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Optimal Prime 

Prime Steakhouse brings fine dining to Webster

Here's an exercise in advanced parenting for you: try taking your kid with you to the kind of restaurant where the tablecloths are white, the waits are long, and the service is formal at best, snotty at worst. With all but the best behaved of children, this is an exercise in hubris, and your fellow diners are likely to be watching you closely -- waiting for the moment when they can enjoy a few bites of schadenfreude along with their appetizers and Amarone.

Now, come with me to Prime Steakhouse on Main Street in Webster on a Monday night a couple of weeks back. Our sitter had fallen through, and we'd called the restaurant to make sure that my 6-year-old dining companion was welcome. The hostess who answered the phone sounded welcoming, indeed enthusiastic, about the prospect of having a kid in the dining room. I packed a bag of small toys, a box of crayons, and some paper to keep the boy distracted, and we headed up to Webster with an unspoken understanding that if it went sour we'd cut our losses and take our dinner to go.

On Monday nights, the swanky dining room at Prime is plenty busy, but there is no real wait for one of the dark wood tables (no table cloth to be carelessly yanked off by little hands), and the pace of service is a little more relaxed than it is on a Friday or Saturday, when reservations are absolutely required. Early in the week, things are quieter, and, dare I say it, family friendly. Our hostess seemed delighted to see us, as was our waitress, the peerless Michelle who understood the challenges and constraints we were working under (i.e., having a ticking time bomb sharing our table with us), and worked miracles to accommodate our needs. We weren't the only table in the place with children on this particular Monday night: there were two other tables that we noticed, and perhaps more, where children both younger and older than our own were having dinner with their parents. This is not Chuck E. Cheese or a fast-food emporium where your child can run amok at will, but on a Monday or Tuesday night, with the stars aligned correctly and a well behaved child or two in tow, you can have a good, even fun, meal at a high-end steakhouse and live to tell the tale.

Open for just one year, Prime gives the impression that it has been in business much longer. The service is nearly flawless, and the food, prepared by executive chef Tin Tran (formerly of Tapas 177), is solid steakhouse fare, tending toward gargantuan chunks of high-quality grilled meat served with potatoes and just enough vegetables that you can honestly say that you ate a balanced meal.

We put in an order for clams casino ($8) and truffled macaroni and cheese ($7) more or less the minute we sat down, and they arrived seemingly seconds later along with a nice and very affordably priced bottle of malbec (Belasco "Llama Old Vine," 2007, $28). The clams were particularly noteworthy, the breadcrumb coating atop them crisp and buttery, the shellfish underneath plump, sweet, and slightly briny. The mac and cheese, which has become something of a fixture on steakhouse menus since some genius discovered that you could drizzle truffle oil on it and make a good thing great, was equally nice -- shell pasta covered with a delectable cheese sauce and finished with pungent truffle oil.

Seconds after our first course was whisked away, salads arrived: a perfectly good if unexciting Caesar ($7), and a surprisingly tasty wedge of iceberg lettuce covered with smoked blue cheese dressing and topped with a generous scattering of crispy lardons of bacon ($8). If you've been pooh-poohing iceberg lettuce for years, now is the time to give it a second chance. Its cold crunch and subtle green flavor are a great background for a vibrant dressing (like the one chef Tran makes), and that sneaking bitterness that creeps in as you eat closer and closer to the core rivals much more expensive frisee for its power to moderate fat and cream.

Of course, when you come to a steakhouse, you aren't really thinking much about salad. It's all about the meat, and Prime serves up some very good steaks. My massive rib eye (16 oz., $28) was gorgeously seared with a flavorful crust outside, ruby red within, and so tender that I almost didn't need a steak knife to cut into it. My companions, not big carnivores, split a generously portioned filet mignon (I suspect so that they would have more room for the creamed spinach that they both adored; 12 oz. filet, $39, creamed spinach, $5). At most steakhouses, sharing an entrée will get you an admonitory glare from your server, and a "sharing charge" added to your bill. At Prime, the ever-helpful Michelle cheerfully took the order, and the kitchen thoughtfully split the steak into two attractive portions flanked by a decorative garnish of broccoli rabe.

The perfect meal is about more than the food and the wine, and while Prime has these things sewed up, where the restaurant excels is in its service. From the time we sat down until we departed, I had the impression that our server was reading my mind. She suggested that we get appetizers started while we debated wine so that the little guy wouldn't have to wait long for dinner. She offered to investigate the possibility of kid-friendly food if we were interested. She even judiciously chose to whisper in my ear about dessert rather than blurt it out in front of the boy. What set her apart, though, was her willingness to head back to the kitchen and whip up an aioli to go with the restaurant's excellent fries ($5) when I asked for an alternative to ketchup. In these cash-strapped times, when we go out to eat we aren't just looking for a meal, we are looking for a sense of occasion -- even if we are eating with the kids -- and Prime more than delivers.

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