Note: Flames Steakhouse closed in November 2007, replaced in the same location by Giardino D’oro. Nick Vulli is still chef/owner. According to Restaurant Girl, belt-tightening on Wall Street led to a decline in lunch business, and the restaurant needed to morph into a less expensive concept. Apparently the excellent dry-aged steaks are still available, but as we define it here at New York Journal, the original restaurant is closed.
Here’s a review duet. First, my visit in August 2005:
Flames Steakhouse has opened downtown. They’ve been there for about a month. It’s operated by the same folks as Flames Steakhouse in Westchester County. The menu is identical in both locations. I paid their new digs late last week.
Flames is modeled on Peter Luger, in that their specialty is billed as Steak for One, Two, Three, or Four; and the steak comes pre-sliced, served on a slightly tipped large plate so that the juices will accumulate at the bottom. Like Mark Joseph and Wolfgang’s, they also have a broader menu featuring other meats, fish, and appetizers. There was a long list of daily specials (mostly fish and seafood) that the waiter recited. It always irritates me when a restaurant in this price range cannot be bothered to put its specials in writing, as it is difficult to keep them all in your head.
The website says, “You simply won’t find a better steak than ours anywhere!” That may be true in Westchester County, for anything I know to the contrary, but it is not the case in Manhattan. Their Steak for One was more-or-less comparable to Mark Joseph’s identical offering, and a bit inferior to what I’ve had at Wolfgang’s.
Unlike Mark Joesph and Wolfgang’s, the wonderful Luger-style Canadian bacon isn’t on the menu. Appetizers all seem to be $15.95 or higher, and have in common the ridiculous steakhouse-sized portions that I cannot imagine how anyone with an ordinary appetite can eat. I had a superb New England Clam Chowder ($8.95) and was unable to finish my steak. Flames has the typical steakhouse side dishes. I ordered the creamed spinach, which was extremely watery and practically inedible.
The clam chowder, Steak for One, and creamed spinach came to $70 with tax and tip, which I’m afraid is what you’re destined to pay for a Manhattan steakhouse experience. The décor is rather unmemorable, but one doesn’t go to a steakhouse for the décor.
The verdict on this occasion is that the clam chowder was excellent, the steak was competent, and the spinach was awful. Service was uneven, but I recognize they’re just getting their sea legs. As the restaurant is just one block from my apartment, I’m sure I’ll be trying them again, although I’ll give the spinach a pass next time. At the moment, they’re open Monday-Friday; they’ll be open Saturdays after Labor Day.
It seems no restaurant category is more bullet-proof in Manhattan than the traditional steakhouse, and since 9/11 Mark Joseph has had the field to itself below Chambers Street. I don’t think MJ has anything to worry about, but I suspect Flames will do well in a neighborhood where there isn’t a lot of competition.
And then, on December 8th:
I dropped in again today, mainly because the restaurant is just a block from my apartment. I ordered a ribeye au poivre, which was an off-menu special. It was one of the best pepper sauces I’ve tasted. The enormous ribeye had a bit of gristle, but was nicely aged and flavorful.
I have to wonder at the prognosis for this restaurant. The more recent Bobby Van’s just a few blocks away was absolutely packed (I tried there first). Even the nearby Captain’s Ketch was bustling. Flames was doing a decent trade, but had a number of empty tables—and that on a Thursday evening during the holiday season. Service was friendly and efficient; they wanted to please.
Flames Steakhouse (5 Gold Street near Maiden Lane, Financial District)