I like that steakhouses are familiar and predictable. There’s something comforting about a place that doesn’t serve kale salad, where the atmosphere can’t be described as hipster-subway-tile chic, where there aren’t rules on how to order. The equation for a solid steakhouse is pretty straightforward: decadently large cuts of meat, properly cooked; a list of retro appetizers, like Caesar salad, crab cocktail, and a blue-cheese wedge; old-boys’-club interiors that wouldn’t be out of place on an episode of Mad Men; and a few rounds of ice-cold martinis or a big, bold red.
At Flames Steakhouse in Elmsford, chef/owner Nikolla Vulaj has all the pieces in place to nail that equation, including 25 years of restaurant and steakhouse experience in Westchester and NYC. The former owner of Flames in Briarcliff Manor (now under separate ownership), Vulaj opened the new Flames Steakhouse in Elmsford with all the trimmings you’d expect: porterhouses and twin lobster tails, dark paneling, a lengthy wine list, and supremely comfortable white-tablecloth-topped tables by the cozy fireplace.
The appetizers are almost entirely well-executed classics: Blue Point oysters, colossally jumbo shrimp cocktail, and meaty baked clams on a pool of buttery, lemon-herb sauce. The Caesar salad, another steakhouse staple, was lighter than the gloopy versions that have ruined the dish’s good name. Hearts of ultra-crispy romaine were tossed with airy croutons and a zingy dressing (though we might have liked a bit more oomph from anchovies). A super-simple preparation of grilled Canadian bacon involved just two, inch-thick slices of grill-marked, smoked pork belly.
The Burrata was the least exciting of the dishes we tried. Slices of the cheese were appropriately creamy, but the out-of-season tomatoes were under-seasoned. Service at the beginning of the meal could also use a bit of polishing. Coat check was only offered on one of our visits, and, on another night, bread was never brought to our table. And while the hostess is perfectly nice and does her best to accommodate walk-ins, we’d recommend a reservation on busy weekend nights.
With the porterhouse for two, however, Flames brings its A-game. In a luxuriously old-fashioned manner, servers present the USDA Prime dry-aged steak in a pool of sizzling butter before serving it tableside with pomp. Each individual plate is warmed, and sides like light-as-a-cloud mashed potatoes and tender caramelized onions (two of our favorites) are doled out to each diner. (Note: We found that sides for one could serve two, as portions for the mains are quite large.)
The filet portion of our properly rosy porterhouse was so exceptionally tender, it prompted us to try the filet mignon with mushrooms on our next visit. While we thoroughly enjoyed the mushrooms, which were deeply browned without being leathery, the steak was unevenly cooked (rare on one end, medium on the other). On that same visit, a rack of domestic lamb had a pleasantly pronounced flavor but was also somewhat unevenly done. Besides steaks and chops, the menu diverges into a series of Italian dishes. We enjoyed the not-too-heavy chicken parmigiana — tender cutlets in a tangy-bright tomato sauce with a blanket of stringy cheese. Better still was the al dente spaghetti carbonara, denoted on the menu as “done the right way.” A smooth sauce of egg and cheese — no inauthentic cream in sight — was accented with bits of bacon, which lent a not-so-traditional smokiness to the dish that we enjoyed.
Selections from the dessert tray were underwhelming. If you have to have one, go for the crème brûlée, which had lovely, rich custard, though not enough crackly sugar crust. Personally, we’ll save our money for the porterhouse.
121 E Main St, Elmsford
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