The kindness assault started with the hostesses who greeted us. There were five of them: Four stared us down with big smiles from behind the host stand; another, a dedicated greeter, stood to our left, right inside the doorway. To our right was an American flag, but that’s neither here nor there.
They began speaking all at once:
“Welcome to Fleming’s!”
“How are you today?”
“Here for dinner?”
The cheeriness continued as we ascended the stairs, a whirlwind 30 seconds wherein every server, busboy and manager who passed us asked a question (usually something like “How’s your evening going so far?”) that we couldn’t possibly answer before being interrupted by another wide smile and gentle, caring inquiry.
There was a sudden break in ranks—they tried to seat us at the worst table in the room, and when we asked for something better the smiles disappeared. But soon they were all back, as we met our two servers, both of whom tried to out–Brady Bunch the other. “I’m here to make you happy,” one of them said to us early on.
And I swear to God, he repeated that statement about 30 times throughout the evening.
Once or twice would have been okay. But the longer the night wore on, the more intrusive the service became. Servers don’t just “check in” at Fleming’s—they settle in for a painfully long conversation full of disingenuous compliments. At one point one of my companions was made so uncomfortable by the compliments that she asked our server to stop. But he couldn’t control himself. “You’re just too adorable, and you know it,” he told her, and suddenly the steakhouse began to feel like a meat market.
And about that meat: It wasn’t very good. From the ribeye to the filet to the prime rib, it had a weak flavor and a mushy texture that suggested it might have been frozen (even though Fleming’s PR machine tells me that this isn’t the case). Elsewhere on the menu things were just as mediocre. The “tuna mignon,” an enormous hunk of seared fish, had a one-note, vinegary sauce. Portobello steak fries—breaded and deep-fried slices of mushroom—were slick and oily where they should have been crunchy. Lobster tempura proved that battering and frying lobster obliterates its flavor, as well as its texture. And desserts—the most tired, clichéd lineup of desserts I’ve seen in a long time—came with a bowl of chantilly cream. Because more cream is exactly what desserts like cheesecake and chocolate lava cake need.
I’d like to say that the wine program makes up for all of this. The list, which offers 100 wines by the glass, is pretty impressive, with a good balance of well-known and lesser-known wines. But it’s hard to enjoy a glass of wine when there’s not anything exciting to eat alongside it. So when our server brought my second glass to me and said again that he hoped it would “make me happy,” I didn’t even need to taste it. It could have been Krug in that glass, but I already knew his hopes were in vain.
|Venue name:||Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar|
25 E Ohio St
|Cross street:||between State St and Wabash Ave|
|Transport:||El stop: Red to Grand. Bus: 29, 36, 65.|
|Price:||Average main course: $30|
|Do you own this business?|