Wildfire

American, Steakhouse
$$$$ ($25-$34)
Wildfire photo
Susan Biddle/The Washington Post
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Editorial Review

A single booth would be big enough to accommodate the hefty stars of "Hairspray" -- with room to spare. The menu runs as long as some sitcoms. Order a sweet potato and you get a steaming brick with enough beta carotene to last you, and possibly your family, for a week. Diners who get lost easily might consider sprinkling some crumbs en route from table to restroom.

Plus sizes rule at Wildfire, the new meat market in Tysons Galleria.

A 400-seat import from a Chicago-based restaurant group, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Wildfire isn't just big, it's beautiful. The decor looks to the past with black-and-white photos, wooden blinds, limestone walls, period fabrics, potted plants and the kind of lighting beloved by aging celebrities.

With a few exceptions, however, interior decorators are likely to have more fun here than chowhounds. In Wildfire's opening days, stuffed shrimp smacks mostly of breading (and garlic), and a rib-eye comes to the table thick, pink, juicy and . . . was this vapid slab of beef really aged as long as the menu tells us it was? The meat lacks any such sign. A combination plate of barbecued chicken and baby back ribs is worthy of a cameo on "The Flintstones": It's lots and lots of flesh. The centerpiece, though, gets upstaged by crisp coleslaw and true-tasting applesauce -- but not by the heap of wimpy french fries. The coolest thing about the all-American dessert tray is that you can order halves of the enormous portions.

Wildfire is not the chophouse of our dreams; not now. But it can't be faulted for failing to reach out.

"We want to take care of all types," says Wildfire president Howard Katz, who hopes that varied price points, more than just meat and a kids' menu, will distinguish his place from the pack. "We want to be as much of a neighborhood restaurant as we can be in a mall," he adds. To that end, the newcomer counts some nice assets: engaging servers, room to spread out, a French onion soup that any bistro would be pleased to pour, and -- here's a thoughtful nod to a special-interest group -- a gluten-free menu.

--Tom Sietsema (Jan. 9, 2007)