For a top New York steakhouse, head to Flames in Westchester County
The New York food media’s neglect to review steakhouses is nearly complete, unless it involves beating up a bustling place like Nusr-Et, run by a cleaning Turkish chef who puts salt on her from two feet away Food throws. And none of the critics ever return to see if classic New York steakhouses like Peter Luger, Palm or the Old Homestead live up to their reputation.
The rationale among the critics is that so many steakhouses are so similar, which is as absurd as saying that all of the city’s French bistros or Italian trattorias are the same. The facts, save for menu overlap, are that Smith & Wollensky Porter House is no more like Abbott Costello. In all the restaurants that serve traditional dishes, it all depends on the quality of the ingredients and the way they are prepared. Because of this, the New York media is constantly looking for a new hamburger joint or pizzeria to find something new.
On the other hand, I like going to steakhouses where competition with everyone else means they have to buy the best beef, seafood, and vegetables they can find. Too many these days claim to serve prime beef dry ripened for fancy periods of time when something over 28 days is actually counterproductive despite the hype. Some may use lumps of crab meat in their crab meat cake, others are huge or even colossal. Some may make their own desserts, others buy the always wonderful S&S cheesecake.
These considerations don’t even begin to cover ambience, design and service, which can vary from the fake macho of so many to the cheerful hospitality of others.
All of these are factors I consider when I go to a steakhouse and return to a classic New York location, albeit in Westchester County, like Flames, with the expectation that it will be among the best in the area and vastly better is as many in Manhattan or Brooklyn.
Owner and chef Nikola Vulaj worked in many of them before opening his own in Chappaqua, NY in 1992, but his new Flames is in Elmsford. With a fine white marble bar, main dining room, and lovely private room, Flames has the old-fashioned look of an American chophouse – marble fireplace, soft overhead lighting, dark paneling, very comfortable chairs, tilted mirrors, and white tablecloths. The service staff is veteran and works in teams to bring out all of the courses and supplements people have ordered. However, when a party is in full swing, service slows down in the main room.
As soon as you sit down, you get a good loaf of bread with a generous butter platter at the right temperature. The bar offers fresh, hot potato chips cooked in beef fat.
The crab meat cocktail and crab cake are, in fact, made from big, sweet chunks of colossal size ($ 21.95), as are the shrimp. Fried calamari are always crispy and meaty, and I usually order the eggplant rollatini ($ 12.95) with ham and melted fontina, though it was too firm on a recent visit.
The menu description for Spaghetti alla Carbonara is “done right” meaning without cream, onions or parsley and it is certainly one of the best I’ve had on this side of Rome.
The mushroom veal chop ($ 48.95) weighs about 16 ounces, and the American rack of lamb is made up of four well-fattened chops. The usual cuts of beef, from filet mignon ($ 48.95) to porterhouses cut for two to four people ($ 98-188), are of the best quality, immaculately seared, and pink on the inside when medium-rare . I applaud Vulaj for taking Wagyu beef off the menu because their American Prime is so much better than American Wagyu and most of the Japanese Kobe out there.
Some steakhouses have removed whole lobsters from their menus, but not Flames, and they are all three to four pound (MP) giants served with a large clarified butter baking dish. (You could ask for just melted butter which has more flavor.)
The creamed spinach is luxurious, with a hint of nutmeg, and both the fries and mashed potatoes are excellent. On the last visit, the onion rings came to the table limp, but I suspect this was a passing slip.
The desserts are mostly homemade, and the long-time specialty here is the zucchino ($ 10) with layers of English cream, white chocolate, mocha mousse, and meringue.
Vulaj has always been proud of its 250 label wine list and carefully rated it. There are tons of trophy wines out there, but plenty of pretty good bargains among the fewer choices.
If only Flames were as good as everyone else in Manhattan, that would be remarkable enough. But with the quality of the food it serves, it might even deserve a trip from the same New York city reviewers who ignore hometown steakhouses.
Open every day for lunch and dinner.
121 E Main Street, Elmsford, NY