Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fleming's Steakhouse - Walnut Creek, Ca

Walnut Creek is something of a wasteland for fine dining. In the same way that most of Beverly Hills is a wasteland. It's style over substance, opulence over quality, and big cushy chairs over properly cooked meat. Which I guess is merely a fine-tuning of my previous assertion of opulence over quality. You get my point.

There are a couple spots in Walnut Creek worth dropping in on to be sure: Va De Vi, primarily, and I've heard good reports on Sushi Grove though I've never been. And there're a couple outposts of Berkeley establishments like Crepes A Go Go and Plearn Thai that are good for a sure thing on a Thursday afternoon (like that one girl who lived on the next floor up in your dorm).

So I was skeptical when my friend proposed we go out to the newly-opened Walnut Creek branch of Fleming's Prime Steakhouse. It's OSI's (the management group behind Outback and Roy's, amongst a few other names in restaurant chains) upstart challenger to high-end steakhouse chains like Morton's and Ruth's Chris. I'm not really a "steakhouse" guy anyway--I'm not a big meat eater, barely eat beef at all, and generally speaking really like fish and vegetables--and Walnut Creek is, well, I already talked about Walnut Creek. But Fleming's was open late, seemed to have a shit tonne of wine, and I was wearing a blazer and this was Friday night.

Color me surprised. Surprised, I believe, is a darker shade of taupe. Fleming's was quite good, even excellent in a lot of ways.

Given the sheer quantity of meat served at steakhouses, I question the need for appetizers and salads at all, but then I remembered that diners at Chicago power lunches are, literally, twice my size. We (me, girlfriend Charlie, C, and newguy Ross--heretofore known as nR) skipped appetizers and jumped straight to wine. Fleming's has an impressive and varied wine list, with selections varying drastically from location to location. Besides the usual California Cabs, an array of wines from California and afar (including selections from Germany, Portugal, and South Africa). To celebrate Friday (and blazers) we got a bottle of the Roederer Estate Brut Rose. That's an excellent bottle of wine and widely available. Look for it.

Fleming's offers 100 wines on their standard list, all available by the glass. The reserve wine bottle list offers selections ranging from typical premium wines to some of the best cult vineyards from the best cult wineries.

So here was the only significantly weird thing--Fleming's serves their sparkling in what're essentially graduated cylinders (all that's missing is "one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor written down the side," quipped C). While they're definitely striking, they also feel out of place next to the elegant stemware set on the table, and also wholly inappropriate for drinking champagne--they don't highlight the bubbles, provide no stem to hold the glass, and force the drinker to knock back the glass as if doing a shot of Goldschlager to drink the last contents of the glass.

So food. I ordered the double-cut pork chop, Charlie had the double airline chicken breast, C had the scallops, and nR had the petite filet. We also ordered sides of creamed spinach and roasted garlic mashed potatoes.

My pork chop was the best restaurant pork chop I've ever had. Thick and cooked through, it remained incredibly moist. I've had single-cut chops with significant pink remaining at gourmet ghetto establishments that were bone-dry compared to this chop. The mustard-cider-apple-celery root oven sauce was almost too sweet, but worked well with the thick chop.

Girlfriend Charlie's chicken was moist and very tender, baked with an aromatic shallot white-wine sauce. Also quite good. C's seared sea scallops with puff pastry and vegetable saute was simple and tasty, everything cooked properly. nR's petite filet was fork-tender, cooked only slightly past the requested medium-rare, and flavorful. The side dish of creamed spinach was very good, though Fleming's uses sauteed whole spinach instead of the more traditional chopped spinach, lending a slightly more stringy and fibrous texture to the dish. The mashed potato side dish had an excellent texture, but the roasted garlic flavor in the butter tasted a little stale.

Wine choices for entrees was a bottle of Zilliken Riesling for the ladies and the Qupe Syrah for the gentlemen. Not your typical steakhouse wine choices, no?

Desserts were typical but well-made, a fruit crisp was a bit too sweet for my tastes but the cheesecake had a great texture and good flavor.

Service at Fleming's was spot-on. Staff was well-trained and well-versed in fine-dining basics and corporate protocol. Fleming's protocol did not seem as intrusive as other corporate restaurant's spiel, simply offering a basic introduction to the menu and common ordering procedures. Wine and water was refilled attentively, silverware changed appropriately, and used plates cleared with a scary ninja-like silence. On more than one occasion I noticed something had been cleared without me even noticing. Restrooms were clean and stylish, napkin was refolded upon return.

The restaurant itself has a contemporary feel to it--sure it's dark and leathery, but not in a stuffy 1950's sort of way. Accents are elegant and stylish and felt a helluva lot more modern than most restaurants of this ilk.

Fleming's corporate seems to have a good thing going. I'm not a steakhouse regular, but it sounds like from others that the quality is at least on par with other high-end steakhouse chains in terms of food and excels in service and wine selection--particularly in how far flung Fleming's ranges in geography and varietals on its list.

If you're looking for excellent meat, good wine, (relatively speaking) reasonable prices, and great service in a restaurant that won't make you feel like you're ninety-two, Fleming's has the HFF-endorsement.

Is this the first ever for a chain restaurant?

Maybe, I can't remember.

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse
1685 Mt. Diablo Blvd.
Walnut Creek, Ca 94596
(and many other locations nationwide)
Reservations: 925-287-0297


Anonymous said...

Speaking of chain restaurants, you should try Taco Bell. Order the cheesy gordita crunch. At almost three times the price of their signature hard taco, it's a bit pricy, but you should open your wallet for this one -- your taste buds will thank you.

Tell them Steve sent you.

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