A few weeks ago, John and I were invited to a special dinner (disclosure: “on the house”) at Fleming’s in Marlton for bloggers, business folk, and other South Jersey/Philly movers and shakers in order to sample the summer “prix fixe” menu. Now, we know it’s a chain, which isn’t usually our thing, but we’d heard some good things about this upscale steakhouse.
Being that it was a hot night, it was pleasant to walk into a cool, open space decorated with clean lines and wood. It had a air of elegance, but was still relaxed- the kind of thing I’m looking for when the kids are with the grandparents.
As we settled in and started chatting with some of the other guests, we sampled one of their house wines from their huge wine list (over 100 choices): a Petite Sirah 2007, by Vinumit doesn’t make a big impression. If you are looking for something more, definitely investigate the wine list-it has gotten awards and mentions from Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. They offer an array of cocktails, of which the “Pomtini” (a pomegranate “martini”) was an enjoyable sweet-tart ‘fru fru” drink. We recommending staying away from the “Bikini Tini“, though. Made with vodka, Crystal Light, grapefruit juice, and Splenda, the intention is to keep you thin by coming in at 100 calories. John describes it as “kinda like Tang, and not in a fun way.” I’d rather have a smaller glass of wine! Speaking of which, the best drink of the evening was a sparkling white (re: “champagne”, but we can’t call it that because it wasn’t made there), Cava Aria from Spain. Crisp, dry, but with nice body- so good with shellfish or chocolate (and we had some of both)! But before we knew it, we began to be bombarded by appetizers.
Cellars, California. It was one of those reds that was mildly pleasant, but wants to offend no one; as a result, The roasted mushroom ravioli (above) was quite good-it was rich and creamy, but not as thick and heavy as you might expect. It had that touch of musky mushroom flavor, balanced with the slight tang of shaved Parmesan.
The Lump Crab Louis Wraps were crisp and refreshing, but not very exciting. It was nice to have a cool bit of crab salad (which was very fresh by the way), but I thought it was something I could whip up quickly at home and wouldn’t order it by choice.
Now, the Sweet Chili Calamari (above) was more my speed. Crisp but perfectly tender, the rings weren’t overdressed, and the vinegary banana peppers added balance to the whole dish. Mmmm. However, the Cajun BBQ Shrimp (not shown) I could have done without. Yes, they were spicy, but overcooked, and nothing to write home about.
When the Seared Ahi Tuna (above) hit the table, I was thrilled- I LOVE tuna. And it was fresh, and amazingly delicious- but so overpowered by the salty exterior, I could only tolerate one bite. I would ask the kitchen to go easier on the salt-and they’ll have a simple masterpiece with fish that speaks for itself.
Of course, it was then time for the steaks. Chef Fleisch explained that they are different than many steakhouses in that they are “wet aged”-aged in their own juices for 4 weeks. Based on the taste, it worked for us. In fact, we got so involved with the meat, we forgot to take pictures, so the next two pictures are courtesy of Fleming’s promo file…
Here’s my selection (above): the Porcini Dusted Fillet. Yes, it is coated in porcini mushroom “dust”, which intrigued me. And OK, I did cover up some of it with a silly sauce (Gorgonzola), but it was just so good. What is also not shown are all of the sides that were also on the table-they were all winners. The creamed spinach was rich and cheesy, the shoestring fries and panko-coated onion rings were crisp and wonderful (and a jalapeno dipping sauce doesn’t hurt either), the potatoes au gratin were some of the best I’ve had, and the creamed corn was crisp as well as creamy. In fact, we are happy to say that something rare occurred here: although most of the appetizers were pretty good, the main course was the best part of the meal. That’s something you don’t see much of at chain restaurants (or many places, for that matter).
As if all that food weren’t enough, it was time to sample desserts.
There were so many, let’s go from left to right, shall we? The key lime pie (above) was creamy and tart, but still sweet-a perfectly balanced, “grownups” dessert. The creme brulee was very smooth and creamy, perfectly executed, with a gorgeous vanilla essence throughout. The cheesecake was very good, but I’m biased: it tasted just like my mom’s recipe. Her version is heavy on the cream cheese and cream, and very dense. Yum.
The best thing about being invited to these special dinners (besides the food of course) is that we get to talk directly with the owners and chefs, and I get to drive them crazy with questions. Because we’re all about South Jersey pride and locality, many of my questions were about their food sources. Just because they are a chain (or because they are), doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable. I was happy to learn that Chef Partner Aaron Fleisch changes the prix fixe seasonally, and frequently makes use of local offerings, such as Jersey tomatoes, mushrooms and oysters. They also offer organic wines on their list. When I asked about sustainability, he mentioned that they source sustainable sole, but not much more. The “Operating Partner” (re: owner), Billy Sullivan, also pointed to such green efforts on their part, such as battery-operated candles at the tables and recycled “to-go” packaging.
As with all restaurants, Fleming’s has its strengths and limitations – but there are many things they do extremely well, especially steak (and lava cake). It may be a chain, but it ain’t no Outback.