Friday, March 6, 2009

where evenings out become memorable times

I have made two unexpected discoveries in the past month.

One, I think I might actually have developed a social life without realizing it. I used to know exactly where I would be on weekday evenings: at home, or at my carrel in the law library. Now, when anyone asks me if I have plans for any given evening, I actually have to check Google Calendar.

Two, I really don't know Boston geography as well as I think I do. Or at least I don't know it well enough to leave my Google Map printouts in the aforementioned carrel before setting out to a food bloggers' dinner at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar.

Fleming's is located on Stuart Street in the theatre district, near the Arlington T stop. Thanks to the aforementioned Google Maps, I know exactly how to get from the Arlington T stop to Stuart Street. Unfortunately, that knowledge assumes that I'm starting from Arlington Street... and it turns out that the MBTA, in its infinite wisdom, has moved the exit one block over.

As you might guess, I'm somewhat behind schedule when I finally locate Fleming's and give my name at the door. I've never been here before, so my first view of the dining room is en route to the function room in which the bloggers' dinner is being held. The lighting is on the dim side, and there's a lot of dark wood, but the red leather booths look quite cozy.

Once I enter the function room, I'm greeted by Michael Dearing, the operating partner. I take a seat, and look around. I see a few familiar faces: Pam, of Cave Cibum, Jacqueline, the Leather District Gourmet, and Megan from MenuPages. There are also several new ones: Michele of FoodieMommy, Andrea of BellyGlad, Julia of Grow. Cook. Eat., Athena of Forays of a Finance Foodie, and Rachel of Fork it Over, Boston!

Our server offers me a drink list, and I order a vodka martini, because it seems like the sort of thing you should drink at a steakhouse. This is when I make another discovery: a dirty vodka martini and a regular vodka martini are two very different drinks, and while I enjoy the former, I am not such a fan of the latter. I do like the blue cheese-stuffed olives, though.

My attention is diverted from my contemplation of martinis when Michael suggests that we start in on the food. As I mentioned, I'm a little late to the party, and the table has already been set with a lavish spread of appetizers.

Jason Carron, head chef and partner, drops by to tell us a little about the menu. There's the Fleming's cheese plate (it takes the place of a bread basket), with crispbread, vegetables, and two kinds of cheese spread: brie with champagne, and goat cheese with cabernet. There's shrimp cocktail and seared ahi tuna. There's tenderloin carpaccio, lobster tempura, and crab cakes. If that weren't enough, there are also two absolutely enormous seafood towers, one at each end of the table.

(Per my usual policy, I avoided fighting with my digital camera. Try Cave Cibum or BellyGlad if you want to see pretty photos. Of course, their writeups are worth reading even if you don't.)

There's a lot of plate-passing as everyone tries to get a taste of everything. (Well. Maybe some of the other bloggers are more restrained. I'm trying to get a taste of everything.)

The appetizers are all delicious, but standouts include the tenderloin carpaccio, which comes with caper mustard sauce and red onions and tastes like a lighter, more modern steak tartare; the crab cakes, which put the ones at Legal Seafoods to shame; and the seafood tower, an array of fresh lobster, crab, Alaskan snow crab, and shrimp, served with classic condiments.

Did I mention that I have a particular weakness for fresh plain crustacean with a little cocktail sauce? I'm seated right near one of the seafood towers, so as you might imagine, there's quite a little pile of carapaces in front of me by the time the servers come around to clear our plates.

There's a pause between courses, allowing Michael and Jason to go into a little more detail about Fleming's. The restaurant is actually a franchise, but there aren't many on the East Coast, so it feels very much like a stand-alone establishment. Being part of a bigger group has its advantages: the restaurant has the ability to cater to a wide variety of dietary restrictions, and also has menus in multiple foreign languages. (Something to keep in mind if my parents ever visit Boston.) Jacqueline asks a question about the restaurant's beef purveyors, and soon the conversation has shifted to eating local and sustainability. We're discussing the concept of nose-to-tail eating when our entrees arrive.

When we made our selections from the menu, I wavered between the filet mignon and the rib-eye, ultimately deciding on the latter. Of course, I've missed one tiny detail: the rib-eye is much bigger than the filet, and did I mention that I put quite a dent in the seafood tower? Still, it looks and smells wonderful, and, as I discover when I slice into it, it's deliciously, satisfyingly rare. We've been offered madeira, peppercorn, and bernaise sauces, but it's perfect without further embellishment.

Jason and his team have also prepared a selection of sides to accompany our entrees: two kinds of mashed potato (roasted garlic and parmesan peppercorn), Fleming's Potatoes (scalloped potatoes with cream, jalapenos, and cheddar), an enormous cone of shoestring fries, chipotle cheddar macaroni & cheese, onion rings, sauteed sweet corn, sauteed mushrooms, sauteed spinach and grilled asparagus.

I decide that I'm going to have to pick and choose my sides if I'm going to leave the restaurant on my feet and not a gurney. I'm not big on onion rings or mac and cheese, so those are easy to pass up, and the grilled asparagus is at the other end of the table, so I also pass on that. Of course, that still leaves plenty of sides to try. My favorite is unexpected: as much as I like the mashed potatoes and the shoestring fries, it's the Fleming's Potatoes I end up taking seconds on. Beneath a golden blanket of cheddar, the rounds of potato are meltingly tender in their creamy, faintly spicy sauce. I don't take thirds - but that might only be because the dish is passed beyond my reach.

Once it becomes clear that we're none of us going to fit in another bite, our plates are cleared, and we're offered tea or coffee. I fully expect that we're done for the evening. Then our server comes in with more plates, and Jason mentions - did he forget to mention? - that he also has a selection of desserts for us to taste: chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice-cream and pistachio tuiles, Tahitian vanilla crème brûlée with fresh berries, and New York cheesecake with blueberry coulis. We all agree that we might be able to squeeze in just a few more bites.

The chocolate lava cake is tender on the outside and molten inside, and the crème brûlée is lusciously creamy. My favorite, however, is the cheesecake, which is so dense, you almost have to lick it off the fork. I end up managing quite a few bites between sips of strong black coffee.

Finally, we're all well and truly done, and after a little more conversation, the group starts to break up. I leave the restaurant with Pam and Jacqueline; we all agree that we could use a bit of a walk (or in my case, a very long walk) before heading home.

It's been a wonderful evening of delicious food and interesting people. A memorable time, indeed.


Virgin In The Volcano said...

My parents are big fans of the Flemings in the Valley (San Fernando, I forget sometimes that the world doesn't center around LA), and I cannot tell you how many different family celebrations have ended there in the fillet and lobster tail combo. For a chain, it's consistent and the food is always good, even if unexciting. If they have them in Boston, next time try the snap peas, which are my favorite.

adele said...

Virgin - It struck me as a place to go for the classics. They do make a good steak. :)

Snap peas? Noted.

Pam said...

I've always said that the best meals end with a plate full of carcasses...

Did you end up getting the recipe for the potatoes?

adele said...

Pam - Hmm. I think you're on to something.

I haven't sent an e-mail asking for the recipe yet. Truth be told, I'm a little scared to find out exactly what went into that deliciousness...