Friday, October 17, 2008

Ruth's Chris, Newington, CT October 2008 Grade: C-

Joanne and Amy write:

Clearly we don't go out to eat so that we can say, "that sucked!" We want to be satisfied, and on occasion we like to be wowed--inpsired to go home and recreate a dish, or get on the phone and recommend the restaurant. Usually our expectations are met. Rarely, we walk away feeling like it wasn't what we expected. Last night, at
Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, was one of those nights. Moreover, the dining experience was less than anyone should expect from the menu and for the price, and without stellar service to soften the blow.

I have been to this location before, and visited two of the New Orleans locations a few times when I lived there. The franchise began in the Big Easy in the 1960's and has a great backstory - the now-famous "Ruth" was a single mom looking through the Times-Picayune classifieds when she noticed an ad announcing "Steak House for Sale." She mortaged her house and bought the Chris Steak House whch thrived until a fire destroyed it in 1976. She bought a new property close by, but her contract with the original "Chris" wouldn't allow her to use the name, hence Ruth's Chris was born. Ruth's entrepreneurial spirit encouraged her to franchise, and since her death in 2002, the company has gone public and is based out of Florida. Based on last night's visit, they have all but lost the character of the original company.

We ordered a shrimp appetizer to share, and were off to a good start. Five shrimp, probably 31/40s, were served in a casserole full of creole spiced butter, an ode to Ruth's New Orleans style. They were not earth shattering but tasty, with good crusty bread for dipping. We also shared a steakhouse salad with blue cheese dressing, which they were kind enough to split for us. I loved mine--greens, red onions, grape tomatoes--but Amy's was way overdressed. On to the entrees.

I know that I should have ordered a steak, but I have had remarkable fish dishes at other high end steak houses. Halibut was a special on the menu, so I ordered it. I was not impressed. The preparation obscured the fish. Any delicate flavor of the halibut was lost to the generous mound of garlicky bread crumbs. I may as well have been eating cod or sole, and I can live with that. But not for $29. Especially since the sides left a lot to be desired as well.

How a restaurant feels it's okay to charge $6.50 for 1/2 pound of plain old blanched broccoli is beyond me. No salt, no butter, no seasoning whatsoever, and only lukewarm to boot. The au gratin potatoes, undercooked (think al dente potatoes) and covered in oily cheddar, were also not worthy of the Ruth's Chris reputation. What did hold up, however, was the Petite Filet - a generous steak, served on a sizzling plate; it cut like the "buttah" in which it was served. It was the highlight of the meal for me.

In comparison to other high-end steakhouses we have visited, the service and ambiance were under par. Specials were recited by rote memory without commentary or enthusiasm or, it seemed, any knowledge of the food. The personalization of service and the little extras that make experiences at restaurants such as this memorable were lacking. The bartender, although friendly and personable, fell short on professionalism and polish (she swore in front of us) and knowledge (she wondered aloud what Armagnac was). Even the mahogany--or dark cherry-- was missing. In place of traditional steahouse decor was cheap pine laminate. Sadly fitting.

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