Law of the land at Alexander’s whips up fresh, seasonal cocktails 

click to enlarge Justin Goo
  • Evan DuCHarme/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Bar manager Justin Goo once planned to become a lawyer, but says he’s much happier holding court at Alexander’s Steakhouse.
Alexander’s Steakhouse Climb the stairs up or down to any of this restaurant’s three levels and you may feel like you have stepped into a Japanese painting. Austere black furnishings give the space a cutting-edge look. Elements from nature, such as tall bamboo shoots and a branch from a cherry blossom tree, are used sparingly. The overall theme is one of minimalist elegance, not unlike a haiku. Bar manager Justin Goo is a Bay Area native who holds a degree in criminal justice from San Francisco State University and a restaurant management degree from the California Culinary Academy. His résumé includes stints at Restaurant Gary Danko and John Bentley’s Restaurant in Redwood City.

Does having a criminal justice degree mean you once planned to become a cop? I was thinking about becoming a police officer, but one of my teachers said I’d be a good lawyer.

What changed your mind about becoming a lawyer? After I got my degree and took my LSAT, I said, “I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to work in an office.” I read this article in 7x7 magazine that said many people who were lawyers were turning to the hospitality industry. It used to be if you were a lawyer, you worked hard and played hard. Now it’s you work hard and you work harder. The article said people had $300,000 salaries and no way of enjoying them.

What brought you to Alexander’s Steakhouse? I hope to someday open my own restaurant. I figured in order to learn how to open a restaurant, you need to be part of an opening team at a restaurant. We opened in September 2010.

Is there any particular philosophy being expressed by your cocktails? We try to aim for seasonal relevance and use all fresh ingredients. We try to stay fun while making sure our drinks are made properly in the classic style.

Some restaurants try to pair the cocktails with the food. Do you put much thought into that? The thing about Alexander’s is that we’re not a traditional steakhouse. We’re not about steak and potatoes; we’re Japanese-influenced. We try to balance the acidic and the savory. That’s something our chef does quite well.

Steakhouses tend to see a lot of demand for Manhattans and straight bourbon. Is that true at Alexander’s? We do carry a wide selection of whiskeys, and definitely see a lot of people interested in the rye movement. It’s fun and exciting to introduce people to new spirits they haven’t tried.

You have a cocktail called the Hapa. Isn’t that a Hawaiian slang term for somebody who’s half Japanese? My family is from Hawaii. I’m half-Japanese and half-Chinese. Typically, “hapa” is half-Japanese and half-Caucasian, but it can really mean half of anything. Our Hapa cocktail balances Nikka 12-year-old Japanese whiskey with Buffalo Trace American bourbon.

How do you like to spend your free time? I tend to go golfing, but I wouldn’t call it golfing. It’s more like hitting the ball and following it where it goes.

Hapa

1 oz. Nikka 12-year-old Japanese whiskey

¾ oz. Buffalo Trace bourbon

1 oz. housemade tamarind syrup

½ oz. lemon juice

¼ oz. Benedictine

5 drops of habanero shrub

Shake all ingredients. Strain over ice into tumbler glass. Garnish with mint sprig.

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