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Venegas Prime Filet, Maple Lawn

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My husband and I went to Venegas Prime Filet, in Maple Lawn, Fulton, last night. We did not know what to expect, but have been fans of the tapas restaurant, Ranazul, of the same owner across the street. We had reservations for 9pm, and got there around 8:55. There was a nice crowd at the place give the hour, and we liked the decor and the ambiance. There was someone playing a Spanish guitar, what was a nice touch.

Got seated immediately and the server soon came offering us drinks. We ordered martinis. Started looking at the menu, and the prices were somewhat Washington DC's prices. We got our drinks and the server disappeared. After a while, I managed to flag her and said we were ready to order. We ordered appetizers, main courses, and a bottle of wine that would need to be decanted. The sommelier came, decanted the wine, everything nicely done. But as we still had our drinks, we declined to be served wine at that time.

Our appetizers came, and I wanted a little more salt on it, but was not able to find our server to ask for it. I eventually asked another server if he would please get her. He asked us if he could be of help, and I asked for salt. He was very helpful, brought a salt shaker, and also asked if we'd rather have some sea salt, and brought us some. Still no sign of our server. By then we were done with our drinks, and were ready for wine, but our server was not around. At last she showed up, asked whether or not we had enjoyed our appetizers, and took the martini glasses. As she leaves, I asked if she would please serve the wine. She comes back and almost tops my wine glass. She leaves again, and I call her back and asked if she would please serve my husband some wine as well. By then I was starting to get upset with the quality of the service. Then our main courses came, I had ordered the rib eye, medium rare, with Bearnaise sauce. The steak was cooked rare (what is better than overcooked), but the Bearnaise sauce tasted like mayo, and there was no taste of tarragon. It actually tasted like aioli... Could not figure that one out...

After a while there is no more wine in our glasses, and again, the server is nowhere to be found. Eventually she shows up, I flag her again, and ask her if it was the policy of the restaurant that the customers served their own wine. She said no, that they were supposed to serve the wine. I asked her why wasn't she doing it then. She did not seem to have an answer for that and again filled our wine glasses to the top (probably this way she would not have to come back to serve us again). By then we were not enjoying our meal any longer. We asked for " doggy bags" and for the check, and my husband tipped 10% on the food, nothing on the wine, and wrote the reasons for that on the check. As we live nearby, we will make a point of going back there and asking for a different waiter, in the hopes that we were just unlucky last night.

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We eat out infrequently so I tend to prefer dishes that I know that I can't make at home.

That's how I ended up ordering from the "chick" part of the menu at Venegas Prime Filet in Fulton. My wife went true "steak house" with a filet and a side of macaroni and cheese. But that empty plate style -- a steak and nothing else -- seems odd to me. I was captivated by dishes where the skills are more obvious.

"Tournedos of Filet Mignon." I had to ask how to pronounce the dish, and it was obvious from the first bite that I wouldn't know how to whip it up. Slices of steak, cooked perfectly, layered on top of sauteed spinach and potato pierogies, then topped with garlic butter shrimp.

This was a terrific meal. Meat charred, but tender inside. Shrimp so sweet that I promised again not to buy the tasteless ones defrosted at the supermarket. The pierogies were crisp, but not greasy. In the pile, their centers became soft and rich with the drippings from the butter, meat and spinach. Their edges stayed crunchy.

That's the skill of a professional chef. (And everyone should know that I'm completely biased because Venegas' chef is my neighbor.) By turning the pierogies perpendicular to the meat, you get a special dish where I alternated between bites of shrimp, meat, super-charged mashed potatoes, and crunchy crust.

Anyone will tell you that Venegas is expensive. This is a special occasion spot, although we migth grab bar stools for a fried calamari treat. That's a real test for a restaurant, and Venegas delivers with all the devilish fun of fried food, but with squid that stayed tender even as the dish cooled. We loved it.

I'm thinking about stools in the bar and calamari and sliders as a fun weeknight out. The menu says sliders come with tomato chutney. As I said, I'm a fan of sauces and combinations and all the little ways that real kitchens separate themselves from those of who just watch Top Chef.

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