Every customer who walks through the door at Fleming’s, the new-school steakhouse tucked in a corner of Regency Court, gets asked the same question: “Are you celebrating anything special tonight?”
One couple was celebrating their 16th wedding anniversary. Another, a birthday.
I wasn’t celebrating anything on either of my visits, but with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it seemed like a good opportunity to revisit what’s clearly a very popular west Omaha special occasion spot.
What I found was surprisingly uneven. The highs on two visits to Fleming’s included a buttery, mid-rare fillet and two fine fish dishes; crispy-charred Brussels sprouts; and thoughtful but not too formal service.
The lows included a hair in a pile of French fries that weren’t hot to begin with, a prime rib more fat than meat and a manager who shuttled us to a bar seat because she said the dining room was filled with reservations, but those diners never appeared.
It’s easy to run up a bill higher than $200 at Fleming’s, and some of the highs are worth experiencing. But when spending that much, it’s hard to tolerate the lows.
When I told operating partner Josh Orsini about those lows, he apologized.
“We want it to be perfect every time,” he said, “and when it’s not, we want to make it right.”
The far superior experience took place in Fleming’s dining room. The meals that evening were as good as we had: a well-cooked petite fillet with great seasoning and texture and a piece of simply cooked, flaky sea bass for my friend. He asked if the kitchen might prepare it with olive oil and herbs and they did, omitting a spicy sauce laden with cilantro.
An Asian-inspired ahi tuna appetizer had nice texture and seasoning, and came with a small salad of crisp vegetables with a soy dressing, thin-sliced pickled ginger and a spicy Asian mustard for dipping. We shared the Brussels sprouts, a special side that evening, and they were crisp-tender and charred but not burnt.
The kitchen made a few other changes without balking, including taking bacon off a spinach salad, pre-splitting that salad for us in the kitchen and removing pancetta from the Brussels sprouts.
The staff promptly replaced dishes and silverware — we each got a fresh, chilled salad fork for that course — and when the server noted we both had on dark pants, she replaced white napkins with fuzz-free black ones. Those small touches mattered.
My one complaint that evening was the volume in the dining room. I could barely hear my friend over the din of a couple of large parties and the smooth jazz, which our server said self-adjusts to the noise in the room. Once one of the large parties left, the noise, and the music, subsided.
The food simply was not as good the night we dined in the bar, and we had problems from the get-go. When we arrived, parties in front of us and behind us in line all were at the restaurant for a special occasion and were seated in the dining room. We were not celebrating a special occasion and were told the many empty tables in the dining room were reserved. But those tables stayed empty while we dined at a booth in the bar.
Orsini said that should have happened differently.
“It sounds like you felt herded into the bar,” he said. The bar area is popular with some diners, he said, but it should be more of a choice to sit there or the dining room.
My dining partner ordered the burger, which is served only in the more casual bar section. It arrived nicely seasoned and texturally pleasing on a toasted brioche bun. The fries were the major downfall: though they looked hand-cut, they were barely room temperature and had clearly been hanging around the kitchen for a while. Halfway through the pile, we discovered the errant hair.
Orsini said, in general, he would have expected a diner with a problem to have both the meal that evening comped and an additional free meal offered. (Our meal was not comped; we didn’t raise the issue so far into the meal, and we couldn’t have accepted free food.)
A shared burrata appetizer wasn’t what I expected, either. Instead of being served in a self-contained sphere like the burrata I’m used to, this cousin-of-mozzarella came served in a jar and had a consistency much closer to yogurt. It comes with garlicky toasted bread, sweet charred tomatoes and peppery arugula.
I tried one of Fleming’s many fixed-price specials that evening, a prime rib dinner that runs $29 for the meat, a salad, a side dish and a dessert. The main event is a gigantic slab of beef, and though mine was cooked at the requested medium-rare, almost half of the piece was thick, white fat. Prime rib is by its nature a fatty cut, but this felt gratuitous. Nonetheless, the part of the beef I did eat was tasty, well seasoned and crusted with pepper. The prime rib comes served with small bowls of classic beef jus, spicy horseradish and a spicy-sweet mustard.
A wedge salad comes topped with halved grape tomatoes, onion, pumpkin seeds and a thick, creamy dressing. A slab of tasty blue cheese sat next to the wedge as did a slice of caramelized bacon, a bit too blackened for my liking.
The Fleming’s Potatoes, a house specialty, are a study in classic steakhouse food: Cream and cheddar cheese dominate the layered sliced potatoes in the dish, which is also studded with jalapeños. I wished for more of their heat.
The $29 price tag for the prime rib special felt really reasonable after I ordered from the main menu, which is expensive. We spent close to $70 the evening we dined in the bar. In the dining room, when we ordered off the mostly a la carte menu, our bill after tip topped $220.
Orsini said those ever-rotating fixed-price meals like the one I tried are one way the restaurant tries to be approachable to all sorts of diners. He said they’re very popular in the Omaha location.
Fleming’s boasts an impressive wine list, and diners can scroll through iPads preloaded with all sorts of information about each wine. The iPads are also loaded with the cocktail and beer lists, along with suggestions from the chain’s wine expert.
I liked both glasses of wine I tried on different evenings, an Oregon pinot noir and a French red from the Bordeaux region. From the cocktail list, we tried a classic whiskey sour, which arrived pleasantly balanced and topped with a Luxardo cherry.
We tried two desserts: a bowl of sliced strawberries, blueberries and raspberries topped with house whipped, vanilla chantilly cream; and the house specialty, molten lava cake, which is prepared to order and takes 20 minutes. Our server told us it’s the best seller, and it makes sense: a liquid molten chocolate center arrives encased in rich chocolate cake and topped with a dusting of sugar and chantilly cream. On the side, a pistachio cookie wafer holds a scoop of vanilla ice cream. The contrast of hot and cold in the dish is famous for a reason.
Fleming’s has dishes worth returning for — steak and fish especially. But when I dine at an expensive, high-end steakhouse and pay the price for it, I expect — and I think all diners deserve — a flawless dining experience, special occasion or not.
FLEMING'S PRIME STEAKHOUSE & WINE BAR
Address: 140 Regency Parkway
Hours: Monday through Thursday 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5-11 p.m., Sunday 5-9 p.m.
Hits: Cooking technique shone through on both a mid-rare fillet and a meaty piece of sea bass. The made-to-order lava cake is a magnificent dessert and worth waiting the 20 minutes it takes to prepare.
Misses: We found a hair in a pile of fries one evening, always an immediate turn-off.
Drinks: Diners can access the vast wine and cocktail lists through iPads at each table. Drinks are expensive, and wine gets pricey quickly, too, though the midsized pours are the equivalent of two glasses.
Prices: Fleming’s is expensive, designed in the modern steakhouse fashion where everything is served a la carte. Dinner for two can easily top $200.
Noise level: The music at Fleming’s rises and falls with the din in the space, and one evening, the sound became loud enough that I had to strain to hear my dining partner. Once a large party left, the music adjusted to a more reasonable level.