It's not that we weren't given a thoroughly warm welcome. And sure, at least half of the customers that night were women. Even the restaurant is named after a woman. But my girlfriend and I agreed: Ruth's Chris Steak House has the definite vibes of a "guy" restaurant.
The whole place is steeped in masculine energy. It's all clubby and private, with lustrous mahogany woods, low lighting, starched white linens on the tables, and secluded booths with swinging doors. The portions are massive, and the prices will hit you in the wallet big time, unless, of course, you're there with an important client on a business expense account. Although dinner for two can easily climb upward of $100, it's a carnivore's dream, steak at its very finest.
This New Orleans-based chain deals only with corn-fed Hereford cows. Meats are aged several weeks for added flavor and tenderness. Each cut is seared on an 1,800-degree grill, hot enough to fire pottery, which quickly seals the meat and locks in juices. They arrive at your table sizzling in butter. The results are sometimes so tender that a steak knife isn't necessary to dig in; a mere fork will do.
Our waiter greeted us by our party's name, which he evidently got from the host at the front door. It was a small touch that helped us to relax. He steered us through the menu, making informed suggestions. We had an excellent barbecued shrimp appetizer ($8.95), which was sautéed in a sauce of reduced white wine, butter, garlic and spices. We also had a dish that was generously loaded with escargot and hearts of artichoke ($8.25) sautéed in white wine with heaps of scallions and mushrooms.
Our waiter described the "cowboy rib-eye special" ($29.95) in such tempting detail that we couldn't resist. It weighed in at a jaw-dropping 22 ounces and was indeed extremely flavorful, drawing some of its impact from the bone, which was left intact. It was seared to medium-cooked perfection with a bright pink center, just as we requested. We also ordered a trio of lamb chops ($29.95), which were delicately marbled and extremely juicy, served with a pot of "emerald mint" dressing.
There are eight ways to have potatoes at Ruth's, from mashed with roasted garlic to au gratin. We went with the Lyonnaise treatment ($4.50), sliced and sautéed with onions. Back home, we call them fried potatoes, but Ruth's version was handled skillfully. The tenderly steamed asparagus is another good choice, served with a delicate Hollandaise sauce ($6.95).
Among the killer assortment of desserts, crème brûlée ($5.95) is a favorite with the clientele. Served with a handful of berries, it was eggy yet feather light, and the sugar crystals on top were torched into a glassy, crisp coating. Ice-cream freezes are a house specialty, made with Haagen Dazs and top-shelf liqueurs such as creme de cacao and brandy that go into the "velvet hammer" ($5.25).
Although we didn't sample the wine, there is a well-crafted menu that includes dozens of choices by the bottle or glass. We tried to find at least one thing about our entire dinner that wasn't perfect but came up empty-handed. We had to admit that Ruth's Chris Steak House has earned its reputation as a landmark restaurant worthy of visiting on special occasions -- or better yet, when you're on someone else's expense account.