Restaurant Review: Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Aug 28, 2015 11:30AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Celebrate in StyleBy Mary Lou Baker // Photography by Tony Lewis, Jr. ruthschris-annapolis.com
More than 100 restaurants nationwide share the Ruth’s Chris logo, but the Annapolis version of this high end chain is one-of-a-kind—the good kind. Credit Annapolis resident Steve de Castro for the care and feeding of guests at this local landmark, one of 10 restaurants he operates in Maryland, North Carolina, and New Jersey.
De Castro came with his parents from Cuba to the United State in the 1960s at the age of 14. Working in several restaurants in New Orleans, and opening his own eatery at the age of 24, he became a protégé of the legendary Big Easy restaurateur Ruth Fertel, owner of the original Ruth’s Chris. Opened in 1996 on a corner at the end of Eastport’s Restaurant Row, this luxury dining destination has been the go-to place for celebrations as well as corporate business meetings—each category requiring the willingness to spend big bucks for the establishment’s prime meats, a wine list offering 403 varietals, and a trustworthy reputation for excellence in the crowded steak house category.
Complimentary valet parking is a plus and so is the personalized greeting at the front desk, which includes a question about the client’s reason for being there. Answering in the affirmative to “Are you celebrating something special this evening?” brings a complimentary cake-with-candle at the end of the meal. The other question is your choice of seating—upstairs, downstairs, patio? Upstairs is formal and a bit fusty, downstairs is brighter and less formal, and in fair weather the most appealing option is the new outdoor dining patio.
On my recent review visit, a young man named Kurt arrived at our table to wait upon us. A Ruth’s Chris veteran of seven years, he knew his business and was able to make savvy recommendations from the restaurant’s impressive wine list.
Longtime general manager and oenophile Tom Isabella is in charge of the restaurant’s expansive wine list, with 25 available by glass (a generous pour in hand-friendly goblets) and more than 400 well-chosen varietals by the bottle from winemakers in the United States, Europe, and Australia. I had a Maso Canali pinot grigio ($9); a companion first ordered a shiraz but found it harsh, and so followed our server’s recommendation by selecting a glass of Molly Duker’s Australian shiraz ($18), a good complement for his steak.
Ruth’s Chris’ menu changes with the seasons. Special appetizers on our latest visit included a 3-4 pound lobster (market priced), its signature lobster bisque (ladled at table over chunks of lobster meat), and just-delivered blue point oysters from Long Island. We shared a plate of these briny bivalves, presented on an ice bed with a traditional red horseradish dipping sauce and another featuring a combination of light mayo swirled with ginger and wasabi. The feasting continued with a savory chicken and andouille sausage gumbo, its rich broth laden with peas, carrots, scallions, and mushrooms.
Perhaps in an effort to overcome its reputation as an exclusive place for members of the “one percent,” the Annapolis restaurant has introduced “Ruth’s Chris Classics”—an appealing option that includes three courses (starter, entrée with sides, and dessert) for either $49.95 or $59.95. My two male companions got the pricier ticket, enjoying the kitchen’s well-prepared Caesar salad topped with generous Parmesan cheese shavings and the soup as prelude to the main attraction: prime beef, broiled in a 1,800 degree oven and served sizzling on white ceramic plates heated to 500 degrees.
Reverent silence greeted the arrival of one diner’s choice of an 11-ounce filet the size of a small roast and another’s selection of a whopping 16-ounce ribeye. Dare I say satisfied moans could be heard as the two guys tucked into a beefeater’s dream—the filet flavorful and fork tender, the well-marbled ribeye grilled rare though a little fatty. Meats from Ruth’s Chris’ kitchen announce their arrival tableside with a heady aroma of butter (a tablespoon applied as the plate leaves the kitchen)—an aroma that either gets your endorphins going or makes a purist shudder. Portions are enough for two and my personal favorite is the trio of thick lamb chops prepared Pittsburgh style with a charred exterior and medium rare interior. At $50, with sides extra, it’s birthday fare.
Seafood is not neglected at Ruth’s Chris, where on review night I was happy with two generous appetizer portions—one a quartet of silken day-boat scallops, crisp-charred from the broiler, and the other a half-dozen shrimp deceptively described as “barbecue” when in reality they are a savory-sauced recipe reminiscent of a dish I fondly remember from the venerable Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. This association is not random, as the Ruth’s Chris global empire began with Ruth Ferkel, a feisty single mother who bought a place called Chris’ Steakhouse in the Big Easy in the 1960s and later added her name to what would become one of the restaurant industry’s most colorful success stories.
Fast forward to the present, when we are fortunate to have Mr. de Castro as a local resident, known for his special attachment to his “hometown” location and his involvement in the community. If you have nothing special to celebrate, invent an occasion to splurge with dinner or enjoy more wallet-friendly light fare during happy hour in the lounge.
Dinner is served 5–10 p.m. Monday–Thursday, and until 11 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays; 4–9 p.m. Sunday. The lounge opens at 4 p.m. for “Sizzle, Swizzle and Swirl” $9 specials that include cocktails, half-pound burgers, steak sandwiches, tenderloin-skewered salad, and ahi tuna or spicy lobster bites. Handicapped accessible. Dress code is business casual; jeans are okay. Reservations are recommended and private dining rooms are available. Outdoor dining option. Service dogs allowed. Valet parking available.