Dwight The Wine Doctor
Fleming’s small plates: Holiday adventures in wine & food pairing
Story and tasting event photos by Dwight Casimere
Chicago Operating Partner Curtis Nordeen and Chef Partner Jeri Griffin debut Fleming's Small Plates Menu
Selections from Fleming's Small Plates Menu
“It looks like we’re getting ready to do a séance,” one of the participants said, eyeing the carefully arranged seating arrangement with a dozen place settings around a rectangular table with low flickering candles at every other setting. The only spirits that were raised, however, were glasses of the evening’s signature cocktails and Sonoma Cutrer Russian River Ranchers Chardonnay and 14 Hands Cabernet Sauvignon.
This was the introduction and inaugural; tasting of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine bar’s new Small Plates menu, which was debuted in Chicago by Chicago Operating Partner Curtis Nordeen Chef Partner Jeri Griffin. The timing could not have been better for the restaurant, which is located just west of the Magnificent Mile, Nordstrom and the Westfield Mall, because the unveiling falls in advance of the Holiday Shopping Season. It presents a marvelous opportunity to pair wines from the restaurant’s expansive wine list with a new lineup of lighter, healthier dishing that mark the debut of a whole new way of dining at Fleming’s.
The small plates concept has been tried in various guises over the past decade or so, with varying degrees of success. It seems to have caught on in recent years though, because of the popularity of Spanish-styled Tapas Bars and “dim sum” type dining at the various ethnic restaurants that have been springing up like mushrooms in the ‘restaurant rows’ forged out of the city’s immigrant enclaves and newly gentrified communities.
In many ways, the small plates style of dining reminded me of the night’s I spent staying with a family in Marrakesh, Morocco a few springs ago, when I sat around a groaning table piled high with various sweet and savory dishes. The Mediterranean “dinner” typically starts at 9pm or later. Dinner at the Lahdhimi household was ceremoniously served at 10pm, after the men had watched the satellite TV replay of the soccer games in Europe or NBA basketball games from the U.S on Turner Broadcasting. (I guess they’ll just stick to soccer this year, due to the NBA lockout!)
Fleming’s has introduced seven new Small Plates on their menu, including Sliced Filet Mignon on shiitake risotto with chili oil drizzled with porcini mushroom butter and a truly spectacular Fleming’s Lobster Tempura with soy-ginger dipping sauce, arugula, jicama and apple salad.
Fleming’s has redefined the steakhouse experience to incorporate a wide variety of flavorful dishes that explore the full spectrum of cuisine. It also has become a point of destination for wine lovers because of its collection of 100 wines by the glass, showcasing the most innovative, cutting-edge wines from iconic and classic wineries from around the world. Here are some of the wine pairing suggestions for the Small Plates menu from Chef Partner Jeri Griffin.
All of the wines listed are available on Fleming’s wine list of wines by the glass and are also available at most wine shops. Prices listed are for average. Again, these are retail prices, not the price per glass on Fleming’s wine list.
Slice Filet Mignon-Cline Cashmere ($11.99) This silky, luxurious California red blend is a bit off the beaten path. Most of the grapes come from Contra Costa County, an area not normally associated with grape growing. It’s west of San Francisco, across the Bay and west of the Oakland Hills. The area is known for hot days and fog kissed nights and mornings. The unusual (for California) blend of Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah produces a wine with a bright fruitiness and a nice balance of tannins. Fermented initially in stainless steel tanks, the wine is then nestled in French oak for nine months to give it a nice toast. It’s just great with Fleming’s hand-cut Prime Aged steak.
Shrimp Scampi Skewers-Cakebread Sauvignon Blanc ($29.99) Jack Cakebread was one of the pioneers of the new age of Napa Valley winemakers when he purchased an abandoned farm in the famed Carneros District in 1973 and started producing wines that quickly won him national and international acclaim. Like Jack himself, the wines are robust and straightforward. The grapes are harvested at night to preserve their concentrated fruit flavor and ideal balance of crisp acid and light sugar. The majority of the fruit is fermented in stainless steel tanks, with about 10% in neutral oak. The wine is then laid down in French oak for five months to enrich its texture. Its aroma of citrus and vanilla and taste of honeydew melons and nectarines goes perfectly with lightly grilled shrimp.
Petite Lamb Chops-Pascual Toso Malbec ($9.99) This is a perfect example of the flavor and value-packed wines that are coming out of Argentina. This is a wine that packs plenty of flavor into a ten-dollar bottle of wine, giving it one of the highest Quality to Price Ratios (QPR) of any wine out there. From Argentina’s Maipu Valley, is fresh and smooth with bright red cherry and ripe blueberry flavors and a touch of smokiness that makes it a perfect match with grilled lamb.
Filet Skewers-Duckhorn Cabernet ($59.99) This is a classic Napa Valley Cab that delivers a lot of bang for the buck. I had this one with Dan and Margaret Duckhorn at their new Wine Library and tasting room with its amazing collection of waterfowl artwork and carved replicas on Lodi Lane overlooking their beautiful, lush gardens. Lush is also the operative word for their Cabernet. Like the Cakebread's and the Mondavi’s, the Duckhorns are Napa Valley pioneers and its rich dark plum, cranberry and Bing cherry flavor with hints of Holiday Allspice and cloves gives it a wide berth in the flavor category. It was a great match with Fleming’s Prime Filet. I lingered behind after the tasting to have a glass all by itself. It’s that good!
Ahi Tuna Skewers-Mark West Pinot Noir ($8.99) This is a pinot that flies in the face of the accepted wisdom that as California pinot has to cost a hundred box or somewhere close to it to be considered any good. Its enticing aromas of strawberries and light notes of caramel and apple pie and sweet potatoes spices makes it perfect along with Fleming’s marvelous Sashimi grade tuna skewers. A Holiday ham or turkey is the logical match for this lush, oaky wine, which guarantees tons of flavor pleasure over the Holidays.
New Bedford Scallops-Roederer Brut Rose Sparkling Rose ($69.99) (Writer’s Note: There’s also a Roederer Estate Brut Rose from Napa Valley’s Carneros District ($24.99) This is true French Champagne with intricate and delicate flavors of herbs, roses and citrus blossoms. This is Champagne with style and panache. Combined with Scallops, it underscores the yin/yang of briny sea minerals and slight sweetness that makes scallops such a unique flavor adventure. The silky mouth feel also enhances that ‘umami” comfort food creaminess that makes scallops such a flavor treat over the Holidays. One of my favorite Holiday dishes is braised short ribs of beef in a morel mushroom sauce with butter soaked poached scallops with fresh sage.
I saved the best for last. Fleming’s Lobster Tempura is a spectacular dish and unique to any other lobster dish I’ve ever had. There have been other attempts at Lobster Tempura. Fleming’s got it right. Domaine Chandon Brut Etoile ($19.99) Etoile is French for ‘star,’ and that’s exactly the right moniker for this Napa Valley sparkler. Aged five years in yeast, its so graceful and elegant, it should be on Dancing with the Stars! Great lobster. Great “champagne.” ‘Nuff said.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
235 East Ohio Street
Chicago, Illinois 60611