Let Them Eat Steak | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Let Them Eat Steak 

Ruth’s Chris'the ultimate expense account restaurant'opens on the ruins of Baci.

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Years ago, when I was a book editor for a fancy publishing company, much of my time was spent in restaurants'you know, wining and dining book agents and authors at expense-account lunches and dinners. Many of those lunches and dinners were held at Ruth’s Chris restaurants around the country and beyond, from places like Manhattan, Scottsdale and Del Mar to Boca, New Orleans, Vegas and Toronto. There are more than 90 Ruth’s Chris steakhouses on God’s green earth, and it feels like I’ve eaten in most of them.

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Here, in a nutshell, is the Ruth’s Chris story: In 1965, a divorced 38-year-old lab tech named Ruth Fertel, against the advice of her lawyer and bankers, purchased a New Orleans restaurant called Chris Steak House, mortgaging her house and investing what little savings she had. In time, the restaurant'renamed Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse'on The Big Easy’s Broad Street became a magnet for politicos, entertainers and sports personalities. It became so popular that in 1977 Fertel opened a second location in Metairie and granted a first franchise in Baton Rouge, followed by 90 or so more, despite Ruth Fertel’s death in 2002. So much for the advice of bankers and lawyers.

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The newest Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse sits on Pierpont Street in Salt Lake City, in the location that Baci Trattoria occupied for years. The franchise was granted to Gene Kwon and his Latitude Restaurant Group, who also operate the Mikado restaurants, Harry’s, Ichiban Sushi, Hapa Grill, Kampai and Café Pierpont. And if the weekend crowds at the newest Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse are any indication of future prosperity, this venture may be Gene Kwon’s most successful yet.

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Looking for an early reservation on a recent Friday night, the closest I could get to 6 or 6:30 p.m. was a table for two at 8:15. We arrived on time, encountered a not-so-courteous hostess who advised us that she couldn’t leave her post'or computer terminal'and that we’d have to wait to be escorted to our table. This, as it turned out, was upstairs in the banquet dining area'a drab corridor that also serves as overflow restaurant seating on busy nights. Ensconced at the top of the stairs next to a service doorway and path to the restrooms, we literally had the worst table in the house, and looked longingly on the luckier diners down below in the beautifully appointed central dining area.

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I was feeling like a luckless Woody Allen character but quickly lost myself in Ruth Chris’s extensive wine list. Still, the difference in dining upstairs at Ruth’s versus downstairs is so striking that something like a 33 percent discount would seem to be in order. After all, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is a very expensive restaurant. At these prices, no one should have to sit in a hallway.

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Thankfully, that was the only glitch that evening. “This is the best salad I’ve ever had!” proclaimed my wife, referring to the truly outstanding Ruth’s Chop Salad ($8.95/$5.95). Picture this: Julienned iceberg lettuce, radicchio and spinach all tossed together with minced red onions, mushrooms, green olives, bacon bits, hard-cooked eggs, hearts of palm, tiny croutons and a divine bleu cheese and lemon-basil dressing. It’s presented molded into a hockey-puck shape and topped with crispy fried onions. Sensational. Salads at Ruth’s Chris come in full or half-size portions, and the half-size chopped salad was a perfect appetizer.

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Although I usually order the jumbo lump blue crab cakes at Ruth’s ($18.95) for a starter, this time I opted for the classic New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp ($11.95), which aren’t barbecued at all but come sautéed and served in a heavenly white wine, butter, garlic and Cajun spiced sauce. The light and airy loaf of bread from Stoneground Bakery'accompanied by the highest-quality whipped butter, by the way'was the perfect tool for soaking up every last drop of the barbecued shrimp sauce after the tender jumbo shrimp were long gone.

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Service, even upstairs in no man’s land, was impeccable. That’s thanks in part to not one or two, but three roving floor managers and a very well trained staff. This is something that, in my experience, has been a common thread at the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses I’ve visited: service perfection.

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Ultimately though, Ruth’s Chris is a steakhouse. So I probably shouldn’t have nudged the wife towards the Ahi Tuna Stack ($28.95), which was two rare-cooked ahi tuna steaks topped with large chunks of lump blue crabmeat and a red pepper pesto. The dish was just fine'if a tad on the humongous side'but it didn’t hold a candle to my steak.

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I’m pretty sure I’ve tried almost every cut of meat at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, from the Cowboy ribeye ($41.95) and T-bone ($42.95) to the petit filet ($29.95) and New York strip ($37.95). I once even ventured into the budget-busting Porterhouse for two, priced at $79.95. But the cut I keep returning to is the USDA prime ribeye steak ($36.95). Simply put, the medium-rare ribeye I ate last week at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse was the best steak I’ve ever eaten anywhere, period. It was so good, in fact, that I was able to overlook the limp side of shoestring potatoes ($7.50) or the steamed asparagus with a lovely Hollandaise that was delicious but sells for a whopping $8.50.

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The bottom line is that if you’re looking for one of the best steaks you’ll ever eat'and a damned good salad to boot'a trip to Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse is in order, particularly if someone else is buying.

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RUTH’S CHRIS STEAKHOUSE
n134 W. Pierpont Ave
n366-4000
nDinner served nightly

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