Afternoon Wine and Burgers on Fleming’s Sparkling New Patio
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
Lunch Available Monday – Saturday 11:30 AM – 2:30 PM
“Our burger is made with prime beef — how can you not enjoy that with a beautiful glass of wine?” – Sanjiv Gupta, Operating Partner
t’s mid-afternoon in Newport Beach. The weather is sunny and slightly breezy, as mid-afternoons tend to be around here. I’m gathered with a couple of colleagues at Fleming’s freshly remodeled, expanded patio. Fashion Island’s retail core is within walking distance of the popular steakhouse, but a strategically placed ring of olive trees surrounding the outdoor enclave turns the world-famous shopping center into a rumor. It’s a relaxing scene, but we’re technically not here to unwind. We’re ready to plunge into their lunch program on the very first day it’s offered. After a few minutes of small talk and a glass of champagne, however, the chill vibes just happen. None of us mind.
This relaxed ambiance stems from the patio, whose re-imagining goes well beyond its physical design. The formerly tiny space was always a happening hot spot for the local post-work crowd, who’d gathered at the door before Fleming’s 5:00 p.m. opening to snag a prime location. However, it was time for a change – a radical change, featuring a dramatically expanded size and additional features that encourage guests to relax. “We were approaching our 20th anniversary, so we were ready for a significant remodel,” explains Sanjiv Gupta, Fleming’s Operating Partner. “It made sense for us to transform the space into a patio that has booth and table dining, plus lounging vignettes by the fire pits for cocktails.”
These changes, which were fully revealed amid last December’s holiday rush, makes Fleming’s decision to roll out a lunch service a downright logical move. It’s a move that needed to be done in the right way; for the Fleming’s team, this meant shielding patrons from Fashion Island’s massive shadow. “We envisioned the patio to be a respite to enjoy a leisurely lunch with a colleague or a glass of wine with friends,” Gupta explains. “Because a lot is going on at Fashion Island, we knew we had to create a barrier for our guests to have that sense of tranquility. The perimeter with mature olive trees and the fire pits makes the space a little oasis of sophistication that’s also comfortable and casually elegant.”
Our lunch conversation quickly turns to wine, as it always does whenever I drop by Fleming’s. Veering into this discussion is easy. The restaurant’s deep roster of meticulously sourced wines and the remarkable knowledge displayed by its staff makes it effortless for novice imbibers to act on curiosity and oenophiles like me to geek out. Our chat leads to a conundrum of sorts. Two of us have ordered the restaurant’s California burger, and with good reason. It’s a prime beef patty topped with thick-cut bacon, avocado, cheddar and smoked aioli – big, bad boldness between two buns. But what wine do you pair with a burger?
It’s an unorthodox pairing, thanks in large part to polite society’s near-instinctual tendency to pair bun-wrapped beef patties with a beer. At Fleming’s, however, the duo feels natural, like it should happen without question. Of course, the restaurant’s extensive list of refreshingly light pinots, zinfandels, and red blends pair rather well with the patio itself, particularly after a long day of shopping. But the concept of the pairing of a glass of wine and the California burger seems custom-made to anchor the lunch program.
Our third lunch partner foregoes the burger route, opting for the Salmon Mediterranean salad instead. This carries its own puzzle. Its mélange of Campari tomatoes, fried Castevatrano olives, cucumber, feta, and lemon balsamic vinaigrette would ordinarily call for white wine, but the salmon’s bold richness demands a red.
I’m put on the spot. “You’re the wine guy,” my burger ordering colleague says. “Pick something.” Confident yet fearful of whiffing, I order three glasses of the Hall ’14 Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s a sublime burger pairing; the wine is voluptuous and fruit-forward without being too jammy, the perfect complement to the enormous and juicy burger’s California-kissed umami. The Hall’s power also cuts through the salmon salad’s richness, further deepening the dish’s balance. After we polish off the pairing, Gupta lets me know that the Hall would have been his pairing choice for the burger as well. He also informs that he would have paired the salad with a little softer red, like the 2014 or 2015 Argyle Pinot Noir Willamette Valley Reserve. My ego slightly deflates, but I still feel validated.
Our lunch ends up going north of two hours. A copious amount of shop talk does its part to stretch out the meal, but it’s a small part. The satisfaction of sustenance, the comfort of the booth, the seclusion from the olive trees, and the breezy sunshine of the Newport Beach afternoon is much too wonderful to leave. Anything under 120 minutes amid such outdoor bliss would feel rushed. This is precisely the mood Gupta is aiming to create. “Although guests can and do grab a quick bite … we find Fleming’s is more conducive to a relaxed, leisurely lunch,” he says.
After our afternoon soiree, it seems very hard to argue with this sentiment.