Prime beef is about the only thing that’ll get me on a freeway, over a bridge or through a tunnel — even as a passenger. So, it was with alternating visions of rare ribeye and my lifeless body being pried off SR 24 that I sat in our Honda Civic as it barrelled through the Caldecott Tunnel toward Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Walnut Creek recently.
Hubby Steve and I were treated to a phenomonal media dinner there.
Because it was early in the week and early in the evening, parking was a breeze. Fleming’s offers valet service, however, so you don’t ever have to worry about it.
It’s a comfy, dimly lit fine steakhouse. Not manly, but lots of wood and a rich color scheme.
Hanging bowl lighting fixtures of an impressive diameter cast a burnished glow over the large dining room as we were warmly greeted and escorted to a plush corner booth near the semi-open kitchen.
Our server, Erin, introduced herself, menued us and pointed out the chardonnay-feta and sun-dried tomato butters that came with the warm bread she hooked us up with right off the bat. Steve ordered iced tea and I asked for a glass of wine along the lines of a Sangiovese, which turned out to be a nicely bodied, mildly acidic, berry-noted Spanish red: Palacios Remondo Rioja Vendimia 2009.
Fleming’s offers 100 wines by the glass — handy for those of us who eat with people who don’t drink wine.
We liked the chardonnay-feta spread. The mellow funk and mild bite of feta is always nice with bread and wine.
We stretched out in our roomy booth and took in the space, enjoying the vibe and quiet, friendly service. The music was pleasant and unobtrusive. We were seriously relaxed.
Fine steakhouses are big comfort all the way. In old movies men like Robert Mitchum took women to steakhouses. “Let’s go for a juicy steak,” they’d say. They always got the girl.
After conferring with Erin, who helped us choose menu items that would give us a good overview in one meal, we went with a small plate, a salad, two steaks, two sides and a dessert. We were going to order one steak but thought it best to try two different cuts. The truth is I wanted my own steak. I don’t eat steak very often. You know how it is.
The small-plate-cum-appetizer we selected was Lobster Tempura ($23.50). Four little lobster tails partially attached to their shells were lightly coated and flash-fried. They were sweet, tender and moist. A little jicama and apple salad and a soy-ginger dipping sauce with a toasted sesame oil backdrop accompanied the nice presentation.
This plate o’tails plus a side would make a lovely meal for a person who doesn’t want steak.
I don’t mean to go on and on, but I’ve had numerous ill-conceived and poorly executed lobster concoctions and approach this kind of dish with the assumption that it’s going to be a waste of lobster. This, however, was spot on. A simple preparation done perfectly.
The Wedge salad ($9.50) arrived next — on a chilled plate with a chilled fork. A section of crisp iceberg lettuce was enrobed in a rich blue cheese dressing and then topped with slivers of red onion, whole grape tomatoes and extra crumbled blue cheese.
A classic steakhouse wedge salad is, in my opinion, one of the greats — and Fleming’s' take was excellent. Hearty iceberg lettuce, with all its nooks and crannies, served as the backbone. Each addition offered unique sweetness and contrasting texture. Acidity, deep and slightly funky creaminess, sweetness, crunch, bite — they were all there.
Never had a wedge salad? It may not seem like much, but it defines that old saw about something being more than the sum of its parts.
Then the steaks came. Steve’s Prime Ribeye ($42.95) and my Bone-in New York ($48.95), a special that night, arrived sizzling and rare. Truly rare. Not rare plus five degrees.
The ribeye was deeply flavored, silky and tender as buttah. The New York had a little chew, as it should, great beefy flavor, and its ring of fat was nicely crisped-up — courtesy of Fleming’s’ 1600 deg. F. broiler.
They were big, too. My New York was 20 ounces.
Fleming’s beef is USDA Prime — the top of the grading heap. It’s corn-fed and “aged up to four weeks,” according to their website. Ribeye in particular benefits from the significant marbling that defines Prime grade and bumps it into that never-never land of steak fabulousness.
Steaks at Fleming’s are seasoned with kosher salt and black pepper and finished with butter. Sauces are available, gratis. We tried all four: Béarnaise, peppercorn, chimichurri and Madeira.
A great steak wants no sauce, but go with the Madeira, if you insist.
Sides are an à la Carte proposition at a steakhouse, and each is usually enough for two — though it’s good to order both the house potatoes, which are generally scalloped, and the house creamed spinach. They’re almost always signature dishes.
We ordered both.
Right after our steaks touched down, two casseroles arrived hot and bubbling over — each with copious amounts of melted cheese on top.
The creamed spinach ($8.50) was the bomb. No kidding. The Fleming’s Potatoes ($8.95), which had a jalapeño kick, were very good, but we fought over the spinach. It was deeply savory and übercreamy — by far the most decadent spinach I ever ate. I’m still trying to recreate it.
We shared a slice of Turtle Pie ($8.50), which was loaded with walnuts. Although it looked as if it would make our teeth scream, the bitter chocolate notes provided balance. Once slice is enough for a party of four après steak and sides.
Erin, who made our meal something special, packed up the leftovers, and we slowly extricated ourselves from our plush coccoon.
We’re definitely going back. For a couple of ex-New Yorkers who hate to drive, that says something.