There’s something to be said for knowing you’re in good hands. And LB Steak, from the understatedly elegant decor to the well-trained waitstaff to the consistently expert food and drinks, feels as comfortable as a broken-in leather boot.
That shouldn’t be surprising considering the newest high-profile restaurant at City Center Bishop Ranch in San Ramon is LB Steak’s second location— the first has been a favorite on San Jose’s Santana Row for more than a decade. In addition, it is masterminded by the same seasoned restaurant group behind the Left Bank French brasseries, which were started by chef Roland Passot of San Francisco’s beloved La Folie (recently shuttered after a hugely successful 30-plus-year run). Still, in these uncertain post–white tablecloth times, it’s nice to see a fine-dining destination confidently put its best boot forward.
That starts with the interior, which manages to feel comfortably refined while working within the contemporary, floor-to-ceiling glass aesthetic of its Renzo Piano–designed shopping center setting. Appealingly, you can tailor your experience here by dining either alfresco in the firepit–warmed wraparound patio; at the more casual bar (beautifully presented with an art deco–meets–steak house feel); or in the formal central dining room, which is bisected by an impressively oversize, walnut-clad wine library.
As for the food, this is most definitely a steak house—but it’s not only that. You can piece together a fully satisfying meal with two or three of the expertly executed appetizers. One of LB’s calling cards is its Japanese Wagyu beef program. If you don’t want to splurge on the cooked version (it runs $25 to $35 an ounce), you can get a hit of this famously sumptuous steak via the Wagyu carpaccio appetizer. The paper-thin sliced beef comes topped with pickled vegetables and bathed in a vividly orange-red chili oil, Chinese-style. Belying its thinness, the astonishingly rich, buttery A5 Miyazaki Wagyu—reminiscent of Italian lardo in its melt-in-your-mouth texture—more than stands up to the veggies and benefits from their fat-cutting acidity. Simply put, it is remarkable and an absolute must-order. Another nice aspect of LB Steak is that you don’t have to be an aficionado of red meat to have a great meal. The sautéed white Gulf prawns come a half dozen to an order, cooked to bouncy perfection in garlic butter subtly spiked with cayenne pepper. Crostini, saturated in that delicious sauce, awaits discovery at the bottom, like a sunken treasure. The little gem salad— a great example of the kind of hearty greenery that fits in with the steak-house theme—is slathered in creamy green goddess dressing boosted by generous scoops of avocado. Tart sliced kumquats and a topping of crispy fried shallots offer a surprising—and refreshing—Asian twist.
Combine the shrimp and salad, and you’ll have yourself a fine pescatarian meal. Or choose among several other top-notch seafood options, which include oysters, seared ahi tuna, and Maine lobster bisque for starters, and day boat scallops, seared salmon, and whole branzino among the entrées. We opted for the Asian-influenced branzino, which comes out, head and all, with a deliciously crispy, garlic-soy-crusted fried skin, contrasting with the delicately moist interior fragranced by slices of lemon.
This is, however, still a steak house, so let’s get to the main event. It’s no stretch to call LB’s beef program, in which all meat is cut and aged in-house—the most ambitious in the East Bay. That’s particularly true of its selection of premium Japanese steak that includes three kinds of A5 (the highest grade) Wagyu from three different prefectures. In lieu of the pricier Wagyu, we limited ourselves to the more traditional steak-house cuts of prime Angus that included filet mignon, New York strip, and boneless and bone-in rib eye. We selected the 14-ounce boneless rib eye (not cheap at $50, but I did find LB’s prices comparable or lower than the similar-quality steak houses you find in San Francisco and Silicon Valley).
As requested, the rib eye arrived perfectly medium rare, beautifully seasoned (i.e. salted aggressively, but not overly so), and marbled with just enough fat to lend satisfying comfort. It was served with a side of red wine Bordelaise that I didn’t touch because the meat was so packed with flavor. LB clearly sources a great product and is confident enough to get out of the way and let it shine: When I crave a steak, this is exactly what I have in mind.
The other wonderful part of the full steak-house experience is the sides, which are sold à la carte (prices range from $8 to $16). The mac and cheese with aged Deer Creek cheddar was the most pedestrian—but was absolutely devoured by my kids (as was the steak, especially important since there is no kids’ menu). The pan-roasted foraged mushrooms come lightly seasoned, offering a nice complement to the more sharply salted steak and showcasing their natural woodsy flavor. The showstopper, however, is the LB potato. Justifiably one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, this outrageous tuber is twice baked to pillowy creaminess; it’s nearly impossible to tell where the potato starts and the topping of four-cheese béchamel sauce ends. Bacon, chives, and a crisped-up exterior add another layer of potato skin–like decadence.
LB’s beverage program is also worth noting. Classic cocktails, with an emphasis on whiskey and bourbon drinks like old-fashioneds and Manhattans, are simply and expertly executed. (The menu has a build-your-own-martini section as well). The wine deserves a special shout-out. The by-the-bottle selection, outlined in a near encyclopedia-size binder, will satisfy the most discerning of oenophiles. I’m not that, but no matter: Our knowledgeable, easy-mannered waiter recommended two California gems by the glass—a crisp, beautiful La Guera chardonnay from the Central Coast and a polished cuvée blend from Cain Vineyard and Winery in Napa Valley.
As is so often the case, it was clear that we were in good hands. Just sit back and enjoy. lbsteakbishopranch.com.
LB Steak’s head chef explains what makes Japanese beef special.
The first thing to know about Japanese Wagyu, according to LB Steak brand chef Roger Rungpha, is that it is not Kobe beef.
“People think Kobe is Wagyu or Wagyu is Kobe,” says Rungpha. “Wagyu in Japanese literally means Japanese beef, while Kobe is a prefecture in Japan. A lot of different prefectures raise cattle and produce their own steaks.”
LB serves beef from three distinct prefectures—Hokkaido, Miyazaki, and Takamori, as well as a hybrid Wagyu from Queensland, Australia. So what makes Wagyu special? There are several factors, including the cattle’s genetics and feed. But primarily it comes down to how it is raised. On average, Japanese ranchers feed their cows half as much for twice as long compared to their American counterparts. The way they raise their cattle also emphasizes building more fat and less muscle, all of which leads to much higher fat content and more marbling within the steak.
“The melting temperature of a Wagyu is 72 degrees, so your mouth and body temperature is enough to melt that fat,” explains Rungpha. “So when you’re eating a Wagyu, because it’s 70 percent fat, your mouth is hot enough to start breaking that down, and it creates that silky texture in your mouth.”
That fattiness also enhances the overall flavor of the meat, he says, which varies from prefecture to prefecture.
“It can be very earthy; it can be very iron-forward; it can be very intense, like you know you’re eating a steak; or it can be very mild and delicate or just rich and decadent. It all depends on where you’re getting it from and what they’re doing with it.”
LB serves only the highest grades of Wagyu steak, A4 and A5 (grading is based on several factors including marbling, color, firmness, and texture), with a very high BMS (beef marbling standard). This is why LB sells its Japanese Wagyu in smaller portions than its American beef, with a simple accompaniment of three artisan salts—pink, fleur de sel, and Himalayan black—plus a dab of confit chili garlic.
“Because Wagyu is so rich, it’s maybe something you’d have once a week, once every other week—like four or five ounces and you’re good,” says Rungpha. “We have a four-ounce minimum and then you can have as many ounces as you can handle.”
LB’s Wagyu options:
Hokkaido: The lightest and most delicate.
Miyazaki: Earthier, with more of a traditional “steak” taste.
Takamori: Also known as “drunken Wagyu” because the cattle that produce it are fed grain mixed with sake “leaves,” the leftover mash skimmed from sake distilleries.
Westholme, Queensland, Australia: The product of Japanese Angus crossbred with native Australian cattle, this steak exhibits the decadence of Wagyu but isn’t so rich that you can’t eat a larger portion—which is why it’s served as a 14-ounce rib eye.