by Matt Steinberg

FiammaWhen my wife and I were looking for a special place to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, the idea of going to Fiamma Steak kept coming up. (Apparently we weren’t the only people to have that thought that evening. A friend and his wife of three years were there, along with another couple commemorating 34 years of wedded bliss, all of us within 40 feet of each other.) It’s a somewhat new steakhouse along Buffalo’s new “Restaurant Row”, Hertel Avenue, and has been getting a lot of positive buzz lately. And when I mentioned to some colleagues that we were going there, the universal response was “Oh, that place is SOOOO good!”. So our hopes were understandably high when we walked in on Saturday night.

The atmosphere is a comfortable combination of white (actually tan) tablecloth elegance and urban cool, with minimalist, streamlined wall and table accents. However, the emphasis here is definitely on the food. We started with what seemed like an entire squid worth of calamari that came with 3 very tasty dipping sauces, the best of which was a creamy, lemon-dill concoction, followed by a big shared bowl of Classic Onion Soup. This was not your typical French Onion soup – the broth had been reduced to maximize it’s beef flavor, the sauteed onions added an interesting hint of sweetness, and it was topped by a thick slice of interesting Gruyere cheese. I had considered getting a salad for myself, as I had heard that they were outstanding. But not wanting to let my eyes get bigger than my stomach, I passed, so I could concentrate on the entree. In hindsight, that was a very good idea. Fiamma, like most steakhouses, sells each item à la carte, but the tradeoff is portion size. We ordered the creamed spinach and lobster and crab mac and cheese, both of which more than enough for two people. A word about the mac and cheese – if you go to Fiamma, get it. The kind we had was a special that evening, but I’m sure the main menu version is just as good. It’s shell pasta covered in a tangy cheese sauce, with a crispy chipotle pepper topping that adds an unexpected (and divine) spiciness to it. Kraft dinner it ain’t.

But all of these delightful starters and side dishes are merely warm-up acts to the evening’s main event, the steak. All of Fiamma’s beef is wet aged and then marinated, giving it a depth of flavor that’s hard to match anywhere else. My wife ordered the 12 oz. Goat Cheese Crusted Filet Mignon, and I chose the 18 oz. Cast Iron Ribeye, both of which were grilled over a woodburning fire. From the first bite, I could tell that all of the hype is warranted. My steak had a thin, flavorful crust, just enough marbling to keep it very juicy, and it was topped by a thick cream and herb sauce, while my wife’s filet was melt-in-your-mouth tender. This was the best steak I have ever had – I tried to eat it slowly and savor every bite, but that was simply impossible. I’m glad I had the foresight to skip the salad – as it was, I couldn’t finish my meal, but that just extends dinner into lunch the next day.

Fiamma is not an everyday type of place, as the prices are what you’d expect at a high-end steakhouse. But if you’re looking for a place to celebrate a special occasion with a meal you’ll remember for weeks, located in a cool neighborhood, try Fiamma. You won’t be disappointed.

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by Karen Huefner

ladolcevita1Hertel Avenue, the main commercial strip of North Buffalo, has been reborn and rejuvenated in recent years as Buffalo’s “Little Italy” and the center for restaurants, antiques and home furnishings.  This time around, hunger is what sent me to Hertel.  Living in North Buffalo, Hertel is the perfect location to fill the void in my stomach. 

Options are plentiful on Hertel Avenue.  Here’s just a few:

Empire Grill
DiGiulio & Company
Ristorante Lombardo
Fiamma Steakhouse
Shadow Lounge
La Marina

However I personally landed at a table inside La Dolce Vita at 1472 Hertel Avenue this past weekend.  Being a Friday night during Lent, I safely assumed that an Italian restaurant would have plenty of non-meat options and I was right.  To start we noshed on Sfogliatelle de Spinace (harder to say than it is to eat).  “Wow” is all I can say about this tasty appetizer.  It’s a combination of spinach, mozzarella and roasted red peppers wrapped in filo dough, then drizzled in pesto cream sauce.  Just incredible.  For an entrée, I went with the Pasta alla Julianna – a macaroni dish packed with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, goat cheese and olive oil.  The hearty portion they give you allows for leftovers the next day.  Now while I was stuffed full of Italian goodness at this point and eventually passed on dessert, does not mean that the list was not impressive.  From homemade Italian cookies to tiramisu, their namesake says it all….”The Sweet Life”!