Firebirds Wood Fired Grill1/13/2016
The steakhouse is a distinctly American institution. They thrive in North America, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay where wide-open spaces have allowed grazing and ample grains to be grown to feed livestock. Usually accented with dim lighting and leather and brass, they represent much of what is macho, excessive and decadent about the western hemisphere. My European friends consider steakhouses (and Las Vegas) to best represent American culture compared to Europe. “In America,” they say, “anyone with money can go there and get similar treatment. In Europe, you would have to wear a tuxedo or be on a list.”
Steakhouses are also one of the few restaurant genres in which national chains stack up well against independents. Smith & Wolensky’s, Del Frisco’s, Fleming’s, 801 Steak & Chop House, Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris and Wolfgang’s rank with the nation’s best indies — Peter Lugar’s and Bern’s. All those are dry aged, all prime steakhouses where an average ticket exceeds $100 per person.
In the less-than-prime category, chains have not been as successful compared to local indies. For my money, the Lone Stars, Longhorns, Sizzlers and Ponderosas don’t compare well to Jesse’s Embers, Iowa Beef, Trostel’s Greenbriar or Simon’s. There is a new chain in town now that does. Firebirds Wood Fired Grill is a 15-year-old chain from North Carolina. They have operated a huge, successful store in west Omaha for 10 years. They had me with “wood fired” but added more points when I noticed their executive chef was Jason Kapela, the founder of Louie’s Wine Dive. Service added extra points quickly. Few new restaurants are as ready to go as this place was. A freshly baked mini loaf of bread was served without my asking. Every question was answered, and recommendations were spot on. For instance, a server told me she considered the prime rib to be the restaurant’s signature entrée and added that there were a few, rare end cuts left. I ordered a full pound cut for $27 including a side that turned out to be every bit as wonderful as some for which I have paid more than twice as much. It delivered a perfect sear of herbs and spices and homemade jus. When I took more than half of it home, my server not only boxed it for me, but added a new cup of jus and labeled every box in my doggie bag. I tried a seared wasabi appetizer that was not the least bit overcooked, a rare thing. It was served with a salad of mostly romaine and pecans with a sauce of mustard. A richly-dressed Caesar salad was covered with freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese with croutons dusted in chilies. A Thursday-only clam chowder ranked with any in town, with bacon, crème fraiche and freshly shucked clams. A bacon-wrapped filet was covered with blue cheese sauce, and mushrooms sautéed in Port. Pecan crusted trout, served with pineapple salsa and citrus slaw, was perfectly executed and not the least bit dry.
Dessert brought another touch of good service. A giant slice of chocolate cake was delivered with a bowl of ice cream and extra long forks for sharing. Cocktails ($11 and less) were mixed with top shelf brands of booze — Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Belvedere, Cruzan, Bluecoat, etc. Wines ranged in price from $32-$145 with several half priced on Mondays.
Bottom line — Fleming’s, about two blocks down Mills Parkway, has some serious competition, especially on prices.
Side Dishes: People said goodbye to Kwong Tung in droves. There was an hour-and-half wait to be seated for their final dim sum… Venerable Great China also closed at the end of the year, after 27 years. CV
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.
Firebirds Wood Fired Grill
440 S. 68th St., West Des Moines
Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.