Fine Dining at Ruth’s Chris

Thursday’s dinner was one of those that I would have every night if I were independently wealthy.

Had my wife and I not had a reason to celebrate, our dinner would have been something much more prosaic. In fact, there probably would have been nothing resembling a family dinner. We do have family dinners, but mostly on the weekends. During the week, we usually scavenge. When we get hungry, we go make something, generally for ourselves. (You can do this if your family consists of only three people, like ours.) I would have likely pulled something out of the freezer and microwaved it.

However, Thursday just happened to be my 21st wedding anniversary. Since it was an anniversary, my wife and I elected to go some place very nice for dinner. Last year as you may recall we went to The Hermitage, in Clifton, Virginia. There we had no problem happily departing with $130 or so. Thursday we went to Ruth’s Chris in Fairfax, Virginia. Rarely have I left a restaurant more satisfied. Moreover, rarely have I had to dig so deeply into my wallet to pay the bill. With tip, our bill came to $155. It would have been more had we ordered drinks.

Ruth’s Chris is a national steakhouse chain. You may have eaten great steak before, but unless you have eaten a steak from Ruth’s Chris, you probably have never have eaten perfectly prepared steak. I bet any other steak you have eaten cannot attain Ruth’s Chris lofty standard of excellence.

The steak though was just the centerpiece of a rich dining experience that was meticulously controlled and arranged to impress. There actually are entrees other than steak on their menu. It just seems like such a waste to come all the way to Ruth’s Chris and not order the steak. It is like going to Starbucks and not ordering coffee. I ordered the Petite Filet with Shrimp. It was a mere eight ounces of corn fed USDA Choice steak, cooked at 1800 degrees and served on sizzling, 500-degree plates. On top of each four ounce filet was one jumbo-sized shrimp.

But oh, the ecstasy of that first bite! Actually, each subsequent mouthful was equally excellent. Each slice was dripping in butter, lightly seasoned and so tender it offered no resistance whatsoever during consumption. Each swallow sent another little surge of ecstasy down my throat. The taste simply radiated through my whole mouth. I found myself slicing my filets very finely just so I could savor each bite to the maximum.

If Ruth’s Chris has a downside, aside from the price, it is that everything is sold separately. This includes the baked potato. I chose a Caesar salad. It was delivered with unchopped leaves of romaine lettuce artistically arranged on my plate, covered with shaved Parmesan cheese and allegedly dressed with croutons. Their croutons resembled shaving the top eighth of an inch of a crusty loaf of bread. Of course, I elected to have it garnished with black pepper. This was one of the few salads where I had to apply my knife before it could consume it. I so rarely have pepper on any food (since my wife is allergic to it) that it was almost a shock.

My wife ordered a baked potato with her steak, but I elected for a side of mashed potatoes. One of the reasons I mourn my late mother is that she was excelled at preparing mashed potatoes. They always came out lumpless and were both creamy and buttery. I look for mashed potatoes whenever I dine out, but can rarely find them. I do not find lumpless mashed potatoes to necessarily be a sign of excellence. In fact, I like a little something to chew on in my mashed potatoes. What I look for is flavor. Ruth’s Chris mashed potatoes did not disappoint. They were as creamy and buttery as my mother’s famous mashed potatoes and came lightly topped with parsley. The serving was enough for two people. Between my fond memories of my mother’s excellent mashed potatoes and the exquisite steak, I was in culinary overload.

My wife chose a side of sautéed mushrooms. Each mushroom was uniform and perfectly round, and came in a lightly buttered and seasoned sauce. Sautéed mushrooms are one of my wife’s specialties. She frequently serves them on special occasions like Thanksgiving dinner. They get rave reviews. However, Ruth’s Chris’s mushrooms were actually better.

Of course, we found room for dessert. My wife ordered the Warm Apple Crumb Tart, which was enormous and more than she could finish. She gave me a taste, but it was hard for me to judge its quality, because my mouth was overwhelmed by the taste of the Chocolate Sin Cake that I ordered. The “cake” was excellent but perhaps misnamed. It was more like a big chocolate in the shape of a small cake slice than a cake. There did not seem to be anything in it that needed baking. It came garnished with a finely sliced strawberry and with drizzled raspberry sauce across the plate. I had to restrain myself from licking my plate when I was done with it.

As you would expect, the service was impeccable. Each table was covered with real linens, which were replaced after each dining experience. If I had a complaint, it was that perhaps our server gave us too much time to linger over our meals. The dining room was clean, attractive, quiet and well laid out. Clearly, they have been in this business a long time. They have this level of dining down to a science.

I have eaten better prepared food, but only very rarely. You go to Ruth’s Chris because you want the best tasting steak available. You will not be disappointed. Yet I have had fancier meals. More than ten years ago when it was still in business, we took our first cruise on a Dolphin cruise line. Our cabin was tiny, but the meals were to die for. At the time, Dolphin was known for its high cuisine. When it was still in business, my wife and I also had several meals at The Windsor House in Middleburg, Virginia. Both of those were better than our meal this week at Ruth’s Chris, although I do not recall ordering steaks with those meals. I know there is better dining is available. If I were independently wealthy, I would make sure at least once a year I dined at The Inn at Little Washington, which is renown in our region and which requires diners to sign up months in advance. Since Ruth’s Chris is a chain, there is likely one near you. Unquestionably, Ruth’s Chris is an excellent restaurant. If you have the money for this kind of dining, you will not be disappointed.

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