The attractions here are serious beef (especially the filet mignon), some New Orleans dishes and trimmings, polished execution, and the fact that, while all American steak houses partake of Disney-like mythology, this one is a little less over-the-top than our last major chain entrant, Smith & Wollensky. It’s also a few dollars less expensive, especially the bar menu and at lunch.
At the bar, Ruth’s Chris serves homemade potato chips, crisp and salty with good potato flavor. For real dining, the breadbasket is crusty hot bread, but room-temperature sweet butter. That should be cold butter with hot bread.
My favorite appetizer was one borrowed from the chain’s hometown of New Orleans: shrimp remoulade ($12.95), your basic shrimp cocktail with a spicy mustard sauce. I also liked the “Crabtini” ($14.95), a large martini glass full of fresh lump crabmeat with a sharp, peppery sauce on romaine leaves, with some multi-vegetable slaw underneath. Louisiana seafood gumbo ($5.50/cup; $8.95/bowl) is peppery Cajun-style gumbo with a seafood flavor, though not a lot of obvious morsels. I thought it was good for Boston, but the flavor was too muddled to take back to New Orleans. Ruth’s chop salad ($6.25/small; $9.25/large) is a mess of everything you like in salad — the fattening stuff — like croutons, chopped olives, blue cheese, bacon, and fried onion strips, mixed with just enough chopped lettuce and hearts of palm to call it a salad. Not only is this delicious, but when two of us wanted to split a small one, our server acted like this happens all the time, and brought it out on two plates. Spinach salad ($6.25/$9.95) is baby spinach leaves with a sweet dressing, and quite a bit of bacon and chopped egg.
An appetizer of seared ahi tuna ($12.95) was the usual seared slices of raw sushi-quality tuna, distributed in a sauce of wasabi and soy, with a flower of pink pickled ginger slices on top of field greens. The only appetizer that didn’t delight was an order of “Sizzlin’ Blue Crab Cakes” ($19.95). These sizzle because, like most hot dishes at Ruth’s Chris, they are served on a plate heated to 500 degrees, too hot to pass around even after five minutes on the table. Their other bit of brilliance is to coat the hot plates with fresh butter. It’s almost impossible to cut a piece of steak without getting it coated with butter, an old French trick.
The featured steak is filet mignon ($32.20/eight ounces; $36.95/12 ounces). The menu does not designate this as prime beef, nor would you need the extra marbling of prime grade for this tender cut. What you do need is some aging to give it flavor. So when a guest wanted to order the small filet, I talked her into splitting the porterhouse for two ($82.95), since she would get her filet, and I would mostly deal with the sirloin side and check the kitchen out on the challenge of getting both sides medium-rare. Ruth’s uses enormously hot ovens — 1800 degrees, they claim. Our filet was closer to medium, and still one of the greatest pieces of beef I’ve ever had. The sirloin side was properly medium-rare, and classic sirloin, but not outstanding. The servers cut the porterhouse at the table, but into chunks so large that you still need to cut it more on your plate, and that gets a lot of butter on it, grabbing a certain edge on the perhaps larger $88 porterhouse at that other chain.