3 Fleur
Average check per person $55-$65
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Ruth’s Chris Steak House

CBD: 525 Fulton St. 504-587-7099. Map.
Dressy
AE DC DS MC V
Website

WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
Ruth’s Chris, the biggest chain of premium steakhouses in the world, is a New Orleans native. The restaurant in Metairie is the chain’s oldest. Nothing about it (or the one downtown) is much different from any of the 100-plus other Ruth’s Chris locations. Yet most New Orleanians (myself included) remain loyal customers. You can get a better steak elsewhere, but Ruth’s Chris remains, as it has been for decades, the standard by which top-end steak specialists are measured.

WHAT’S GOOD
The USDA Prime specification (relaxed for the filets), is important, but so are other matters. The superheated, firebrick-lined broilers and the sizzling butter on the hot plates have always set Ruth’s Chris apart from its competitors. The butter thing–common in New Orleans steak service long before it became identified with Ruth’s Chris–is incomparably appealing. The menu is more complex than it once was, with soups, sauces, and sides that Ruth herself never served. But the quality of the raw materials is clear, and the simplicity of the way most if it is cooked lets it all shine.

BACKSTORY
Chris Steak House started on the corner of North Broad at Ursulines. It was already recognized as a first-rate steakhouse when Chris Matulich sold it to Ruth Fertel in 1965. A clause in the sale agreement made Ruth add her name to that of Chris, making the tongue-twister by which the place is known. Ruth’s began to expand in the 1970s, and franchises spread across the country. By the time Ruth retired and sold the company in 1999, she commanded more restaurant volume than any other female restaurateur in the world. The outfit that bought the chain followed typical chain restaurant practice and homogenized the two local “stores.” The Broad Street flagship went down in Hurricane Katrina, never to return. The corporation later opened in Orleans Parish, but in a touristy area that subtracts further from the local color.

DINING ROOM
The two restaurants are very different. The Metairie location is masculine and clubby, with dark wood paneling and somewhat tightly-packed tables. The downtown Ruth’s took over the former Riche, whose Italianate softness and beauty are much more feminine. The long dining room there opens onto the pedestrian block of Fulton Street, with sidewalk tables.

ESSENTIAL DISHES
Fried calamari
»Barbecue shrimp
»Crabtini
»Shrimp remoulade or cocktail
Mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat
Seared ahi tuna
»Sizzling blue crab cakes
Veal osso buco ravioli
Spicy lobster
Sliced tomato and onion salad
Steakhouse salad
Caesar
Ruth’s chop salad
»Harvest salad (corn, dried cherries, tomatoes, goat cheese, pecans, bacon)
»Lettuce wedge
Lobster bisque
Sides
Sauteed mushrooms
Tempura onion rings
Broiled tomatoes
Spinach au gratin
Broccoli au gratin
»Baked potato
Baby spinach
»Fresh asparagus
»Mashed potatoes
Shoestring fries
»Julienne French fries
»Potatoes lyonnaise
Sweet potato casserole
»Potatoes au gratin
Creamed spinach
Entrees
Filet mignon
»Ribeye
»Cowboy ribeye
»T-bone
»New York strip
»Porterhouse for two
Barbecue shrimp
Lamb chops
Stuffed chicken breast
Fresh lobster
Caribbean lobster tail
Seafood selection
Desserts
Caramalized banana cream pie
Warm apple crumb tart
»Cheesecake
»Bread pudding, whiskey sauce
Chocolate sin cake

FOR BEST RESULTS
If what you want is excellence, forget the discounted set menus and go after the strip, ribeye, or (best of all) the porterhouse for two. Keep it simple. They may offer peppercorn cream sauce, but even if it were good it would pale in comparison to the sizzling butter. To keep them on their toes, ask where those mammoth crabmeat lumps come from.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Lunch must return someday. Any distinct sign of New Orleans uniqueness locally would be welcome. The corporate headquarters should return here. They should bring back the original house Creole French dressing.

FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.

  • Dining Environment +2
  • Consistency +1
  • Service+2
  • Value
  • Attitude +1
  • Wine & Bar +1
  • Hipness -1
  • Local Color -1

 

SPECIAL ATTRIBUTES

  • Romantic
  • Good for business meetings
  • Many private rooms
  • Open Sunday dinner
  • Open Monday dinner
  • Open some holidays
  • Historic
  • Unusually large servings
  • Good for children
  • Free valet parking
  • Reservations accepted

ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The downturn years were not kind to the premium steakhouse chains in most of the rest of the country. Here in New Orleans, the two Ruth’s Chris–one of them the oldest restaurant in the chain–did better than most. But now that the restaurants are run by corporate, they were diminished by the price-cutting and concomitant quality shaving that the entire chain underwent. Yes, you can have a three-course dinner at Ruth’s Chris for forty dollars. But is that a USDA Prime filet? Ask and find out. Meanwhile, more and more of the menu is coming from the commissary rather than cooked on site. Some such items are actually pretty good–the osso buco ravioli, for example. But why is the crabmeat from elsewhere than Louisiana?

All that said, it’s the rare customer whose eyes aren’t brightened by the prospect of having dinner at either local Ruth’s Chris. Usually, reservations are needed to assure a place in the dining room. If you get the sirloin strip, porterhouse, or ribeye, you’re still eating the prime beef for which the place became famous. And the sizzling butter is no less appetizing than it has ever been. Ruth’s Chris remains a great place for saying goodbye to meat in this Carnival season.


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