490 Rhode Island St., Buffalo, NY 14213
Web: Prime 490
Rating: [learn more]
A modern-looking steakhouse with attractive decor, smartly-dressed servers, and an American menu that's heavy on familiar steak and meat options, optional sides, and pastas. Items generally ranged from fine to great, with occasionally interesting seasonings and accompaniments; lamb was a standout on quality.
Portion sizes are unimpressive for the prices. Steak was prepared well but not fantastic on meat quality. Pitiful salad, underwhelming sides, and poor dessert were all notable disappointments; overworked server was unable to keep up with requests.
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American Buffalo Fine Dining Steak
"We were heartened by both the Filet's preparation and seasoning, but weren't impressed by the quality of the beef, which was buttery only in flavor, rather than texture."
Buffalo has long enjoyed more than its fair share of beloved Italian restaurants, and for years Rhode Island Street hosted one of them: Romanello's Roseland, a family-owned, upscale place that was more noteworthy for its great food than for the mob hit that infamously took place outside in 1974. A little over three years ago, Roseland was sold, rebranded, and redecorated as the steakhouse Prime 490, with both positive and negative consequences - today, it certainly makes a strong first impression visually. Walk in and you'll see that the servers are sharply dressed, moving briskly around dark wood tables and chairs, but not breaking a sweat under the moderate, tungsten-like pendant lights; sorry, those lights are the reason for these terrible photos. You may also notice that the old red walls have given way to a more neutral tan, that the old Italian menu is now largely traditional American fare, and that the star attractions are now supposed to be steaks: filets mignon and sirloin, strip, and ribeye, three tenderloin sandwiches, along with their standard partners, pork, lamb, chicken, salmon, and tilapia. Prices? They're up there, but not out there, and unlike some local steakhouses - we're looking at you, Buffalo Chophouse - the plates arrive with a starch and a vegetable. All good, right?
Sort of. Though we visited Prime 490 intending on taking advantage of Local Restaurant Week's promotion - here, any $20 or lower priced entree coupled with a house wine and dessert for $20.09 - the non-pasta, true steakhouse dishes that interested two of us were above that threshold, so our group of three went with what we wanted and paid full price. Two plates of fresh sliced bread, served sequentially with a nice green pesto, kept us sated while we waited for our meal to arrive.
As an appetizer, one of us selected the Tuna Sashimi ($9), a small portion of thinly sliced, pink raw tuna that arrived refrigerator chilly and light on flavor; it wasn't the best or the worst we've had. We were, however, taken by its accompanying four-sectioned dipping dish, two filled with small balls of sweet ginger and wasabi sorbet, another with reddened sea salt, and the last with soy sauce. They didn't rescue the tuna, but the quickly melting sorbets at least rendered it memorable and interesting.
Salads aren't included with entrees, so one of us ordered the standalone Classic Caesar Salad ($9), which was billed as offering shaved Asiago cheese, Anchovies, and Garlic Croutons. It managed to disappoint on all counts: the cheese was completely missing, the two anchovies were small and plain, and the three croutons - yes, seriously - tasted old and stale. On a positive note, the salad arrived in the form of full, medium-length leaves of Romaine lettuce, a presentation that we've very much liked in the past, but this plate was certainly not worth $9, or even half that. We had to send it back, and we never send things back.
Our entrees were better. The highlight was a New Zealand Rack of Lamb ($29), eight small but utterly tender and wonderful little chops that were prepared perfectly to our medium rare order, and flavored with a pepper, vinegar, and garlic Chimichurri sauce. Even after removing most of the meat from the bones - a brief process given the size of the chops - we found ourselves revisiting them a second time for missed scraps, and sopping up much of what tasted to be a sophisticated light mint jelly on the plate. Prime 490 placed the chops atop a pile of unspectacular buttered mashed potatoes and some of the most slender and unimpressive reeds of grilled asparagus we've ever seen, items that made a second appearance on our steak plate.
That, as readers of our WNY steakhouse comparison would correctly guess, was the eight-ounce Filet Mignon ($34), ordered and properly cooked medium. We were heartened by both the Filet's preparation and seasoning - the outside was ideally charred, lightly salted and peppered, and gave way to a ever so slightly pink interior. But we weren't impressed by the quality of the beef, which tasted sub-par by filet standards, and buttery only in flavor rather than texture. Prime 490 has nothing on Buffalo Chophouse or Black & Blue in this regard, and its inclusion of the aforementioned meager sides didn't do us any favors. A side portion of Grilled Asparagus ($6), billed as enough to serve two to four, demonstrated that the entrees had received the tiniest leftovers from an only slightly thicker crop of the long, green shoots - the small plate had barely enough of the green bean-like pieces for two people, and excelled over the smaller bits mostly thanks to some shallots and garlic that added to their flavor.
Our meal ended on a low note: as was the case at Marinaccio's days earlier, it was obvious that our friendly server was overworked, bussing tables, struggling to handle drink requests and refills, and coping with a growing dinnertime crowd. Given a short list of dessert options, we asked for her recommendation between Prime 490's two homemade cakes - one chocolate and one carrot. As fans of both, we were entirely happy to go with the latter on her enthusiastic recommendation, and mentally pictured the stunningly good Wegmans version as what might be en route. But what arrived instead was quite literally the thinnest slice of carrot cake we've ever received, any typical tenderness of eggs and flour removed by some compression process that rendered the slice dense, a bit dry, and unappealing but for the seemingly unharmed cream cheese frosting. It was edible and sweet, but lacking in charm, certainly not the sort of thing we'd hoped to remember the place by.
Judged by the same standards we've applied to other area steakhouses, Prime 490 is worthy of a consensus 2.5-star rating, though the three members of our group had differing individual opinions. The one of us who ordered light - salad, sashimi, and grilled asparagus - was unimpressed by all three, while our filet fan found her meat and sides good but not great, and the lamb lover would have opted for a slightly higher rating, but for the weak carrot cake dessert. We all agreed on the issues with service and portion sizes, which we'd lay at the feet of management rather than our server, but in any case found inexcusable given the prices. Your experience may vary, but by fine dining standards, we'd sooner pick the Chophouse or the nearby Left Bank any day of the week; Prime 490 is a nice enough place, but by contrast with the restaurant that once occupied the premises, it's not a standout.