Yep, this is the “Drink” column. But this time, it’s about the combined experience of imbibing and dining in a good bar. That would be the snazzy little bar at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, where there are so many wines to try you could visit weekly for a couple years without repeating yourself—one hundred wines by the glass, to be exact.
Not that quantity always equals quality, but Fleming’s big-time, award-winning (Wine Spectator’s Award of Unique Distinction) wine list is compelling enough to make regular wine-tasting visits a worthy goal. In fact, it’s a great venue for learning. Any day of the year, you can walk in and create your own wine flights—or, take advantage of staff knowledge to guide your exploration. Basically, you simply choose three 1.5-ounce pours of any wine on the list (yes, they’ll open some from the Reserve list) and pay one-third of the price per glass.
Let’s say you’re interested in comparing the crisp, pear-and-citrus character of a Chardonnay that has not undergone malolactic fermentation—the Heron 2007 is a good example—to a creamy Sanford Chardonnay that has gone through 100 percent malolactic. And then, try something in between, such as the Merryvale Starmont that is at 60 percent malolactic. This would be the perfect setting, and just think how much more wine-savvy you’d be afterward!
How does Fleming’s manage to keep 100 wines by the glass in good shape without a Cruvinet system? According to manager Susan Strum, they use the standard argon gas spray to preserve wine in open bottles, but they also date each bottle as it’s opened. If it’s not consumed after four days, into a sauce it goes. Sadly, the kitchen can’t use all of the wine, so I suggest you get in there and help them out.
As for dining in the bar, it’s a terrific way to savor a taste of a great restaurant without making a major commitment. You can bypass all the formality and expectations of a full-on dinner. Plus, it’s often more intimate, improvised and interesting than being in the main dining room.
I recently discovered the charms of dining in Fleming’s bar when I ended up there with a few girlfriends after a movie. We were in the mood for cocktails and wine and definitely hungry but not interested in ordering a full-on dinner. So, imagine our pleasure at spying several white-linen covered bar tables set with nice balloon shaped wine glasses. Bingo.
Sitting in the comfy, tall chairs next to a low glass partition that divides the dining room and open kitchen from the bar, we were happily in the restaurant, but not of it. And yet, the level of service was outstanding on every level. Alex, the attentive bartender, actually shook our martinis and poured them at the table. You’d have thought we were dining royalty—even when we did the thing that drives restaurant servers crazy: We ordered one dinner, planning to split it three ways. On our first visit, the crisp wedge salad with blue cheese and a succulent rib eye arrived, already separately plated. Be still my heart! On our second visit with the same scenario, the salad was separately plated but not the steak, though the server kindly brought out three oven-hot plates. Like I said, bar meals can be improvised, and that’s part of the fun.
Of course, Fleming’s offers so much more than our little split meal. Have a fullon dinner in the bar, or go for the daily treat of six appetizers (including a prime burger) for $6 each before 7 p.m. every day.
FLEMING’S PRIME STEAKHOUSE & WINE BAR
20 S. 400 West