Eat the Rich
Fleming's Serves up Cheese, Cream, Steak, and 100 Wines
We're always delighted when the friend of my youth, Byron, blows into town for a few days, and we bless the winds that waft him. On his latest visit, the night before he left, he expressed the desire to take us out, and hang the expense. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have chosen a steak house for the occasion (although Byron and C.C. probably would have). But a steak house that boasts 100 wines by the glass--that's a different story.
As you might expect, there's testosterone aplenty at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, adjacent to the new Marriott Waterfront Hotel, but the big, bustling room doesn't feel stuffy or clubby. Think open, think loud, think large parties of well-heeled folk living large. The bar at the front end of the place is hopping, but there's a quiet, glassed-in room at the back; if a private party isn't ensconced, you can request a table there. The main room is spacious but cheery, warm with wood tones and reds, lit by huge hanging lamps. To one side is the reserve wine room, containing the high-end grape juice. A guy in a suit makes a big show of locking and unlocking it.
The menu is a bit wine-heavy: two full pages of whites, two full pages of reds, two little pages of food. And by food, Fleming's means steak. Well, mostly steak. You could be a vegetarian here, but the greens and spuds are mostly creamed, sauced, or fried. I'm not objecting--just warning.
Byron's meal-opening shrimp cocktail ($9.95) was on the light side, with only four (admittedly enormous) shrimp, well-steamed but not spicy (although the accompanying cocktail sauce was pretty kicky). We all shared a starter of crispy lump crab cakes with roasted red pepper and lime butter ($10.50), an unusual take on the standard local dish. The two mini-cakes were seasoned mainly with green onion and came with a topping of frizzled leeks. The lime butter was more suggestion than statement.
Our bread basket contained French bread and assorted seeded crackers, which proved a fine accompaniment to Fleming's Prime salad ($5), a mix of romaine, field greens, and pimento. We all agreed that the blue-cheese vinaigrette it came with was flavorful but mild.
Byron insisted we order a bottle of vino, which our pleasantly professional server poured into huge (24-ounce) Burgundy-style glasses. At first the size put me off, but once I gave the wine a little swirl to release the aromas, I realized that a 24-ounce goblet is roomy enough for a whole nose, even one the size of mine. I've never enjoyed sniffing a wine more. (It tasted good too.)
We had our red wine. Now all we needed was our red meat. C.C. and Byron chose the petit filet ($19.95), an 8-ounce cut (we were assured) of prime Midwestern beef seasoned with salt, pepper, butter, green onion, and parsley and served atop a platter heated to 500 degrees. (That warning kept my elbows off the table.) And delicious steak it was, the quality evident in each bite. Still, it looked lonely, sitting by itself in the middle of a big plate. (You can get béarnaise or peppercorn sauce free on request.) If you have a hearty appetite for meat, you might want to try one of the heartier (and more expensive) cuts.
I departed from the chuck wagon in favor of the "other white meat," in this case a 14-ounce pork chop marinated with onions in apple juice and apple cider ($18), grilled to specification (mine was medium) and served atop a bed of sweet, grilled onions. The pork and fruit made for a happy match and a perfect dish.
On the side we shared an order (big enough for three) of Fleming's potatoes ($5.50), a specialty of the house. Thinly sliced potatoes are layered with cream, a bit of jalapeño, and cheddar cheese. The result, served in a skillet, can only be described as rich.
As you might expect, desserts are big at Fleming's, in both senses of the word--large in size and, judging by our fellow patrons, popular. Once the wine was gone, we switched to coffee, a slice of Key lime pie ($6.95), and mixed berries with cream ($5.95). The berries--raspberries and strawberries, fresh--arrived in a glass cup brimming with heavy cream. The fruit was sweet and ripe, the cream pure indulgence. Byron, a Floridian these past 30-odd years, knows a thing about Key lime pies, and he judged this one first-rate, the natural tartness of the fruit leavening the sweet flavors of the filling and graham-cracker crust.
We savored our desserts, as we had savored our visit with Byron. As special-occasion places go, I liked this one. Fleming's is handsome, unpretentious, capable of providing an evening of big-hearted fun. A description, come to think of it, that fits Byron as well.