sous chef at the famous Alexander’s Steakhouse in Cupertino – and it shines through in the taste. Some complain too much so, but you won’t hear me claim that. Excellent cooking is excellent cooking, PERIOD.
The decor here is, thankfully, not as orange as Frisson was, but light neutral colors and absolutely romantic and intimate with a lot of booth seating. It has a patio out back, and a back section reserved for large groups. You have a partial view into the large kitchen. The lighting, the layout and the general aura of A5 is stunning.
Before getting into the food, let’s just touch on service. The owners/managers were very courteous. The few servers we encountered over the course of the evening were outstanding. Some tried a bit too hard – and it seemed like a fake smile was glued to their face – but I’m not one to dock for trying. Keep trying… and hopefully one day it will be more natural. I never lacked for wine or water in my glass, and people came by just enough to make sure the dining experience exceeded our expectations.
We had hamachi shooters at $4 a pop, and it’s a nice start to a meal. You can definitely taste the hamachi, soy sauce, seaweed and caviar put into this little concoction – it’s delightful. They offered us complimentary glasses of champagne on the house, and that was quite nice. We ordered two glasses of Riesling to drink with the shooters and the shrimp cocktail appetizer that we shared. The shrimp, I would skip next time. While good, it wasn’t special.
My friend had the filet mignon and I was ecstatic to find the buffalo steak on the menu and opted for that. Buffalo meat, being as lean as it is, can be a difficult meat to cook, and from my perspective, if they could cook this meat (1) as requested, and (2) still retain what is potentially excellent flavor of perfectly cooked buffalo, it would tell me everything I need to know about this new steakhouse.
The filet mignon was seasoned beautifully – not an ounce of salt or pepper needed on that type of perfection. My buffalo steak, however, stole the show. At $47 for a 10 oz. cut – I never saw a more gorgeous sight in my whole life as I cut into this chunk of meat – - perfectly cooked to a nice, medium-rare, and juicy to the last bite.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get better, I took a bite of the deep-fried potato-croquette concoction that accompanied my steak – and was immediately taken to another realm. I do not know exactly what was in this – but between the cheesiness and crispness on the outside, gooey goodness on the inside – with a mouthful of buffalo – - the only thing that made it better was the sip of wine I took to wash it down.
Speaking of wine – I brought a bottle of my own Turnbull wine that I had been saving in my cellar to dinner. Corkage fee at the restaurant was $20, which is in my opinion, the fair cost for a meal of this caliber. I can’t stand it when restaurants gouge you on corkage – some of us have nice wines at home that we are willing to pay extra to drink there, but charging more than $20 to provide us w/ glasses during a meal we are opting to have at your establishment is not just ridiculous – but rude. The customer pays your establishment a compliment by opting to drink their cherish wine with your food, and the establishment insults you for it by charging you $40 additional to open the bottle and provide two wine glasses? I think not. A5′s corkage is fair, and they provided good service to go along with it. I should also note that their wine list is superb – in my opinion, since they seem to have many of the wines that I enjoy the most (at reasonable, though not modest, prices)!
After dinner, there was an event going on at the lounge, and we opted to stay on in the dining section, enjoying the house music while having more wine, dessert and coffee. The dinner portion, bearing in mind I brought my own wine, was $146 (2 steaks, corkage, 3 shooters, and one shrimp appetizer) not including tip, which makes it a pretty standard price for a steak dinner in San Francisco. The after-portion, not including tip was $56 for coffee, a bottle of wine, and one outstanding cheesecake that was tart, slightly sweet, creamy but not heavy at all.
Having said that – I should mention that 5A5 has a massive selection of Wagyu Kobe steaks that we did not try. Kobe beef in general is a truly impressively tender beef with outstanding marbling throughout – which means “fat”! Wagyu is even more so. However, this beef has a higher concentration of monounsaturated fats than “regular beef” – making it acceptable for even low cholesterol diets – in moderation, of course. At A5, prices are astronomically high for this rare and top-of-the-line selection of steaks, with a 8-10 oz. steak hovering dangerously close to the $200 price range, if not over. As of today, I have not had the gumption or the budget to try what must be quite a tantalizing cut of super-cow. One day, I will and then I will update this review, but until then – if you do try it, you must let me know your thoughts. To read more about what Wagyu Kobe beef is, click on this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagy%C5%AB.
Since my first visit to eat at 5A5 Steakhouse, I have been back a couple more times and each time, the food has been stellar, with service getting better, most likely because they realize I am a sucker for a good hunk of buffalo meat. For full disclosure’s sake, I will mention one rather significant flaw that 5A5 has: the atmosphere. With a dinner at these prices, 5A5 becomes a first-class date location, and the ambiance itself is very nice. But to have a date or even a business function here is often impossible due to the lounge area being as active as it can be. If your dinner should go past 10 p.m., then you might as well give up talking and use sign language, or just make out at your table so you don’t have to yell to be heard. Unfortunately, I can’t think of many things that 5A5 can do to change this situation given the two “areas” are adjacent to one another. What has worked for me is to make your 8 p.m. dinner reservation, and plan on finishing around 10 o’clock – then order an additional bottle of wine and join the party, socialize, and have a party date night. Romance is overrated anyhow. While I will return to 5A5 time and again for both events and dinner, I have to dock this beautiful steakhouse some points for this little flaw.
Otherwise, 5A5 borders on perfection.
Addictive Factor: 9/10
Overall Rating: 9.15/10