Friday, August 14, 2009

Meeting Fellow Bloggers at A Taste of Fleming's

On my recent drive back from Kansas City to attend the annual eGullet Heartland Gathering, I received a rather curious email message somewhere on I-71 between Columbus and Akron. It seems that a local PR person in the Akron area had found my blog through a Google search and quickly realized that I might be just the kind of attendee she needed for an event she was arranging for one of her clients, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. The initial email contained an invite to the complimentary event, A Taste of Fleming's, which was only a few days away.

I have never eaten at any of the Fleming's locations, even though there are two close to me, both in Akron and in Cleveland. And in fact, a relative of mine actually works as a server at a Fleming's located in another state and has berated me on several occasions because I have not stopped in to check out the food. Oddly enough, I originally thought that perhaps my invite to this event was somehow connected to my relative. Nope, she was just as surprised as I was. After running the notion of a review by her, she said she would be absolutely fine with me attending the event.

Still a little nervous, I responded to the woman from the PR firm detailing a few of my concerns, most of which centered on the fact that if I blog about an event, free or not, I plan on being completely honest, but fair. She replied quickly to allay my fears and said that I could write whatever I wanted, good or bad, and was fine with the fact that even though the event was on July 30th, this entry probably wouldn't post until the middle of August. I was happy to accept.

So, at 4:45 PM on July 30th, I arrived at the Fleming's on Chagrin Boulevard. Here is a shot of the exterior:

As I got close to the front door, I saw a sign posted outside that was advertising the menu I was here to taste tonight:

When I originally walked in the door, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. I figured by this point there would already be quite the crowd. As it turns out, this event was being held specifically for local bloggers and the masses of people I was expecting to have to navigate through turned out to be about twelve people representing five different food blogs. Early on we decided to have our sampling on the patio, and even though it was just a touch warm when I first got there, once we settled in and sat down to start eating, the weather was just gorgeous.

Before I go into the actual food and drinks we were about to experience, I think it would be a good idea to discuss why we were all here. Fleming's is trying to promote it's "5 for $6 'til 7". This means that every day in the bar area, they have 5 wines by the glass, 5 various cocktails, and 5 different appetizers for $6 each before 7 PM. I'd like to think of it as a "happy hour" with snacks.

I started out with a nice glass of Zinfandel:

This was a nice summery wine. It didn't have any heavy tannins and the gentle spiciness of the wine was easy to drink on a warm summer day. This also paired very well with our very first tasting, the tenderloin beef carpacio served with chiffonaded basil, finely chopped egg, capers, red onions and dressed with a little creme fraiche:

The impressively pounded beef was tender and delicious and the toasted bread rounds served as a nice serving vessel. Creamy, crunchy, herbaceous and salty all worked well together to make this dish a winner. What really struck me about this dish (and really almost all of the dishes we would be tasting today) was the lightness of the dish. Not necessarily in the fat content, but really the mouthfeel. Coming to a restaurant that is primarily known for it's steaks, this was a pleasant surprise.

Along with the beef carpacio, the next dish was also uncharacteristic of my preconceived notions of what to expect at Fleming's, crispy fried calamari with banana peppers tossed in a sweet chili sauce:

This isn't the best calamari I've ever had, but it was darn good for $6. This sat on the table probably longer than it should have as we were enjoying our first glass of wine and talking. The breading was less crispy than it should have been, but I think had we eaten it as soon as it had come out, that wouldn't have been a problem. Having just a slight bit of chew to the calamari rings, the flavors really went well together. I thought that perhaps the banana pepper rings might be too spicy and overpower the other flavors, but they were mild with only a slight kick and melded perfectly into the other flavors on the dish. I would definitely order this again.

Here is a shot of my plate after grabbing round number one of appetizers:

For our second round of appetizers, we started out with the Wicked Cajun Barbeque Shrimp:

This was served with a piece of toasted bread and pickled jalapeno peppers. This was the spiciest dish of the night, but not so spicy that the other flavors in the dish were masked. The seasoning was spot on and the shrimp were succulent and sweet. It was during the description of this course by the executive chef, Eli Kratzert, that we found out that nearly everything at Fleming's is made from scratch in-house, including all of the sauces and breads. Color me impressed.

Next up on the appetizer list is a fairly tried and true stand-by, the Seared Ahi Tuna with Spicy Mustard:

First, let me just say that a pet peeve of mine is to see "Ahi Tuna" on the menu of any restaurant. It's redundant. It's like saying that the roast beef sandwich is being served "with au jus". Unfortunately, this is the nomenclature that has been widely accepted by the dining public; hopefully, someone who reads this blog entry will walk away and realize the folly of this mistake. ("Ahi" means "Tuna" in Hawaiian.) But enough about the semantics of how it is phrased. How did it taste?

This was a nice representation of this classic dish. The tuna was tender and seared nicely. The wasabi and mustard sauce served as a nice foil for the relatively uncomplicated flavors of the tuna. What was really nice though was the "slaw" that was served underneath the tuna slices. Dressed with sesame oil, this really helped to bring an Asian twist to the dish that I haven't had before. I was again impressed that this dish was only $6.

Here is a shot of my plate after grabbing the second round of appetizers:

At this point I decided to try one of the new cocktails on the 5 for $6 'til 7 menu, the Basil Lemon Drop:

This was a perfect summer cocktail, very light and refreshing. The basil added a wonderful counterpoint to the lemon flavor and truth be told, if I didn't know that this was a vodka-based drink, they would be entirely too easy to gulp down in two or three sips. I had to keep reminding myself to drink it slowly since I was going to have to drive home in a little while. Several others at the table also had these and everyone found them to be delicious.

For our final round of appetizers, we started out with Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes served over a red pepper sauce:

There are two main points I'd like to make about these crab cakes. First, to take a little liberty with the verbiage, they were very "crabby". You could really taste the crab meat in these. You could taste a little bit of binder mostly through mouthfeel, but the predominant flavor was crab. Second, these were a bit overly salted. Not so much that you would send them back, but it was noticeable to me. In fact, just to be sure, I tried a bite of crab cake from another plate that had been put out and both bites were seasoned the same. Considering that the seasoning was predominant throughout the crab cake and not just on the top and bottom, it's clear that salt was added to the mixture before being shaped into individual cakes. A little less salt and these would've been perfect.

Our final dish on the tasting menu was something that I've seen at other happy hours in other popular Cleveland restaurants, the mini-burger. Fleming's version is called the Prime Sirloin Burger with Cheese and Bacon:

And a close-up shot of the side of the burger:

Cooked to a beautiful medium-rare, this was a tasty burger. The chef did admit that the egg bun on which the burger is served is actually sourced from outside of Fleming's and not made there on the premises. They served up several different burgers, each with a different kind of cheese. My version had bleu cheese. The bacon seemed like it almost had a glaze on it of some kind and after checking with the chef, he admitted that they used a spice rub (which includes sugar) on the bacon before cooking it. While the burger was hot and juicy, I again got just a bit too much seasoning on the burger that I tried. Thinking that it might be the bacon, I removed what was left and tried the burger again. While the bacon did add some salt to the party, to my taste the burger was a little too aggressively seasoned. Note, however, that this didn't stop me from finishing my portion.

Served along side the burger were two perfectly fried onion rings and a spicy aioli for dipping:

This was a very nice way to end the meal. The onion ring was nice and meaty and fried perfectly. The aioli did a nice job of complimenting the onion ring. I'd be happy just to sit down at the bar and enjoy a plate of these guys alone to compliment my cocktail or glass of wine.

So what conclusion did I come to after finishing all of this? I was pleasantly surprised at the nice variety of dishes available on Fleming's 5 for $6 'til 7 menu. The Basil Lemon Drop I had was simply outstanding and other than a couple of aggressively seasoned dishes, the flavors really did work well together. I've not yet had the pleasure of trying one of their steaks, but I think if I was in the area and looking for a little post-workday place to wind down and meet up with some friends, Fleming's would certainly be on my list of places to go.

I should also make note of the fact that our host arranged a parting gift for all of the attendees consisting of two Fleming's wine glasses and a lovely wine bottle opener. In addition, everyone was graciously offered a bottle of wine from one of the five available on the menu. I choose a 2007 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Noir from Sonoma Valley. My intention is to take it to my next dinner party and share it so that everyone can try it out.

In attendance tonight were Cliff Cravens, Operating Partner of the Cleveland location; Erin Victor, Private Dining Director of the Cleveland location; and Leslianne Love, Private Dining Director of the Akron location. All three were exceptionally gracious and provided all of the diners with a lot of the background information that you wouldn't normally get from just a visit to the dining room. Besides the main dining room at Fleming's, they also have private dining facilities that can seat up to 70 people as well as complimentary audio visual equipment for parties, business meetings, anniversaries, etc.

Should you choose to check out some of the other takes on tonight's event, here is a list of the other bloggers in attendance:

Sensory Overload

Tricia's Dish

Cleveland Sandwich Board

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon  Fleming's Prime Steak House on Restaurantica


kate said...

Tom - looks like you and I have very similar takes on the evening, we even liked the same dishes. Great to meet you - I'm enjoying you blog!


Tino said...

Kate - Thanks so much for the compliment. I'm glad that Amanda managed to find us all and put together the event at Flemings.

AS said...

I'm happy to see you, too, were skeptical - and that you ended up impressed as well!

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