Updated Review as of June 24, 2014. This time, I have photos of the food at 5A5. Original review is below this updated section.
Recently, I had to pick a location for a dinner for 10 people on a Monday. All of us were getting together for happy hour first — and I’d already picked 5A5 for the location. Originally, I had been thinking that we’d move locations for dinner as I wasn’t sure everyone wanted steak for dinner, and because after 2.5 hours at one location for drinks — moving locations was probably a refreshing idea.
But after 2.5 hours of a happy hour with drinks — we’d have to find a walking location or some people would be driving to their next location in a less than desirable state (read: drunk).
So after some thought — I decided we’d stay there for dinner. After all, it was due time to get to 5A5 Steak Lounge for photos. My original review is below, written as one of the first one this site back in October 2009….and it had irked me for almost five years that I didn’t have any photographs to go with that review.
I’ve gone to 5A5 Steak Lounge many times since that original review — but the majority of the time, I was in the lounge for drinks and stuffing their addictive truffle fries into my mouth along with a strong Martini or scotch.
I don’t know what it is about their french fries — but the softness of the potatoes inside with the light crispness on the outside, mixed with the truffle oil….just floats my boat. Combined with their shishito peppers with bonito flakes, also on the Happy Hour menu, this made for a near-perfect experience with my drinks.
I had also dropped by several times over the years for parties though I had really not attended many late-night parties in the last year, and none that I had were at 5A5.
As it turns out — things have changed at 5A5 Steak Lounge.
Upon arriving and talking to Steve, one of the owners of this great steakhouse, I learned that it’s not that I hadn’t attended the parties I had mentioned in my original review — but that they were no longer hosting late-night parties at 5A5 Steak Lounge at all..
They were no longer hosting late-night parties at 5A5 Steak Lounge.
Half of San Francisco may have been devastated by this fact, but I personally was thrilled to hear that. As mentioned in my original review, this was the main obstacle for 5A5 Steak Lounge being known for its great steak; short of going at 5:30 PM for dinner and finishing before 9 PM, the music and party crowd was inevitably going to impede on your dining experience on any night between Thursday and Sunday.
Now that this was no longer the case — I was excited to see what had come of the food since the last time I was here.
Happy Hour at 5A5 Steak Lounge
Starting with happy hour appetizers in the lounge, I was happy to know they still kept their hamachi shooters — but they were now served in spoons rather than shot glasses. This made total sense as I’d had a hamachi or two plop down on my mouth whilst trying to get it out of the shot glass in the past. It was one of the few times I didn’t mind having a piece of raw fish land on my makeup but indeed, this was a much better method of eating this slightly sweet, slightly spicy and absolutely delicious serving of fresh, raw fish.
Some other happy hour menu items that our group ordered were the shrimp tempura and glazed chicken wings — both delightful with drinks and aptly priced at $5 for Happy Hour.
Dinner Service at 5A5 Steak Lounge
By 8 PM, with each of us having had a good, stiff drink or three, we were seated for dinner. Given how I felt after two Gibsons and a glass of Chardonnay, let’s just say I was really happy to not be driving or walking to another restaurant.
Within two minutes, our server brought out something beautiful.
Good Lord – take a look at that meat. Granted, what you’re looking at, while I’d have loved to review it, was way outside our dinner budget for the night. With a group of ten, one person ordering this beauty would take the dinner to a new price range, and one where some of the friends may have maimed me afterwards for ordering it no matter how good it was.
And looking at that piece in the front — you KNOW it would have been stellar. Beyond stellar…. (wiping drool).
Again, cost being something I wanted to keep under control, I noticed a moderately priced bottle of red on the menu: 2011 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a local winery and given that this bottle is, on average, around $50 in stores, the $80 price at 5A5 made it quite reasonable.
Despite having already had enough drinks in the lounge area, we kicked off this dinner with two bottles for the table. Most of us had a glass but it was moments before we were all done and needed another bottle as this particular wine was incredible.
It’s big — no, HUGE on the nose – and entices your palate before you even take a sip. I tend to order cabs often as I eat meat often, but it’s rare that I find a cab that I immediately like this much. Juicy and quite full of berry flavors, it’s also heavy and a strong hitter with what one expects from an old-school Cabernet Sauvignon. Really — if you’re at 5A5, do yourself a favor and get THIS wine. It’s also available at the bar by the glass ($20 for a glass).
With this glass, we had a a whole array of appetizers to choose from, shown below.
Course after course is enticing on the palate. The Wagyu sashimi was stellar; it doesn’t even feel like you’re eating beef. After sampling the hamachi sliders during our Happy Hour, we were able to all have one each during dinner thanks to Steve sending over a platter of this delicious appetizer. We also ordered the iceberg salad which was adorned with a creamy and delicious Bleu cheese dressing and bacon bits, along with the essential hard boiled egg crumbles.
The tako salad, or octopus salad was interesting. It was actually Korean in flavor, made of gochujang (Korean chile paste) but more impressive than the sauce itself was how PERFECTLY the octopus was cooked.
(We ordered the salad and tako salad; the remainder were from the kitchen or sent over by Steve, for your information.)
While we were happily sipping on wine and munching on the appetizers, the kitchen was busy preparing our entrees. With many of us at the table having ordered the bone-in ribeye, and others having ordered the regular ribeye, I decided to order the filet mignon, which I’ve had before at 5A5. But back then, they used to have the buffalo steak — which was nothing short of extraordinary. I’m not sure why they took that off the menu, but that was part of what made me declare this as one of the best steakhouses in San Francisco.
Not having had dinner here in a few years, I was excited to see what would come out this time.
Wanting to get everyone else’s food photos out of the way first, I shot the boneless ribeye first. Compared to the bone-in, this was around $15 cheaper. This friend’s steak was requested at medium, and came to the table looking juicy and well-rested.
Cutting it open, it was what I’d consider mediem with no raw meat in the middle of the steak. Having had a bite, I thought it was cooked well with a beautiful sear on the outside.
Lo and behold, the bone-in ribeyes came out and were ENORMOUS. No, really – -these things were huge.
There’s virtually no meat that comes out on one platter that makes me feel like I can’t finish it in one sitting — but I am quite positive that I couldn’t finish this plate if my life depended on it. THAT BIG!
While some at the table were taken aback by the size, I thought it was fabulous! :)
That said….forget the size, what did it taste like?
Well….the quality of the meat was indisputably good. The steaks were all cooked to about a medium, even the one requested as medium-rare, but with this cut, I see why. The fat in the meat would be raw at medium rare….
As someone who cooks, I could see how a cut this thick would be very difficult to season — and as expected, all the steaks I got a piece of on this evening were under-seasoned.
But that was easily fixed by requesting some salt.
What I could have done without is the pico de gallo-esque sauce on top. If this hunk of meat needed any sauce — and that’s a big “IF” — then I’m pretty certain it wouldn’t have been a light Mexican sauce.
At $49, it’s nearly double the size of the boneless ribeye and without the sauce, it would be well worth ordering it, in my opinion. Just ask them to hold the sauce.
Or, you could do like I did and order the filet mignon. Unlike the bone-in ribeye, my 10 oz. filet came with a demi glace with a handful of aromatic herbs on top. It was gorgeous to look at and looking around the table, I daresay I ordered the best thing on the menu. Cost-wise, it was $4 less than the bone-in ribeye, but the ribeye was also 1.5 times larger.
With any filet mignon, I’m going to request it rare. About 75% of the time, it still lands on my table bordering on medium-rare. But at 5A5 Steak Lounge, my filet mignon was cooked to perfection. Look at that beautiful meat…
Paired with my glass of Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon, it was outstanding!
Holding their own to the good steaks were the side dishes at 5A5 Steak Lounge. Each dish was spot on in terms of seasoning and flavor. The truffled macaroni and cheese were creamy and nicely cooked; the Brussels sprouts were perfectly salted and charred; and the mushroom side dish was indescribably delicious with a blend of mushrooms and a nice balance between being Asian and Italian in flavors.
Many know Chef Allen Chen to be from Alexander’s Steakhouse; what I know is that the sides at Alexander’s are not this good.
The Scotch Service at 5A5 Steak Lounge
Forget cheese. Forget dessert wines.
The moment you roll something called a “Scotch cart” around — you’re okay by me. And if it happens to come after some manly man meat — even better.
The last time I was at 5A5 Steak Lounge, they didn’t have this service, but I was tickled pink when they rolled up just as we had put our utensils down. Given how much drinking has been going on, the majority of the table did not partake in the scotch service, but my friend and I did. She had the Yamazaki 18 and I went for my Macallan 18.
It’s the Macallan ice-ball maker! I’ve seen this at other scotch tastings but had never gotten photos of it. But my still photographs can’t taken onsite can’t possibly show what’s happening here, so check out this video below:
The Desserts at 5A5 Steak Lounge
While I could find room for a glass of scotch, I could not find one little corner in my stomach for any dessert….I mean, not even a bite. No can do. I asked others at the table and everyone was stuffed to the gills, and we said as much to our server. Soon thereafter, for the sake of disclosure, Steve sent over desserts for us to try.
So my “not even a single bite” resolve melted into “one tiny little bite”….and the Opera cake and Peach Tea both were stupendously good! If I am that full and can still taste something to declare it as being good, it must be really good.
Overall, my assessment of 5A5 remains rather unchanged since my first visit. It’s still up there as being one of San Francisco’s finest steakhouses with a caliber of meat that only a few other places in the city could match.
But not having that buffalo steak with potato croquettes really takes away from my experience. While the filet mignon was excellent and the bone-in ribeye was impressive, if I had a choice, I’d opt for the flavors and textures presented in the buffalo steak.
I think I’m going to start petition!
Without the late-night events, 5A5 begins to evolve into a legitimate steakhouse. The lounge in and of itself actually adds to the appeal of 5A5 as a great waiting area, or a location for happy hour. Or, like we did, it’s great to warm-up there leading into a great dinner in the dining room portion of the restaurant.
I’ve always found service to be excellent at 5A5 Steak Lounge be it in the dining room or even the bar.
But this time, there was an added perk. I came home with so much leftover steak because of the bone-in ribeyes, so what to do with it but whip up a quick fried rice for dinner on the next night? I just wiped off all of the sauce and pico de gallo, and chopped the meat into bite-size pieces, tossed it with salt and then threw it into the fried rice.
And even after this, I had enough meat leftover for another meal. It’s the meal that keeps on giving!
If you do go to 5A5 Steak Lounge, don’t neglect to order the 2011 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon — I already bought a few bottles for my own cellar.
You can find hours and their menu offerings on the 5A5 website; take a look.
Below is my old review.
Addictive Factor: 8.5/10
Overall Rating: 9/10
ORIGINAL REVIEW (10/23/2009):
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.
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. To be honest, 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.
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.