If You're Primed For Steaks . . . By Elizabeth Large

DINING OUT

July 26, 1992

The July 26 Dining Out column in the Sun Magazine reported that Ruth's Chris Steak House is not wheelchair-accessible. In fact, it is.

The Sun regrets the error.

Ruth's Chris Steak House, the Brokerage, 600 Water St., (410) 783-0033. Open for dinner every day. No-smoking area: yes. Wheelchair access: no.

Ruth's Chris Steak House is like no other chain steakhouse you've ever experienced. I use the word "experienced" deliberately, because it's not just a matter of the food you'll eat. If you're thinking Ponderosa, or even Sizzler, think again.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Start with the location. (Up until now it's been the worst location in America, maybe the world, for restaurants, but that's another story.) Ruth's Chris Steak House has opened in the Brokerage where Dominique's once was, and it's retained all the turn-of-the-century elegance that that failed restaurant had. These are beautiful dining rooms, with romantic lighting, marvelous woodwork, an antique staircase, fine chandeliers. The seating is comfortable; the tables are set with snowy white tablecloths, sparkling crystal and shining silverware. Your waiter will be in a tuxedo, so you won't want to go in your jeans.

And then there are the prices. This isn't a family-outing sort of place. Think expense accounts. Anniversary celebrations. The place where you propose (if your bride-to-be can put away an 18-ounce rib eye). This is a restaurant where a man eating alone near us didn't read a book; he talked on his portable phone through most of his meal.

At first glance, the 13 entrees seem expensive -- most are in the $20 range -- but not outrageous. Then you realize that your $22.95 gets you, say, a pound of New York strip and nothing else. Not a sprig of parsley, let alone a baked potato ($3.75) or a salad ($3.95). Everything is a la carte.

It's up to you to decide whether it's worth it. Certainly these were flawless steaks, U.S. Prime. The New York strip was mammoth, well-aged, firm-textured, full of flavor and pink as ordered. A petite fillet ($16.95) -- for "petite" read half a pound -- was meltingly tender and flavorful. Both steaks were served sizzling in butter on their hot plates, a remarkably appetizing way to present them. Both steaks, though, looked oddly lonely without any accompaniments.

At least the swordfish ($19.95), one of four seafood dishes offered, had a garnish of two fresh asparagus spears and two shrimp. Like the steaks, this was a huge portion, more than most people could eat. Swordfish is easy to overcook, but this had been perfectly broiled. I didn't, however, think much of its lemon butter sauce, which was knock-'em-dead garlicky. You couldn't taste the fish.

For that matter, the asparagus was overcooked to the point of limpness. (You tend to get picky at these prices.) Once past the steaks, nothing was quite so perfect as it should have been: Onion soup ($3.50), one of the few appetizers and the only soup, was way too salty. Deliciously tender escargots and artichoke hearts ($8.50) were lost in an ocean of thick garlic sauce. Salad dressing requested on the side ended up on the salad. French rolls had a faint fruit flavor our waiter said was blueberry. No kidding. A bowl of creamed spinach for $3.75 wasn't bad, merely ordinary. Fat steak fries ($3.50) tasted of the grease they had been fried in. Onion rings ($3.95) had no salt at all and arrived at the table room temperature.

Ruth's Chris Steak House has a solid wine list with an emphasis on California brands, but the cork of a Shafer merlot '89 was so dry it broke in half as our waiter tried to open it. (A second bottle was fine.)

If price doesn't matter, my criticisms of Ruth's Chris Steak House are going to seem mere quibbles. Certainly nothing, except maybe the sauce on the swordfish, made me actively unhappy. The steaks really were superb. The service was exemplary, and no one could complain about the setting.

We finished off with two desserts our waiter recommended. A slice of house-made Key lime pie ($4.95) -- a delicate slice, thank goodness -- had a refreshingly tart lime flavor. It was just the thing after a pound or two of beef. If you'd like something a little more indulgent, try the soft and luxuriously sweet bread pudding ($3.95) with a creamy custard sauce.

A final note: No story about Ruth's Chris Steak House could end without explaining its tongue-twister name. Owner Ruth Fertel bought the original Chris Steak House in New Orleans in 1965, as well as the right to use the name as long as it remained in that location. When she started to franchise the operation some 10 years later (there are now steakhouses in more than 30 U.S. cities), she decided to call the restaurants "Ruth's Chris." Supposedly people remember the name precisely because it's so odd.Next: John Steven Ltd.

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