Ruth's Chris Steak House
134 W. Pierpont Ave., Salt Lake City ; 801-366-4000
Expensive, simple meat and potatoes menu is all about high quality but the best steak in Salt Lake is not well served by the waitstaff.
Cuisine: American, Steak House
Hours: M-Th, 5-10 p.m;. F-S, 5-11 p.m;. Su, 5-9 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Corkage: $ 15
Recommended Dishes: Crab appetizer, lamb chops, banana cream pie.
January 11, 2007
A restaurant review of Ruth's Chris Steak House incorrectly noted the restaurant it replaced. Ruth's Chris opened in the former Baci Trattoria space.
January 10, 2007
The best steak in Salt Lake undercut by inferior service
By Mary Brown Malouf
A few weeks ago at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, the school for professional chefs in St. Helena, Calif., I watched Chef Ferrán Adrià at work. Adrià owns El Bulli, the most lauded restaurant on the planet right now: Tables at his cafe in Spain are booked a year ahead. I saw Adrià demonstrate one of his most famous recipes. He puréed green Spanish olives, gently dropped spoonfuls of the liquid in agar, causing the olive protein to congeal in a soft shell around the liquefied olive. At the end of the laborious process, Adrià had created a round, juicy morsel that looked like an olive, tasted like an olive, but wasn't an olive.
What a chef!
I thought about this when our waiter delivered our appetizer at Ruth's Chris Steak House recently. A martini glass, lined with lettuce, held a fistful of egg-sized, ivory-colored crabmeat lumps, chilled and sprinkled with tiny diced red and green bell peppers ($13.95). Some creamy remoulade lingered in the bottom of the glass, but really, nothing had been done to the crabmeat. Its pure, sweet juiciness was presented to the diner in its perfect nakedness.
What a chef!
The menu at Ruth's Chris is elementally simple: literally featuring meat and potatoes. This kind of menu requires more technique than creativity from a chef -- someone who can let the ingredients speak for themselves. The most important part of cooking is grocery shopping; high-quality ingredients don't need a lot of intervention. Our meals at Ruth's Chris, recently opened in the former Café Pierpont space, were wonderful, entirely because of the great care taken to obtain and showcase wonderful raw materials.
It's too bad the same care wasn't taken to ensure wonderful service. After first mistakenly serving me the New York strip steak, our back-up server announced, "Here's your veal chop," as he presented me with a plate of double-cut lamb chops ($36.95). Please.
This is the kind of food that pairs beautifully with good wine and Ruth's Chris has a good list by the bottle or glass, at prices that seem reasonable when compared with the food. But when I ordered an aperitif of Charles de Fère NV Champagne ($7.50), I had to point to the listing before our server understood what I wanted.
Managed by the Latitude Restaurant Group, Ruth's Chris should be able to provide a top-notch training program for its staff, ensuring employees are thoroughly acquainted with the menu and wine list as well as the niceties of serving in an establishment where the final bill is bound to be in the triple digits.
At a subsequent visit, there was a line at the entrance of people with reservations waiting to be seated while four employees clustered around the computer screen scratching their heads over table placement. The redecorated space, with wood paneling, soft lighting, stadium-tiered seating and white tablecloths, calls for the service to match the atmosphere. But it doesn't.
Ruth's Chris is new to Salt Lake, but it's not a new restaurant. In 1965, single mom Ruth Fertel bought out a restaurant called Chris Steak House in New Orleans and tagged on her own name. Basing the restaurant's high reputation on quality ingredients instead of culinary brilliance allowed Fertel to franchise -- there are around 80 locations throughout the country.
All of them serve USDA prime beef -- that means the muscle is laced with flavorful fat. It takes longer for this type of fat to develop in an animal, increasing the cost of the beef, and even more time is invested in custom-aging.
Time is money; keep that in mind when you see the prices on Ruth's Chris' menu -- they are likely to cause sticker shock to many. (A 16-ounce boneless rib-eye costs $36.95; the 22-ounce bone-in cowboy rib-eye is $41.95; a 16-ounce strip is $37.95; and the gigantic 40-ounce porterhouse for two is $79.95.)
Everything at Ruth's Chris is served a la carte, so those prices are for meat only -- potatoes, salad, appetizers are all extra charges. On the other hand, portions are enormous, so everything can be shared and/or taken home.
Their generous size makes it possible to cook these steaks in the optimal way -- at a temperature high enough to crisp the outside while leaving the interior rosy red and juicy. Ruth's Chris claims to sear its steaks at 1,800 degrees and serves them on a 500-degree plate, so the meat is hot when it reaches the table.
Be aware that aging changes the flavor of beef -- the meat develops a rich, almost gamy tang and a velvety texture -- something very different from what many steak-lovers are used to. It's a Ruth's Chris tradition to season only with salt and pepper and serve the steaks with a gob of melted butter, a "gilding of the lily" that Diamond Jim Brady would appreciate and you will, too. On no account should you request your steak well-done or without butter; if you do, you're wasting your money and may as well head to Outback Steakhouse.
Of course, steak isn't the only option, even in an avowed steakhouse. Those lamb chops -- double-cut Colorado lamb, cooked like a steak -- were equally honest and simple and even the chicken breast, stuffed with cheese and garlic ($21.95), was juicy and true to itself.
Appetizers, the "crabtini" described above and the shrimp barbecued in the New Orleans style ($11.95), drowned in spicy-hot butter, were remarkable for the respect shown to the raw materials, as were side dishes such as baked, fried or mashed potatoes. (All potato dishes are $7.50 and only the lyonnaise disappointed. The potato chunks were deep-fried and served on a bed of melted onions when they should have been cooked and tossed together.) More complex was the sweet potato casserole, sweet potatoes whipped until mousse-like and topped with crunchy pralines. We opted for buttered spinach ($7.50) rather than the creamed version and a wedge of crisp iceberg lettuce with blue cheese dressing ($8.25 or $5.25).
When reviewing, desserts are obligatory even when superfluous. With half our meal packed to take home, we hardly needed a sweet. And, frankly, all of the choices -- cheesecake, crème brulée, flourless chocolate cake, apple crumb tart -- sounded discouragingly hefty to follow more than a pound of beef. But we dutifully ordered bread pudding with whiskey sauce on a second visit, a house specialty, as we had resigned ourselves to caramelized banana cream pie on the first. Mysteriously we didn't add to our take-home stash. (Most desserts cost $8.45.)
Razzle-dazzle techniques receive most of the culinary media's attention these days -- diners are being asked to suspend their disbelief and eat flavored soils, encapsulated cocktails and paper dinners. And, I'm all in favor of pushing the envelope of cuisine, of being forced to re-imagine food in this Western world of plenty. But I also think it's good to be reminded what a thrill meat and potatoes can be.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.