With the holiday season upon us, the question of where to celebrate — whether for a family feast or for any time at all — becomes more than pertinent. Nestled in Manhattan’s Midtown is an exceptional, top-flight eatery, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse on 148 w 51st between 6th and 7th Avenues.
When I was first invited there for an introductory meal, I had no idea that I was actually dining at one of a number of restaurants under the same brand name. That’s because everything feels “personal” – from the warm and attentive service to the outstanding quality of the food. Now that I’ve been back a number of times, and I’m even more impressed by the consistent and delicious quality Ruth’s Chris offers. And from what I’ve heard, every location adheres to the same exacting standards to please each guest set into motion by founder Ruth Fertel.
Let’s face it, steakhouse “chains” don’t often fare well with serious dining aficionados, critics and aesthetes. But any Ruth’s Chris spot is far too gourmet to be called a chain. And this Manhattan place is genuinely special. Whether at a table of hardcore carnivores or with those who seek alternate fare – from seafood to vegetarian — Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse has won admirers across a wide range of the culinary adventurers I’ve dined with. Drawing on classic American cuisine with huge slabs of tender beef to fresh, local seafood entrees, the food is consistently excellent. Just the array of remarkable sides alone could make a delightful meal unto themselves.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have consumed a number of meals there, where I’ve had my share of the house’s ongoing favorites, from incredibly rich and tender filet mignon to its classic lobster mac and cheese. Several memorable recent dining sessions are not only worth recalling but deserve to documented here.
Most recently, I joined executive speechwriter and presentation coach, Mike G., longtime radio and club deejay Tony S. and international art-repreneur Agne S. in a full-out eating fest to further test the epicurean excellence I’d come to expect. We challenged ourselves to taste anything but the beef, just so we could focus on the other fine possibilities offered in both the seafood and poultry realms.
As Mike noted, “A decade ago, Jeff Metz, a speechwriting, video scripting and speech coaching client, introduced me to restaurant and since he’s in Culinary Management and a Ruth’s franchisee, I figured it was a recommendation to reckon with.”
That set off his own declaration of love for Ruth’s Chris’s cuisine. “I enjoy an array of generous, delectable portions that people want to share — lunch or dinner –- it doesn’t matter. What matters is the clear commitment to quality and a diversity of tastes: something for everyone…”
He added, “A few examples of my non-steak favorites include the spicy lobster tail and spicy shrimp. I love them both but sometimes I get a vegetable plate — always terrific — and a signature wedge of crisp iceberg lettuce over field greens, topped with bacon, bleu cheese and dressing. I never go wrong at Ruth’s.”
Even though officially a “steakhouse,” the wide range of options for varying tastes are here every time including seafood, vegetarian, and pasta. That night we deliberately selected main courses of the non-beef fare: like the stuffed double-breasted chicken that’s been oven roasted, filled with garlic herb cheese and topped with lemon butter. So sumptuous it seemed to be almost too rich in taste. I say “almost” because it was nearly irresistible to consume more than I should have at one sitting.
Then there’s the encrusted salmon slab and the wonderfully subtle red snapper. Both were perfectly balanced having a taste right in between the peppery crustiness and the core flavor of each fish — without either being “fishy.”
A thorough selection of starters was also part of our table. The large succulent shrimp appetizer — lightly fried and tossed in a spicy cream sauce — was served with a refreshingly tangy cucumber salad. Then there was the calamari, also lightly fried and tossed with a sweet and spicy Asian chili sauce — quite different from the expected deep fried version found in most Italian bistros. We also tasted another shrimp dish – large, dusted with blackening seasoning and broiled just right. Then was the luscious cold water lobster tail, lightly seasoned with Cajun spices, sea salt and butter.
But when it comes to the steaks and chops, Ruth’s Chris competes with the best in town. Having perfected broiling methods and seasoning techniques, the chef ensures that each cut of USDA Prime beef arrives cooked to perfection for the specific taste of the diner, always sizzling on a 500° plate — just the way Ruth liked it.
That what I’d had in my earlier meal with Publisher Paddy M. and Irish Whiskey magnate Jack W. On that day, we tried some incredible cuts including porterhouse (for two) — an overwhelming 40 ounces of prime beef with a strip’s rich flavor and a filet’s tenderness. And speaking of filet — the surf and turf filet was just enough tender meat, with not one part of the cut was a throwaway. I loved it all and manage to save a little to eat later at home.
With its odd name, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse has a classic backstory to tell. As described on its website, “Fifty years ago in New Orleans — one of America’s most culturally rich cities — single working mother Ruth Fertel, looking to provide a better life for her two sons, browsed the ‘Classifieds’ section of the Times-Picayune. She spotted an ad reading ‘Steak House for Sale.’ Driven by an inherent entrepreneurial spirit, she mortgaged her home to purchase Chris’ Steak House on the corner of North Broad St. and Ursulines in New Orleans. She didn’t know much about restaurants or steak, but she took a chance with Chris Steak House.
“Even though she had no experience, her intelligence and drive to succeed enabled her to become a successful business owner and eventually to lead the company to become the largest upscale steak house with over 140 locations in the world. Ruth had never planned to expand, but after a fierce kitchen fire decimated the property in 1976, she was forced to relocate in order to stay in business. Within 10 days Ruth had the restaurant up and running. But the ‘Chris Steak House’ name wasn’t allowed to move with it. So with little time and a mischievous smile, Ruth added her own name to the sign, making it ‘Ruth’s Chris Steak House.’ And it worked — that tongue-twister of a name was born. Now with her own name in lights, Ruth later admitted the name was strange, but she managed to work around it. Ruth worked and lived by the mantra, ‘Do what you love, love what you do.’”
Even with all that history in mind, the 51st Street Manhattan location feels like it was the first address they launched rather than one jewel in an entire collection. It has that settled-in quality that a fine restaurant develops over time. With a warm friendly ambiance and servers who are part of its history — server Mark has been working over 25 years — it’s not just a place well-known for its executive lunches and long night-time dining celebrations with an extensive crew of regulars. It’s also a place so personal and cordial, one could call it the next best thing to having a home-cooked meal –all thanks to the consistent excellence I’ve experienced at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.