What’s with all the steakhouses opening up in downtown Providence? Maybe the city’s growing rep for restaurants is getting specific. Perhaps that recent Wall Street Journal kudos, singling it out among American cities for its dining and arts scenes, was really an assumption that the place has finally grown bloodthirsty. The latest entry is Fleming’s, which bills itself as a “Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar.”
Fleming’s | 1 West Exchange St, Providence | Mon-wed, 5-10 pm; Thurs-Fri, 5-11 pm; Sat, 4:30-11 pm; Sun, 4-9 pm | Major credit cards | Full bar \ Sidewalk-level access | 401.533.9000
It’s located on the ground floor of the new Westin addition, within a bone’s throw of two other chain steakhouses, and facing more such competition around town. Their oldest local challenger is Capital Grille, that expense-account bastion of businessman and politico privilege. That’s worth mentioning because Fleming’s is going for a decidedly different ambience. You enter from the outside or from the tastefully ornate Westin lobby, through a wood-paneled portal labeled “Library.” They say they’re trying for an atmosphere that appeals to women while not making men feel like wusses (the second point being my extrapolation). So although russet wood paneling surrounds you inside, there is a warm sunset glow from the graceful amber half-dome ceiling fixtures. It was indeed calming, but I detected no abrupt plummeting of testosterone.
Let me quickly run through some items I sampled (the rush will be explained in a minute). As for appetizers, the seared ahi tuna ($13.95) with julienned vegetables was as fresh as the smoked Norwegian salmon bruschetta ($13.95), served with a novel dill cream cheese and a sun-dried tomato relish; the “Wicked Cajun” barbecue shrimp ($13.50) was in a moderately spicy sauce, but Johnnie wanted more of the shrimp taste. The wedge lettuce salad ($8.95) was a sizable chunk of iceberg with grape tomatoes, red onions, and loads of blue cheese.
Going on to the main course, my 16-ounce New York strip steak ($35.95) was as flavorful and tender as you’d expect from prime beef, and Johnnie’s New Zealand king salmon fillet ($28.50) with its Caber¬net butter sauce didn’t disappoint, either.
A la carte sides ($6.50-$9.50) are served-family style, so portions are large enough for at least two. The signature au gratin potatoes were appreciated, with plenty of cheddar cheese and lightly spiced up with jalapeno peppers. The sugar snap peas, a new addition to the menu, could have been smaller and thereby more tender, but they were tasty.
Favorite desserts? One was the peach cobbler, its fruit marinated with peach schnapps and spices, topped with buttery browned crumbs and served with vanilla ice cream. Another was the cheesecake, lighter than New York-style and served with blueberry sauce. Desserts are $8.50-$10.75.
All those items are on the regular menu. But the above-described visit was at a media promotion, so I returned to see with a couple of friends how the service and preparations would be for civilians. Things went fine.
As we sipped and nibbled, to say we were not rushed is an understatement. Since we came at 5 and plenty of tables remained available, we could spend a couple of leisurely hours. Our gracious waitress was attentive without interrupting conversations and continued the practice, noticed on my earlier visit, of escorting diners to the restrooms, not just pointing the way.
Instead of a breadbasket, we were brought a plate with radishes, olives, celery sticks, and spreads for the pile of thin bread crackers: a white cheddar infused with Pinot Grigio and a tapenade, not too salty, with Cabernet. Speaking of which, they take seriously their role as a wine bar, offering no fewer than 100 wines by the glass. The last two wines listed under “Red Wines of Interest” (they are ranked from light to robust, as the whites are toward oaky and dry), an Argentinian malbec and a Spanish blend, my oenophile friend found excellent.
Since I had already sampled the entrées and none of us were very hungry, we just noshed on a couple of appetizers and one of the sides. We started with what was called the Chef’s Arti¬sanal Cheese & Charcuterie ($16.95).
My favorites were the Shropshire, a tangy blue cheese with an orange background, and the melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto. After that, the portobello fries were juicy and perfectly greaseless, presented in a towering latticework. The chipotle macaroni and cheese is not for anyone who doesn’t like spicy hotness, but the burn does let the snappy cheddar flavor come through.
Except for a raucous Counting Crows’ track blaring above us (it was turned down upon request), the return visit was quite a pleasure. And the lovely decor didn’t make me feel girly at all.
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