Discovering Vintage San Francisco

Alfred’s Steakhouse Redux

New owners, new glassware, new(ish) menu. Same great Alfred’s feel. On my recent visit to one of the oldest restaurants in the city, one that I wrote about with such affection in the book and was devastated when I learned a few months ago it had been sold, my heart felt light again. New owner Daniel Patterson, renowned local chef and restaurateur, has a clear affinity for what the restaurant has always been. He didn’t muck with it too much, and though there are some things missing that I wish were still on offer (creamed spinach, a special Buckaroo lunch menu and the gorgeous etched glass dividers that used to separate the booths, to name a few), I’m relieved to report that Alfred’s is still around in all its long-lasting glory (Michael Bauer agrees)… and you should book a meal there as soon as is humanly possible.

When you do, you’ll experience the same old-school clubbiness, same bordello red walls, same focus on meat (though now it’s all grass-fed), and same love of food and other-era experience always associated with the place founded in 1928. When you order a cocktail, you’ll still get the full shaker plunked on your table after the initial pour, to consume at your leisure as the gradual melt of the ice chills the liquor even further.

What was different in a good way? A beautiful “Alfred’s salad” featured romaine and a vegetable escabeche – essentially brightly vinegared veg – was a lovely start. The brown butter bearnaise served alongside my filet was absolutely indulgent, like a perfect, deeply flavored mayo. And the chocolate mousse luscious, thickly creamy, topped with a candied (though more sun-dried) disk of citrus – something small and orange, either a variety of tangerine or perhaps kumquat.

Another new feature not many will recognize is a person now on the staff. His name, coincidentally, is Alfredo.

Known as Freddy to most, Alfredo is a food service professional with a warm smile and huge heart who used to work at the Chop Bar, the restaurant in the loft building where we lived in Jack London Square when we first moved to Oakland. He was a bright light on every visit. He was so good at his job, such a people person, that he instantly made friends with most everyone he encountered – including my dad, who on visits from Sacramento would always stop in a say hi to Alfredo.

When we realized it was Alfredo beginning to fill our water glasses at Alfred’s the other day, there was an eruption of hugs and handshakes and jubilance. Already in moods lightened by stiff drink and delicious steak, we suddenly felt truly happy – the kind of happy you feel at the sight of an old friend. We caught up on where he was working (like many food industry folk, at more than one place), how he was doing and how many children we now had (the number was zero when we lived in the loft). We took pictures, exchanged numbers and repeated how glad we were to see each other; he made sure to give his best to my dad.

A few minutes later, longtime host Mark stopped by our table with an offer of shots of mezcal, courtesy of Alfredo. And though we were already tight with drink, we of course accepted, delightedly.

Afterwards, we left the safe, dark confines of the restaurant and stepped into the squinty light of a gorgeous May afternoon in the city, feeling stunned by the reminder that there was any existence of a world outside the perfect interior of the old-time San Francisco establishment. Thanks, Chef Patterson, for keeping it real. Thanks for keeping Alfred’s mostly the way it’s been loved for so long. And thanks to Alfredo, consummate industry professional and the kind of good friend that you don’t know well but truly love, for reminding us about the kind of connection we always aspire to have with others. Cheers to you!