Expensive Tastes

Photo by Keith MayThe other Friday night, I decided to take my wife to a nice restaurant. At the end of the evening, the bill came to $155, including tip, which is impressive if you consider that we ordered no appetizers, desserts or bottles of wine. We must have eaten like swine, you say, two and three main courses apiece! Actually, it turned out to be quite easy to spend that much money. Here's how:

Go to a restaurant with an à la carte menu.We went to Fleming's Prime Steakhouse N Wine Bar, a reasonably swanky steak joint in Fashion Island. It's a big, open room with rich cherry wood, an open kitchen and an expansive bar. At night, the room teems with the BMW-and-boobs crowd, making it a meat market of a different color.

Styled after traditional Eastern steakhouses, Fleming's offers an à la carte menu of appetizers, salads, side dishes, “red meat and white meat,” and seafood. This means when you order a steak, a chunk of beef is all you get. In Fleming's case, this beef is USDA prime, corn-fed aged beef, which comes from New York Yankee-caliber cattle—the best of the lot.

This meat ain't cheap either. Fleming's offers five regular cuts—petite and main filet mignon, ribeye, New York strip and a big ol' 22-ounce Porterhouse. The regular steaks range from $21 to $31, with the option of peppercorn or béarnaise sauce on the side.

I went with the main 12-ounce filet mignon cut. Cost: $26.95. The steaks are cooked in a superheated gas flame to “seal in the juices,” as the publicity goes. A little salt is added to the cut before cooking.

Since I paid roughly the equivalent of six Shaq Packs for this steak, I can nitpick. It was cooked medium rare, not medium, as I had asked. It was a little too charred for my taste, and the salt wasn't needed because I got the peppercorn sauce. Still, this was royal meat, and my complaints are the equivalent of criticizing Shaq's game because of his free-throw shooting.

Instead of the appetizers, we opened by sharing a sliced tomato-buffalo mozzarella salad with fresh basil leaves on top. Superfresh, perfectly delicious: $6.50. And for side dishes with our main meat, steamed asparagus with béarnaise sauce ($6.95) and the house special, Fleming's potatoes ($5.95), which is an au gratin casserole with sour cream, Cheddar and a wisp of jalapeño. The asparagus was damn good; the potatoes, frankly, were bland. As your attorney, I advise you to get a baked potato instead.

Order the special.My wife was all set to get the pork chop, but our waiter got all moist and happy over the special Copper Creek salmon, which is “only fished for four weeks a year,” he said. “And we have some!”

He tenderly described how this precious salmon filet is rolled in crushed almonds and served with a lemon-butter sauce. It sounded like love, so how could we resist? Adriana eagerly ordered it, and even if he didn't tell us how much it cost, so what?

So what, indeed. The orange filet came on a small rectangular plate. I estimated it weighed about 10 ounces. And with the first bite, Adriana's face lit up. “Oh, you've got to try this!” she said. So I did, and my palate burst with joy. Rich salmon flavor with a buttery-smooth texture. The almonds added a teasingly nutty taste, and the sauce supplied a slight lemony denouement. Sheer bliss. And then we got the check—$36.50.

Buy wine by the glass.Fleming's features lots of wine in bottles, but even more by the glass. This is a great way to mix and match your wines with various dishes, and, boy, does it add up quickly. For our tomato-mozzarella salad, we each had a glass of Chateau Saint Michelle Chardonnay, a light, fruity version we thoroughly enjoyed: $7 per glass. For our entrées, Adriana went with an oakey, buttery Chardonnay that perfectly matched her salmon—$14.50 for that glass—and I opted for a rich Fife zinfandel to draw out the husky esters of the filet mignon. And it did, for $10 per glass. So we spent $38.50 on four glasses of wine.

Tax and tip: $9.44 and $23.76, rounding out to a total of $155. So you see, it can be done. And we enjoyed every cent.

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse N Wine Bar, located at 455 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, is open Mon.-Thurs., 5-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sun., 5-11 p.m. (949) 720-9633. Full bar. Dinner for two, $65-$90, food only. All major credit cards accepted.

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