Lock your car, walk across a parking lot so hot the tar is sticky, open a blacked-out corner door of a small retail strip and then your jaw will drop.
Viande Rouge Steakhouse greets you with a thrilling whoosh of darkness and air conditioning. You stand at the entrance and gape at everything you slowly begin to discern in this dim, glittery room: a waiter flaming bananas Foster on a rolling cart, brocade-patterned walls the color of blood, sexed-up art in gilt frames. The hostess knows to stand by while you soak it in. She seems used to the response.
You wonder for a moment if you’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in some infamous Nevada funhouse or perhaps a top-secret filming of “Mad Men.” But you have only a moment’s pause because you soon crave the adventure in adults-only dining that the restaurant handily delivers.
Viande Rouge (“red meat”) is the second restaurant from Thomas Taylor and chef Marc Sublette, who own the appealing Trattoria One 41 down-mall. They switch their game from high-end Italian to this winning culinary make-believe land — a swaggering American steakhouse dressed in extravagant French frippery. This is a place for oysters and foie gras, USDA Prime steaks and canard à l’orange, all of it prepared with skill.
A few things you should know before going:
If you’re a people watcher, your gaping jaw may never shut. But the kitchen will do what it can to commandeer your attention. There’s a woman at the next table literally poured into a white sequined minidress. And here’s a lobster bisque ($10) poured into a wide soup plate that tastes of sweet, oceanic funk rather than cream. A barely dressed heirloom tomato salad ($12) with peppery greens and ribbons of salty ricotta salata cheese lets the juicy sliced tomatoes contribute all the acid and sweetness this salad needs.
Sublette pays attention to the flavors of his ingredients and thus avoids some of the excess so endemic to steakhouses. I don’t care whether he uses fresh or frozen for his creamed spinach ($8); it’s poofy and light, tasting of vegetable rather than salt or dairy. Fine, too, are the pommes frites ($8), a deep bowl of crisp shoestrings that stay appealing to the final bits.
I choose a glorious tangle of potato crunch called pommes rissolées ($8) to accompany my wet-aged 12-ounce New York strip ($38) — fat, tender and cooked exactly as ordered.
I decide to take this strip to the milliner and order one of the signature “chapeaux” or “hats” that the kitchen proposes for the steaks. Most of the choices (lobster thermidor, bacon and brie, fried oysters and tomato hollandaise) seemed too rococo — like putting a Texas cowboy in one of those Three Musketeer jobbers bedecked with ostrich plumes. So we opted for the relative restraint of roasted bone marrow with shallot butter ($8), which was luscious but nonetheless over-the-top rich after the first two bites.
I far preferred a hatless 18-ounce Delmonico rib eye ($44), its meaty flavor and crispy ring of fat providing all the flavor necessary. Ditto a sautéed Dover sole ($39), which the waiter wheeled to the table atop a cart, filleted and plated with tiny stripes of brown butter and no more than a dozen fried capers; you taste the succulent fish and then relish each tiny pop of flavor. Sublette, who long worked for the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, knows how to present luxury food.
The kitchen wedges a few flat-out French dishes into the menu, including a gorgeously updated duck à l’orange fashioned from one crisp duck confit leg and a beguiling pile of pulled duck meat, orange segments, frisée greens and potatoes in a light duck jus. As with the tomato salad, the fresh orange provides all the acid and sweetness this dish needs.
I suppose this foo-foo French business gets a little thick here and there. Dull, springy escargot ($12) seem perfunctory, as does a mini beef Wellington ($12) in a gluey pastry crust. These dishes don’t have the old-school charm they think they do.
And I really like all these waiters, but they might warn you that their menu recitations often take longer than the Tour de France. Ten minutes in, and we’re hearing about the “fillet d’Agnew,” which we’re informed is lamb and not a roasted vice president. Not to be a nattering nabob of negativism, but everyone here also needs a quick primer in French pronunciation.
That said, the Franco-American fantasy world of Viande Rouge always leaves me with a smile — particularly when the meal ends with a flaming dessert, such as Peach Louie ($10) — a concoction of fruit, sugar and booze. Though its leaping flames I can espy the ladies settling into table 32.VIANDE ROUGE STEAKHOUSE 9810 Medlock Bridge Road, Johns Creek; 770-623-4959 Food: classic steakhouse menu with a few French flourishes Service: rocks it old school, with vests, flaming desserts and lots of chatter Best dishes: rib-eye steak, Dover sole, creamed spinach, soufflé of the day, pommes frites, duck à l’orange Vegetarian selections: You could make a meal of the good sides, but this isn’t your restaurant. Credit cards: All major Hours: 5-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 5-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays Children: no one under 18 admitted Parking: in attached lot Reservations: accepted and necessary on weekends Wheelchair access: full Smoking: not permitted; this place smokes all on its own Noise level: moderate Patio: no Takeout: yes