ruth’s chris steak house: setting the gold standard

The name may leave you wondering: Who’s Ruth? Who’s Chris? Whose restaurant is it anyway? But sink your teeth into one of their dry-aged prime cuts of corn-fed Midwestern beef and you’ll wonder no more—Ruth’s Chris is definitely the king (queen?) of steak houses.

There are two Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses on Maui: Front Street in Lahaina, and upstairs in The Shops at Wailea. My husband Charles and I have selected the Wailea location for this evening’s dinner. Both offer a hugely popular “Sizzlin’ Prime Time Menu” every evening between 5 and 6 p.m. Depending on your meat selection, the price is either $39.95 or $49.95 per person for a three-course meal. Entrée complements like bleu cheese crust or au poivre sauce, as well as dessert upgrades, are available.

After being seated in a romantic red semi-circle booth, Charles and I are greeted by server Jared, who is young, blonde, and handsome, and very eager to please. Jared fills us in on the history of Ruth’s Chris: In 1965, a woman named Ruth Fertel mortgaged her home to buy a little steak house in New Orleans called Chris Steak House. As her reputation grew, Ruth expanded and added her name to the original. That’s how the uniquely named Ruth’s Chris Steak House was born. Today, there are 130 Ruth’s Chris locations, both domestic and international, with five in the Hawaiian Islands. Tonight Charles and I are about to find out how a steak house can be so incredibly successful over nearly 50 years. Let the games begin!

Although we are planning to go with the Sizzlin’ Prime Time Menu, General Manager Randy Spencer, who has 35 years of experience in the restaurant industry, wants us to sample one of the appetizers (all regular menu items are available for additional purchase with the prix fixe menu). He brings us the veal osso buco ravioli—saffron-infused pasta filled with veal osso buco and fresh mozzarella cheese ($13.95). It’s served with sautéed spinach and a white wine demi glace. The ravioli are delightfully creamy, and the spinach provides a complementary savory element. A light touch of cayenne offers a pleasant kick.

Meanwhile, Jared has brought us each a specialty martini ($12.50 each), which he shakes tableside. Charles’s Shark Bite is a bright green blend of vodka, Midori melon liqueur, and sweet and sour. Charles finds it aptly named, and comments that the level of alcohol “can sneak up on you and bite you when you’re not paying attention.” My Pomegranate Martini is an interesting blend of Belvedere vodka and DeKuyper Apple Pucker.

For starters, you can choose from two salads (Caesar or Steak House) or the soup of the day (Louisiana Seafood Gumbo). Charles goes for the steak house salad with bleu cheese dressing, and I decide to try the gumbo. Charles’s salad is composed of crisp mixed greens topped with a bold dressing—just the way he likes it. My gumbo is a soulful concoction with a rich, red broth and a scoop of rice in the center. Chunks of shrimp, crawfish, andouille sausage, and okra are plentiful, and the spice level is perfect for my palate. Bread rolls are a blend of sourdough and Italian developed by Ruth herself. Randy tells us the rolls are baked specially for Ruth’s Chris by BJ’s Bakery in Kahului.

We peruse the extensive wine list that’s punctuated with inspirational quotes ranging from the poetic (“Wine is sunlight held together by water”—Galileo Galilee) to the amusing (“I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food”—W. C. Fields). Charles selects a glass of Red Diamond Merlot ($9), with a flavor profile of red berries, juicy plum, and a touch of caramel and mocha on a soft finish. I’m going to try the Whitehaven Pinot Noir ($13), described as a bouquet of ripe cherries and raspberry fruits with soft, silky tannins providing structure and definition. We can hardly wait to find out how our wines pair with the main event—the meat!

Fortunately, we aren’t kept waiting long. Charles has ordered the Petite Filet (8 oz. from the $39.95 menu), and I’ve selected the Ribeye (16 oz. from the $49.95 menu). Jared delivers them on blazing hot 500 degree plates. We can feel the heat radiating as they’re placed in front of us, and our steaks are still sizzling in their own juices. We can hardly wait to dig in! But wait…Jared has presented our side dishes: ample portions of mashed potatoes and creamed spinach served in separate bowls for sharing. Both sides are listed on the menu as “traditional New Orleans favorites.” Charles declares his filet to be perfectly seared to medium-rare and full-flavored. My ribeye is also done to an impeccable medium-rare, and it’s absolutely huge, nicely marbled, bold, and juicy. Okay, now we get it: this is the reason you come to Ruth’s Chris!

Other choices from the $39.95 menu include stuffed chicken breast, barbecued shrimp, and the chef’s fresh island fish selection; besides the ribeye, the $49.95 menu includes an 11 oz. filet with grilled shrimp, and a marinated veal chop served with hot and sweet peppers. Other side dishes are broccoli, sautéed mushrooms, and local broiled tomatoes.

Both of our wines hold up well to the rich meat. The mashed potatoes are heavenly, and have a slightly coarse texture that’s just right for accompanying steaks. The creamed spinach is rich, cheesy, and homey. I’m sure glad we brought hearty appetites to this table. While we enjoy our meal, we notice the background music is pleasant light jazz at an appropriate volume for conversation.

Jared stops by to check on us, and when we remark on how wonderful the steaks are he explains they’re cooked in a 1,800 degree double broiler so the chef can raise or lower them to get the perfect sear.

Dessert choices are ice cream or sorbet, or Ruth’s signature bread pudding with whiskey sauce. If you prefer, you can upgrade to any dessert on the regular menu for an additional $3.95. Jared particularly recommends the triple-layer Kona coffee mud pie. It’s tempting, but I opt for the sorbet, while Charles selects one of his absolute favorites—the bread pudding. Both desserts are petite, but satisfying portions served in stemware. The raspberry sorbet is refreshingly light and tart, providing a welcome contrast to the rich meal. Charles happily digs into the warm bread pudding and polishes it off completely.

Charles is a coffee connoisseur, and is pleased that Ruth’s Chris serves Kona coffee. With its trademark smoothness, low acidity, and lingering undertones of dark chocolate, for him it’s the perfect ending to a delightful meal. Lumps of raw sugar are a nice touch, eliminating messy paper wrappers.

The Sizzlin’ Prime Time Menu at Ruth’s Chris offers resort-style quality food at prix fixe prices. Simply put, it’s a tremendous value for an excellent steak house dinner. Charles and I are already planning for our next visit. By the way, the back room at the Wailea Ruth’s Chris is especially romantic—the farthest table is elevated and very elegant for that extra-special occasion.

–heidi pool

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