Light My Fire
At its peak, Firebirds delivers perfectly prepared steaks. But it could be the finer touches that help it rise even higher.
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When I talked to Sturm about his signature Delmonico steak (in this case, a boneless top loin), he said its chili powder-based seasoning rub might belie steak purists’ dogma, but the spicy crust that results truly enhances the flavor of the meat. I considered this as the Delmonico landed a legit punch to the tastebuds. I’m not sure salt and pepper wouldn’t fare any better with the juicy Delmonico, but as far as embellishments go, chili rub is a solid choice.
A peppery Pinot Noir from California’s Taz Vineyards was a neat complement to the Delmonico’s spice. Its inclusion on the user-friendly wine list was no accident.
An appetizer plate of crab cakes (and here’s some Delaware blasphemy) were coated in panko breadcrumbs for a crispy outside, and given muscle with jumbo lump meat. The side sauce, advertised as mango habañero chutney, was like a sweet, souped-up Chinese duck sauce that played well off the mustard mix used as crab cake binder.
But the real treasure was a small pile of slaw sitting harmlessly between the crab cakes and the sauce. At most places, this sort of thing is strictly decoration, but we found the mix of fresh and crunchy red cabbage, lettuce, carrots, pumpkin seeds, cilantro and a light citrus dressing delicious. It’s not an official side item (it should be), but several dishes come with the slaw, including the tempura-style coconut shrimp and pecan-crusted trout.
Disappointments were few. I was eager to try the lobster spinach queso dip, but it was a bit soupy and I couldn’t find much in the way of actual lobster, despite my excavation. The tri-colored tortilla chips that accompanied were tacky, and seemed beneath this place. Some crusty bread or toasted pita would’ve been a better vehicle. A cup of tortilla soup was not bad, but as one of Firebirds’ true Southwestern offerings, it could’ve been better with added spice, perhaps from poblano peppers. I’ve heard rumblings about food being over-salted at Firebirds, but on my visits, this was not an issue.
Our server was friendly, knowledgeable and quick with a recommendation. The peach martini is her personal favorite, she said, but the pear martini is more popular with customers. We avoided controversy and got both. When we quizzed her about the buffalo meatloaf entrée, she explained that it is a mix of ground beef and buffalo meat, since buffalo is too lean to serve solo. Good to know.
Perhaps more than anything else, Firebirds’ small touches erased any thoughts of chain dining. Just about every dish contained either fresh herbs, fruit or underrated ingredients like the pumpkin seeds. The tasty pear martini was especially cute. A fresh pear slice floated in the drink, with a tiny Firebird insignia cut from the middle. The little pear bird perched on the rim. We had to smile.
So do Firebirds’ guests know the special treat they’re getting? Perhaps so, since a dinner for two rang up a $98 check. But in the chaotic parking lot, I overheard a family who had requested tables at Firebirds, Olive Garden and Red Lobster, then waited to see which pager went off first. The wait to get into Firebirds that night was 75 minutes. I think that family wound up at Olive Garden. They should’ve waited just a bit longer.
Page 3: Pho-get About It | Grab a spoon, or fork, and enjoy a classic Vietnamese soup at Pho Nhu Vu.