Another Prime Spot
Americans consume more than one million animals every day, only a minuscule fraction of which is devoured at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Coral Gables. Still, if I were a cow, I'd be a little nervous all the same, for a mere glance around the grand 6700-square-foot restaurant confirms the main draw here is beef: prime, corn-fed, USDA, aged up to four weeks, cut into portions, salted and peppered, and broiled at 1600 degrees. They have the process down pat, which shouldn't come as a surprise: Fleming's has been finessing the formula since it opened in Newport Beach, California, seven years ago. The Gables outlet that premiered in February was its 32nd location, the franchise stretching from Sarasota to Salt Lake City, Tampa to Tucson, and Baltimore to Baton Rouge.
Fleming's focuses on three cuts of beef: filet mignon, New York strip, and rib eye, each available in two sizes. I'm partial to the last, a well-marbled (and thus tender) steak taken from the rib region, between the short loin and chuck. The smaller, sixteen-ounce portion (as opposed to the bone-in, 22-ounce version) allowed for more than enough juicy, enthusiastically seasoned meat to chew on. Peppercorn, madeira, or béarnaise sauces are served upon request.
Alternative animal choices count down from dishes comprising three Australian lamb chops, to a double pork rib, to a single fourteen-ounce veal chop. The lamb was voluptuously moist, with a thin, mint-and-champagne-laced brown sauce on the side. "Beef Flemington" is the only fussy meat treatment, a filet mignon topped with mushroom duxelle and encased in a bronzed puff pastry shell essentially beef Wellington with a less appetizing name.
The $24.95 prime rib dinner special, available every Sunday, brings a twelve-ounce slab of glistening red prime beef (many a so-called prime rib is really USDA choice rib roast) in addition to a salad, side dish, and dessert. That's a great deal, but Fleming's is otherwise costly. Most steaks, served solo, range from $31 to $36, so by the time appetizers and sides are added, not to mention salads, beverages, or desserts, even a teetotaler's bill would total up.
This place looks pretty much like any other steak house, meaning a businesslike merger of mahogany and leather though it seems less stuffy, perhaps because of the steamy action courtesy of an expansive open kitchen, or the low-slung lamps that infuse the room with a warm orange glow. One might think that Christy's, Ruth's Chris, and The Palm provide sufficient options for upscale carnivores in the Gables, but Fleming's attempts to separate itself from the pack by virtue of its wine program which has netted numerous Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence. An extensive reader-friendly list boasts more than 100 by-the-glass selections, with a separate menu that features 80 special reserves sold by the bottle.
Wine-savvy waiters are happy to help diners select a grape to complement their chosen food. The recommended accompaniment for a starter of Cajun barbecue shrimp was Mot & Chandon White Star champagne, its acidity contrasting the rich garlic-butter sauce that pooled the four plump crustaceans, its fizzle and slight sweetness an apt foil for the spicy jalapeños, cayenne, and Worcestershire that spiked the dish. Other appetizers include beef tenderloin carpaccio, fried calamari, shrimp cocktail, smoked salmon bruschetta, jumbo lump crabcakes, and four fresh artichoke hearts baked with a bready stuffing redolent of garlic and onions this one is best shared, since it's too filling a prelude for the plenitude that follows.
Waiters possess an intrinsically detailed knowledge of the food and attend to their jobs with a pleasingly personable professionalism. Still, I could have done without the "excellent choice" affirmations uttered by the server after hearing each order. I'll take care of the reviewing, thank you.
A refreshingly unique predinner, minicrudite contained celery stalks, radishes, and slices of garlic croutons, accompanied by two dips: smoked cheddar with red wine and an effusive blend of brie and champagne. Salads are more conventional (caesar, an iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing, et cetera), as are side dishes including creamed spinach, asparagus hollandaise, and baked, mashed, shoestring, and "Fleming's" potatoes. The namesake spud was an overwrought potato gratin: thinly sliced Idahoes baked with cream and jalapeños and capped with a cumbersome cover of melted cheddar cheese. Instead, go for a tall stack of thick, crunchily fried onion rings with chipotle chili mayonnaise, or a bowl of chipotle-flecked, cheddar-soupy macaroni and cheese. All sides are sized to be split.
A gargantuan hunk of tuna "mignon" also appeared ample enough for two. The fish was flawlessly seared to a soft, rare state, but the sweet/sour duality of a poppyseed crust and sherry vinaigrette played better on paper than palate. Other seafood options include a fillet of wild Alaskan salmon with Cabernet butter sauce; seared scallops with lobster cream sauce; and for the sweet-tooth seafood lover, almond-and-cilantro-crusted shrimp with grilled pineapple and mango sauce.
Sugar fiends can likewise seek solace in sweet, sizable desserts such as key lime pie, New York cheesecake, berry cobbler, and a walnut turtle pie with a chocolate bottom crust and caramel-drenched cake as rich and gooey as an underbaked brownie. Chocolate lava cake was lighter and better than the ubiquitous versions found around town, and with vanilla ice cream to dip into the warm syrup center, it was akin to eating soufflé sided by a hot-fudge sundae.
As did the still-happening Houston's (located one block north), Fleming's seems to have caught fire with the locals. On most evenings, a less-boisterous-than-Houston's crowd occupies all of the 100-plus seats in the main dining rooms in addition to the 22 chairs outdoors and two private dining rooms that accommodate up to 70 people. Sizzling steaks, sophisticated wines, and an amiable ambiance apparently appeal to just about everyone. Except, of course, the cows.
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