Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Alluring SIZZLE of Ruth's Chris

Ruth's Chris Steak House has only been in Sacramento for nearly a year, but has been a restaurant institution since 1965. It was that year Ruth Fertel saw a classified ad in the local newspaper for a restaurant for sale. It was called “Chris Steak House” and it was located on Broad Street in New Orleans.

Against the advice of her financial advisors, she mortgaged her house for $22,000 and bought the restaurant. Chris Steak House gained in popularity with the onset of Hurricane Betsy in 1969. The restaurant, along with several other businesses in the area lost power, and all of the meat and perishables were in danger of spoiling. Instead of allowing the goods to rot, Ruth cooked all the food and served it to the people who were working to restore electricity. Word of her generosity spread and hungry customers flocked in.

A few years later, the restaurant burned down, and Ruth was unable to use the name “Chris Steak House” anywhere except the original location. Soon, she found a building a few blocks down the street in which to open. She renamed the restaurant “Ruth’s Chris Steak House” to carry on the name recognition.

Ruth taught herself in every aspect of the restaurant business. She had no prior business experience, and was a self-taught cook and bartender. She relied on the finest ingredients, especially the steaks. To this day, all of the Ruth’s Chris locations obtain their meat from the same supplier that Ruth did 41 years ago. It is USDA Prime beef, among the top 2% quality available in the United States. Some of the cuts available on the menu are Filet, Ribeye, New York Strip, T-Bone and the Porterhouse for two. All steaks are broiled for an exact time at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. A pinch of salt, a dash of ground black pepper, a touch of parsley and fresh butter are then added and the steak is served at the table––much to the delight of the customer––still sizzling hot.

To pair with such quality ingredients, the wine cellar at Ruth’s Chris is stocked with hundreds of the world’s finest wines. All of the restaurant locations feature temperature controlled storage and carry almost 500 varieties of wine. In addition, all Ruth’s Chris General Managers are certified sommeliers and can assist customers in choosing the perfect wine to compliment their meal.

Just as the Sacramento locations were opening, the original 3 New Orleans locations as well as the office headquarters were recovering from being destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The original Ruth’s Chris Steak House did not reopen, but the location in nearby Metairie did following a complete remodel (8 feet of water had come into the structure). 512 employees had been displaced by the flooding. Each of them were eventually located, sent an aid check for $2000 and given a job offer at another restaurant location. An employee relief fund was set up and funds are still being distributed where needed. This display of generosity is evidence the management team at Ruth’s Chris is no stranger to philanthropy. The Sacramento location’s management has already donated $30,000 dollars in just nine months to various charities in the area, staying true to what the company was founded on, being civically involved and giving back to the community.

The restaurant’s customers and local organ-izations certainly appreciate the donations, but what really has kept Ruth’s Chris in business for so long and through numerous catastrophic events is the one-of-a-kind sizzle of the steaks and the delicious meals they serve!

During a visit, customers are given a menu with a complete wine list and unique cocktails such as “The Big Easy” (flavored with citrus and raspberry), and the “Bourbon Street Manhattan” (garnished with a cherry). The wine list offers several labels by notable wineries such as Rosenblum and Beaulieu Vineyards.

I ordered a glass of the 2004 Merryvale Meritage, and my dining companion and I were given a full loaf of french bread to begin our meal. It was crusty on the outside, soft in the center and served with whipped butter.

The menu is famous for steaks, and our server explained the different cuts available, but she also highlighted other items such as the lamb chops and the lobster and shrimp.

I chose the Petite Filet and ordered a side of Steak Fries and my friend decided on the Stuffed Chicken Breast and the Sweet Potato Casserole to accompany the chicken. (Entrees and sides are priced separately.)

It was not long before our dishes were brought out. The sizzle and aroma of steak and melted butter could be sensed from across the room! Our server presented our plates to us and offered cracked black pepper. My steak filet was tender, cooked perfectly medium (as I requested) and needed no sauce other than its own juices. The steak fries were basically an enormous potato, quartered into wedges and deep fried golden brown and crispy on the outside. The chicken (free-range) was oven-roasted, stuffed with garlic herb cheese and served with lemon butter. The other potato side we ordered was composed of sweet, fluffy potatoes and topped with a brown sugar and pecan crust.

For dessert, we ordered the Chocolate Sin Cake––most comparable to a flourless chocolate torte––flavored by rich, dark chocolate and espresso, and garnished with a fanned strawberry. Our meal at Ruth’s Chris can best be described as rich and delectable. There were leftovers, but only because the portion sizes are so generous. The steak and chicken entreés were so delicious, I am looking forward to coming back for some of the other menu items (such as the ahi tuna or the lobster).

It was a very memorable evening, and the waitstaff were both helpful and knowledgeable. Ruth’s Chris may not be affordable on a daily basis, but should definitely be considered for a special occasion. Dining there is an event and money well spent for the finest ingredients and the almost ceremonial service. It is a refreshing pause from the blitz of fast food and “non-service” at many chain eateries. The special attention given to detail in everything from seating, to wine pairing, to the meal itself are evidence of why customers have been returning for over four decades. Ruth Fertel passed away in 2002 from lung cancer, but the principles and values on which she founded her first restaurant are still alive today.

Special thanks to the General Manager of the Ruth’s Chris Pavillions location.


Unknown said...

You suck, I was totally gonna review this place. LOL, you beat me too it.
By the by, any food with the word "sin" in it is automatically on my Must Eat list.

cakegrrl said...

Oh Garrett, you still SHOULD review it! That's the beauty of a review. It's not limited to one person. I am sure you will write something totally different than me, because I have to put a historical spin on it. I am limited to what I can really say about the food itself because I have to devote at least half my column to the story of the establishment. ;)

Anonymous said...

I have been to RC,I found it over-rated and over priced. The best steak that can be found, cooked to perfection is at Macaroni Grill of all places, it is the Tuscan Ribeye. It is the only thing I order when going to that restaurant. This is for steak lovers!

By the way, your review of RC was enjoyable.......

cakegrrl said...

Well, I admit the restaurant had two things going for it--which definitely did influence the review.
1. I was STARVING when dinner was served.
2. I had been craving a steak for months.

It is overpriced, I agree with that.