Torched Tableside: Dazzling Flambeed Dishes
Experience the enchantment of setting food and drink aflame at these restaurants, bars and other hot spots.
Photo By: Landry's Inc.
Photo By: Brian Barkley
Photo By: Perry's Steakhouse and Grille
Photo By: B. Milne
Photo By: Tomo Muscionico for Faith and Flower
Photo By: Lindsey Becker
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Photo By: Michele Jacob
Food Meets Flame
When it comes to tableside presentations, nothing impresses quite like fire. There's just something entrancing about a flame dancing across a dish, whether it's engulfing a pile of cherries or curling across a foot-high marshmallow merengue. It was the French who first gave us flambe, the artful technique of dousing a dish in liquor, lighting a match and setting it aflame. The alcohol burns off, leaving behind a slight singe, a touch of flavor and a memorable culinary performance. Experience the thrill of the torch at these hot spots across the country.
Situated on a bluff that overlooks the Mississippi River, Steventons in Le Claire, Iowa, offers a dramatic dining experience — from the sweeping views of the waterfront below to the striking array of flambeed dishes presented tableside. Highlights include the spinach salad, rack of lamb, chateaubriand and bananas Foster. The house specialty and local favorite, though, is the flaming Greek cheese. This indulgent appetizer features Kasseri, a sheep's milk cheese that is traditionally produced in Greece. It arrives at the table in a saganaki (the two-handled frying pan that is typically used to make the dish), where it is then drenched in 151 proof rum and set aflame. The dish is served with a side of crisp toast points that are ideal for dipping.
Go to: Steventons
What started as a small butcher shop in Houston eventually sparked the creation of 13 steakhouses. Each locale of Perry's Steakhouse and Grille offers tableside presentations, which include carving of signature cuts and setting desserts aflame. In addition to a traditional bananas Foster, Perry's offers a Mont Blanc a la Frisc: homemade sponge cake that's heaped with vanilla ice cream and garnished with strawberries, then soaked in a flambeed Belgian white chocolate sauce laced with Bailey's Irish Cream. Another standout is the Nutty D'Angelo. For this dessert, crushed pecans and brown sugar are combined with flaming brandy, then poured over a white-chocolate-and-almond-coated scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Chef Daniel Boulud traversed both American and French culinary terrains when dreaming up the dishes for his DBGB Kitchen & Bar concept. It seems fitting, then, that the restaurant's Washington, D.C., locale currently serves a flambeed dessert with a decidedly American twist. This menu favorite is a baked Alaska that evokes the flavors of apple pie. A core of green apple sorbet is nestled inside layers of ice cream (both vanilla- and cinnamon-flavored), then wrapped in a graham cracker biscuit and blanketed in ribbon upon ribbon of Swiss meringue that's piped across the surface. The entire confection is frozen, then cut into pieces. Opt for this dessert and a hefty slice will arrive at your table, where you'll have an up-close view of the final touch: a pour of vanilla vodka that's ignited to flambe the dish.
Go to: DBGB Kitchen & Bar
Tarte Flambée Calva
Flashes of fire are to be expected at La Tarte Flambée. After all, its namesake dish is a flaming tarte. The menu mainstay arrived at this New York City spot by way of Alsace, the region of France where owner Mathias Peter was born. Peter's hometown staple has become his signature dish, a specialty that is best described as a cross between a crepe and a pizza. The tarte flambee is the focal point of the menu, with an array of savory and sweet options available. One highlight is the Tarte Flambée Calva. A thin flatbread is covered in a smooth layer of creme fraiche and fromage blanc, dusted with cinnamon and sugar, then topped with fresh apple slices. The tarte is fired in a wood-burning oven before being brought tableside, doused in Calvados (apple brandy) and set aflame.
Go to: La Tarte Flambée
Absinthe Leap of Faith
The craft cocktail game gets taken to the next level at Faith and Flower, where liquor meets flame in the most-mesmerizing manner. The Los Angeles bar offers several types of absinthe service, including the Russian style, which involves setting the alcohol aflame. Guests select one of 20 varieties of absinthe, which is poured into a snifter and ignited tableside. The bartender then transfers the flaming liquid into a glass of Abita Root Beer and ice, creating a long stream of fire and capturing the absinthe's aromatic vapors that are left behind as the liqueur is poured out. Not only does this technique make for a dramatic spectacle, but it also creates a unique process for consuming the absinthe. Guests can enjoy the aromatic vapors from the snifter before drinking the absinthe and root beer concoction in the second glass.
Go to: Faith & Flower
Having been passed down through successive generations since it was founded in 1905, Columbia Restaurant is steeped in family tradition. A flame-torched dessert featured on the menu, for instance, was inspired by the family's travels through Spain. The Gonzmarts, who are the fourth-generation owners of this Tampa eatery, fell in love with Spain's version of creme brulee when visiting Los Caracoles restaurant in Barcelona. The dessert has shown to be a popular addition to the restaurant's Spanish offerings, which are featured alongside its Cuban dishes. Columbia's Crema Catalana comprises a velvety custard base that is flavored with citrus peels and a cinnamon stick. Once the custard cools, it is topped with a thin layer of sugar that is then torched until a beautifully caramelized crust forms on the surface.
Go to: Columbia Restaurant
Steak Diane and Shrimp Scampi
At Jill's Restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, which is known for its French-tinged American fare, bounty of both land and sea is transformed by fire. The steak Diane starts as an 8-ounce filet mignon, which is flambeed with cognac in a dazzling display of culinary showmanship, then served over Yukon gold mashed potatoes with a medley of wild mushrooms and brandy truffle sauce. The shrimp scampi is prepared in an equally stunning style, as six giant tiger shrimp are sauteed with smoked paprika, shallots, garlic and cherry tomatoes, then flambeed in cognac and finished with compound butter and a drizzle of creme fraiche.
Go to: Jill's Restaurant
Bacon lovers in Jupiter, Florida, can get their fix at Aaron's Table and Wine Bar, where the savory snack is served in a particularly sizzling fashion. To start, strips of bacon are covered in a local honey-based syrup, then baked until caramelized and crisp. Once ready, they're removed from the oven, topped with black pepper and clipped to a custom-made bacon clothesline. The freshly pinned bacon is delivered to the table along with a side of yogurt sriracha dip. Adding a fragrant and fiery flourish to the presentation are flaming rosemary sprigs, whose aromatic tendrils of smoke envelope the bacon dangling above.
Go to: Aaron's Table and Wine Bar
Henry's steps up the interactive factor inherent in flaming tableside presentations by passing the torch (or, in this case, the grill) to the patrons. Order Campfire S'mores at this bustling Chicago bar and a baby hibachi grill will arrive along with all the ingredients needed to make the classic campground snack. You'll get graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows, which can be held over the fire until slightly golden or charred black. Henry's provides just about everything needed for an authentic s'mores-roasting experience — optional campfire stories supplied by you.
Go to: Henry's
The menu at Los Angeles fixture La Poubelle is dominated by classic French favorites, including one dessert that typifies torched decadence: creme brulee. This dish, which means "burnt cream" in French, features a rich base of sugar, tempered egg yolks and cream that has been steeped with Madagascar vanilla. The mixture is cooked in a water bath at a low temperature until the cream firms into a thick custard consistency. Once the dessert has cooled, it is taken from the kitchen to the dining room, where it is sprinkled with turbinado sugar and then bruleed — twice. This double treatment with the torch ensures an intense caramel color and an extra-thick shell, which perfectly contrasts with the creamy custard beneath.
Go to: La Poubelle
The patio fire pits at J&G Steakhouse are not the only mesmerizing source of flames at this resort restaurant in Scottsdale, Arizona. Its flambeed baked Alaska dessert adds a dramatic finale to any meal. This fine-dining favorite takes a tropical turn at the hands of Chef de Cuisine Jacques Qualin, who gets creative with his use of fresh, roasted and frozen pineapple. This multilayered dessert starts with a housemade pineapple sorbet, which is smothered in a caramel-and-roasted-pineapple sauce, then topped with a round of sponge cake. The dish is crowned with crests of Swiss meringue, garnished with pineapple slices and set aflame in a stunning tableside finish involving overproof rum.
One San Antonio steakhouse conjures up the culinary magic of New Orleans during its dessert presentation. Bohanan's Prime Steaks and Seafood features an array of flambeed treats, but the most famous of them all is arguably the bananas Foster. The origin of this Crescent City classic can be traced back to the kitchen of the renowned Brennan's Restaurant in New Orleans, where it was invented in the early 1950s. For Bohanan's take on this traditional dessert, sliced bananas are cooked tableside in a sweet concoction of butter, brown sugar and freshly squeezed orange juice, then transformed by a bright burst of flame fueled by banana liqueur and brandy.
Indulge in a flashy French classic that dates back more than a century at Bistro Maxine, a Parisian-inspired creperie in Palo Alto, California. The spot serves a version of Crepe Suzette that is particularly popular. This indulgent dish begins with a traditional batter that is prepared fresh before being poured on the griddle. Once cooked, the crepe is dunked in hot orange juice, placed on a plate and covered in a blizzard of powdered sugar. The dessert is finished with a delicate flambe fueled by Grand Marnier or Cointreau liquor, then crowned with a whorl of housemade whipped cream as its final adornment.
Go to: Bistro Maxine
You'll get a feast for the senses if you select an old-school favorite from the menu at Hugo's Cellar in Las Vegas. The restaurant serves its Duck L'Orange in a grand presentation befitting of its Sin City address. A perfectly cooked half bird is nestled in a copper pan and rolled out to the table on a marble-topped cooking trolley. The duck is heated to temperature, then flambeed in spectacular fashion with brandy and a bit of anisette (which adds a hint of licorice to the dish). When the flame dissipates, the duck is removed and plated, then blanketed in a fragrant orange sauce that is prepared on the spot.
Go to: Hugo's Cellar