November 28, 2006
No Fire Sale at The Firehouse

In a front-page article last month, the New York Times reported that the $40 entree is moving beyond a few four-star restaurants in New York and Las Vegas to the hinterland, like Fort Lauderdale, Philadelphia and Denver.

Sacramento wasn't mentioned, but it could be today, we discovered while having dinner the other evening at The Firehouse. One of the specials was the "Delmonico steak," 14 ounces of prime rib meat with deep-fried onion rings, mashed potatoes, asparagus and demi-glace. The price? $43.

We didn't try it, but Vincent Paul Alexander, The Firehouse executive chef, says it's "very popular," with up to 30 sold each night it is available. Also popular, he adds, is a signature dish he brought with him from his former restaurant in Folsom, Alexander's Meritage. It's the "black and white," a broiled six-ounce filet and poached Maine lobster topped with a spicy bechamel. It sells for $55, and it's selling well, 35 to 40 orders a week, reports Alexander.

Several factors explain why more restaurants are shattering the $40 per-plate ceiling, including rising rents, elaborate interior designs and the escalating cost of premium ingredients, especially those bearing the name of cherished purveyors, according to the Times.

The report also notes, however, that more restaurateurs are adding dishes that cost $40 or more because they make anything priced less look relatively inexpensive. "A new breed of menu 'engingeers' have proved that highly priced entrees increase revenue even if no one orders them. A $43 entree makes a $36 one look like a deal," says the article.

In that respect, The Firehouse menu won't disappoint the frugal diner. The filet mignon is $39, the rack of lamb $38, the beef Wellington $39 and the grilled buffalo rib-eye steak $39.

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