Friday Apr 06 2012
Ruth’s Chris offers up more than just steaksBy: ToLewisGranite Bay View
When you think Ruth’s Chris Steak House, you probably think high-end steaks at high-end prices. But what might get overlooked is the attention to detail that goes into giving guests a truly special dining experience. And, oh yeah, you don’t necessarily have to take out a second mortgage on your home to eat there. Ruth’s Chris has a little of something for everybody, as I recently discovered when dining at the chain’s Westfield Galleria at Roseville location. I’m not usually a fan of corporate chain restaurants, but Ruth’s Chris has a reputation of excellence, and, never having dined there before, I was curious to find out what they are all about. The company began in 1965 as a locally-owned steak house in New Orleans and has since expanded to more than 100 locations in 32 states and eight countries worldwide. The formula is quite simple: quality food and quality service executed in refined yet unpretentious fashion. When my guest and I arrived just after 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, every seat and table in the bar was full, probably people still lingering from the restaurant’s popular happy hour. Ruth’s Chris in Roseville has a happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. every weekday, offering $7 appetizers and $3 drink specials. With bites such as grilled tenderloin skewers served with sesame soy sauce over spring greens, a filet mignon sandwich with bearnaise sauce and spicy lobster tossed in a spicy cream sauce, this is hardly your typical happy hour bar food. General Manager Manuel Dos Santos told us that happy hour is usually the restaurant’s busiest time of day. On our visit, however, my date and I bypassed the bar and went straight to a table — a comfortable booth looking across the spacious dining room decorated with inconspicuous artwork and pendant lighting. Our server, Eric Sanchez, arrived to the table within minutes and explained the concept of the menu, also going over the night’s specials. Sanchez explained that all menu items are served ala carte and recommended for our main course that we each order one entrée and share two side dishes, which are served family style. For our first course, Sanchez recommended we try the fried calamari appetizer, which is tubes and tentacles sautéed in a sweet Thai chili sauce. We decided on the crab stuffed mushrooms because, well, we like crab. When the food runner (we didn’t get his name) dropped off our first course, I asked him what kind of crab was served in the dish — dungeness, lump crab, snow crab? “It is neither of those,” he said. “Any other questions?” Luckily, when Sanchez returned to the table, he was quickly able to explain that the crab stuffed mushrooms were made up of four baby bella mushrooms stuffed with fresh dungeness crab meat, Panko bread crumbs, garlic and parsley. A quick note on service: Sanchez was obviously an experienced and well-trained server. He was quick to answer all of our questions and never said, “I don’t know.” When faced with a question that he did not immediately know the answer to, he quickly replied, “I’ll be right back with that answer for you.” Sanchez recommended for our second course we try the Ruth’s chopped salad, comprised of 13 different ingredients tossed with a creamy lemon basil dressing. However, I am a sucker for tomatoes, so we opted for a beefsteak tomato salad. I was slightly surprised to see a tomato salad on the menu in March, but then again, it is a little hard to pass up three thickly sliced beefsteak tomatoes with red onion, cilantro, balsamic dressing and crumbled blue cheese. We asked Sanchez why they have tomatoes on the menu and where they were sourced. After consulting the chef, Sanchez said they were ripened on the vine in Mexico and shipped to California. While the idea behind the dish sounded too good to pass up, the lack of flavor in the tomato made me wish we’d have gone with Sanchez’s original recommendation of the Ruth’s chopped salad. For the main course, I ordered the surf and turf special – a 6-ounce filet mignon served with an 8-ounce Caribbean lobster tail lightly dusted with Cajun spice Sanchez warned us that the steaks, which are seasoned with salt, parsley and butter, will arrive to the table on plates that “sizzle” at about 500 degrees Fahrenheit. My date ordered the crab cakes, which were served with a very generous amount of crab (what a crab cake is supposed to be), and broiled, not fried, in lemon butter and pan-seared until it is slowly cooked all the way through. For our side dishes, we ordered the Ruth’s Chris signature lyonnaise potatoes — thinly sliced Idaho Russet potatoes, lightly fried, tossed with sautéed onions with seasoning — and broccolini, broccoli spears and florets sautéed with garlic. Between each course, Sanchez and his back server paid close attention to us without getting in the way of our conversation and replaced silverware and plates between each serving. For dessert, we could not pass on the crème brulee, which was served with fresh berries — a very sweet, refreshing end to a hearty meal. After dinner, Dos Santos came to our table and explained the concept of the restaurant. “We make steak and potatoes, it’s as simple as that,” Dos Santos said. “We try to keep it as simple as can be.” Dos Santos explained that most of the restaurant’s recipes date back to 1965 and stem from a Cajun influence. Steaks are cooked in broilers that are kept at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit and cook from the top down, which sears the meat and traps in all the natural juices. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear that the restaurant offers a “classics menu,” which is basically a three-course prix fixe menu with two price points — $40.95 or $49.95. Each classics menu option includes a salad or soup for the first course, a main entrée, a side dish and dessert for two people. “Most people think they need $200 to come here for dinner,” Dos Santos said. “We tell them that is not the case.” Dos Santos explained that servers are not hired unless they have extensive background in fine dining, and even after they are hired, they go through a rigourous two-week training program. “The way we look at it is when you come in to Ruth’s Chris, you don’t just come in for the steak,” he said. “You come in for the experience.” Toby Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TobyLewis_RsvPT.