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Beef and beyond ; There's options aplenty for patrons at Fiamma Steak

The official name of the restaurant is Fiamma Steak, but there's a lot more than hearty slabs of beef on the menu. In addition to the expected filets ($25 to $35), strips ($29), rib eyes ($32) and porterhouses ($37), you'll also find pork and veal and even a pasta or two. All to be consumed in attractive, nicely lit premises (downstairs anyway) with a fire burning brightly behind glass and big windows looking out on Hertel Avenue.

You can also find interesting ways to vary the basic choices. Order your steak -- in the grass style -- for $5 more and you get it atop wilted garlicky spinach and shaved Romano. There's "blue style" with a blue cheese crust, an "au poivre" style and even "goat" style with warm goat cheese.

Of course, the companion turned up his nose at any of these.

"A good steak stands alone," said he with almost religious conviction. Plenty of people would agree. And yes, his strip was a good steak with good beefy texture and juiciness, medium rare as ordered.

I ordered the salmon ($26), grilled over mesquite with diced roasted squash on the side, Granny Smith slaw atop and a cider-tinged sauce. It was a thick hunk of fish all right, cooked slightly rare the way it should be.

There's a good assortment of steak house-type salads and even a burger with caramelized onions for $14.

Fried oysters ($12) were my appetizer choice and they were delectable with a good crisp batter coating. The companion's Carbonara ($7), meant as a side dish but eaten as an appetizer, was exceptional. Here, spaghetti squash strands stood in for the usual linguini, but all the other carbonara attributes were present including the prosciutto and the egg, which made the creamy sauce so rich.

Most of the entree items are served a la carte so we ordered a couple of sides to test the waters. First on the list, of course, were the Bay Beach Fries ($5) because even at my advanced age I still have a soft spot in my heart for the paper cones of the Canadian fries of my youth.

Well you can't go home again. These fries were good and crisp, served in a fancy metal basket not a paper cone with the appropriate malt vinegar for dipping. But no sand. And that could be critical. I'm still not so sure that those gritty particles I consumed as a kid are not the real reason I remember those spuds so fondly now.

We also ordered a side of Lobster & Crab Mac & Cheese ($15), a house specialty. The pasta was tossed with a little smoked cheddar and even a couple of chipotle crumbs -- eat your heart out Kraft Dinner! It was so rich we couldn't finish it. Good lunch the next day.

Desserts are meant to be shared. Creme Brulee (three varieties of same, $8). Six Layer Chocolate or Carrot Cake, too.

We tried the house special. French Toast made from panettone, the sweet fruit-studded Italian yeast bread lavished with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream ($12) and one of the most filling last courses I've ever encountered.

Am I complaining?

What do you think?

e-mail: janiceokun@yahoo.com

***

FIAMMA STEAK

3 1/2 stars (out of 4)

WHERE: 1735 Hertel Ave. (834-2662, www.fiammasteak.com). A luxurious steak house with a wide menu. Credit Cards: American Express, MasterCard, Visa.

FAVORITE DISH: Spaghetti Squash Carbonara

NEEDS WORK: Food is of good quality.

PRICE RANGE: Steaks from about $25. Other entrees, some of which include sides, from $19.

SERVICE: Very good.

HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Difficult

PARKING: Valet parking available

RATINGS: Stars reflect the overall dining experience at the time of The News' visit -- including service, ambience, innovation and cost -- with greatest weight given to quality of the food.

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