Review–Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse: the steak is fine but where’s my wine?

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse Santa Barbara: better than home?

If the man in my life had a blog, it would be called Beer, BBQ & Bruce (that would be Springsteen).

But he’s too busy barbecuing for a blog.

While I tend to stick my nose in a collection of poetry and browse around, he’s likely to daydream his palate away in a cookbook.

We BBQ’d a ham for Thanksgiving last week, and I salivate just thinking about the duck eh made a few months ago. He cooks salmon perfectly, and the fine art of cooking a steak comes out just right every time.Two weeks ago, we were both ecstatic over some filet mignons which we enjoyed with a bottle of Teusner Barossa Valley Shiraz.

That night, we both agreed as we usually do, that we just couldn’t get a meal like this out that was as good as home. After all, how could you improve on perfection?

Turns out, you can. At least in the steak department.

Last night, with the Big Monkey at one end of the table and his boss at the other, celebrating the best month of sales they’d ever had, the Big Monkey proclaimed that the porterhouse steak here at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse was not only better than any steak he’d ever had in a restaurant, but the best steak he’d ever had. Period. And that it was worth every cent.

Now that’s saying a mouthful.

However, if we’d been dining at home, we wouldn’t have sat around for ages with no wine in our glasses.  And we would have had the wine we’d ordered with the various courses we’d intended to drink them with.

That part was ridiculous. For a restaurant as expensive as this one, you’d expect the level of service to be exceptional. Not to say that the people who helped us were not knowledgeable or gracious, because they were. I have no idea what else was going on that evening or why no one could seem to get the wine to our table before I went and got it myself a few times.

Granted, they eventually brought the two glasses I went and got myself from the bartender and they comped their mistake and left the wine for us to enjoy.

Most of the people at the table weren’t drinking much– I suspect they weren’t drinking much because their drinks weren’t being delivered. Fidel broke into the wine we were saving to have with our dinner when his Corona seemed to be walking itself from Mexico it was taking so long. I finally stopped eating my salad and just waited at the bar because otherwise the salad would be gone before the wine got there.

Good thing the guy with the water was on top of it! And it was probably a good thing we drank more water than wine although this is likely not the business model that has paid for all the fanciness at the restaurant…

We were the last of our party to arrive and be seated, and the early birds had tasted a couple of wines and settled on a bottle of petit sirah by Santa Barbara winery Consilience. They sent me down a taste and while it was fine, it seemed a bit closed in–not what I wanted with the appetizers or the filet.  The waiter offered to bring us samples as well and we had him bring us a 2005 Barossa Valley shiraz (Peter Lehmann, Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia) which was quite tasty, super creamy and smooth and full of fruit and spice and really well balanced at 14%. Since several us were interested in having a small amount of shiraz, I chose a split of a Langhorne creek shiraz (Bleasdale, Shiraz, “Bremerview”, Langhorne Creek, 2004, South Australia) which I expected to also be rich and creamy with possibly some sage or mint as well as ginger and cinnamon spice and that would go well with our filet mignons.

With our hordeuvres, I ordered a glass of Conundrum to get things going and shared it with the Big Monkey who was driving. EVENTUALLY it arrived–about the time that most of our appetizers were gone–the mushrooms stuffed with crab, the fried calimari, and shrimp; all were insanely wonderfully delicious and way rich, full of butter. The Conundrum was excellent as well, not too oaky or heavy, and really worked with the rich appetizers, standing up to them and cutting through them.

As soon as I had a chance, I ordered a glass of Chimney Rock Cab

2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon

for the Big Monkey to have with his porterhouse and for me to taste, and

2006 Elevage Blanc 2006 Elevage Blanca glass of Chimney Rock Sauv Blanc Sauv Gris blend which they recommended to go with my lobster. These were the wines I had to chase down myself; I should have tasted them first–especially since I was at the bar waiting for them myself. But I was anxious to get the wine and get back to my salad to finish it! The white was just so-so and at $18 a glass and ($39 a bottle according to the winery) it should have been exceptional. I’ve been on a sauv blanc kick–tasted many NZ ones at Spago in early November, and regularly drinking a really delightful Swirling Dervish that I picked up for $3.99 at the Ventura Wine Store. And it didn’t do much for the caesar salad which was good but a bit corporate tasting–bland with no sense of anchovies (maybe you have to ask for them?) or anything in particular. And it didn’t do anything for the lobster which I found over seasoned with paprika and possibly cayenne. I should have gone for the bottle of roussanne by Consilience which I really want to taste! Fortunately, their tasting room is only an hour up the road.

The way the restaurant handles ordering is unusual in the sense that you order your meat then everything else is a side. I would think they would be used to large parties–and this one wasn’t even that large at about a dozen people.

So staff has to deliver meat, and sides, and whatever else needed–for more people, that’s three plates per person. The sides seemed to ramble around before they found their proper homes, and a side of showstring potatoes were never claimed. On the menu, I saw all the meat several times but never tracked down some of the sides others had.

All the sides seemed too large in proportion–but I guess if you’re charging $8 for a one pound baked potato, people expect there to be a lot of calories to go along with it. My $8 side was steak fries with garlic, rosemary, and sundried tomotoes. I would swear that they were frozen and reheated; they did not taste fresh. The Big Monkey had mushrooms which seemed an okay value; while tasty, they were drowned in rich butter. An $8 brocoli dish had more cheddar cheese on it and cream sauce than brocoli it seemed. I realize people go to this restaurant for the steaks, but do the sides need to be so caloric and heavy?

I wanted to eat my lobster first. Oddly, there was no drawn butter–just a half lemon with a pat of butter on top so I squeezed the lemon and smeared the bit of butter. Finally, while looking around to see if anyone else had butter, I saw an army of them on another table and I flagged someone down to bring me one. They have these cute holders for the butter with warming tealights he was trying to set up for me–I insisted all that was necessary was to have the butter. Then he could do what he wished with the candles!

After I finished the lobster, I moved on with relish to my filet mignon and Langhorne creek shiraz.  All the while, the Big Monkey is chowing down happily on his porterhouse. Unfortunately, my filet mignon was resting in the lemon which I had put on my lobster. Blue cheese, yes, bacon, yes, lemon no–I don’t want lemon on my filet mignon. Or paprika…

The filet was incredibly tender, and cooked to perfection. Absolutely. Considering, however, the plethera of serveware and plates, I would have thought they would have figured out by now that the lobster should have its own plate.

The Langhorne creek shiraz was fine, but not nearly as pleasing as the first one, the 2005 Peter Lehmann, Shiraz, Barossa Valley, South Australia. We should have just ordered a bottle of that.  It wasn’t much of a problem because we were sharing the split several ways and eventually we got  not one but two glasses of the Chimney Rock cab which again was good but not exceptional and at $21 a glass (and $62 a bottle retail from the winery), I am looking for a standout experience. I am used to enjoying  stellar wines from The Grateful Palate warehouse sale priced from between $10 and $25–for a whole bottle! Maybe I’m just overly spoiled.

At some point, all the plates disappeared including my fries which I’d wanted to take home with the extra mushrooms but no one asked. Maybe at an upscale place like this, they don’t let you take home leftovers?

For dessert, I ordered a Sandeman’s tawny port which came after we’d passed around the creamiest blandest creme brulee I’ve ever had, a chocholate volcano cake which was more about presentation than flavor, and an apple tart type dish. I tried to be patient and fend off the Big Monkey and was able to have some of the port with the apple pie but the chocolate and brulee were long gone.

Which was all right by me–by this time I was really full!

In the end, would I go back? Gonna depend on who’s paying, and what the occasion is. The digs are elegant, the staff very nice, an adequately interesting collection of wines (which could certainly include a page os local wines considering the location on the outskirts of the central coasts world famous wine region), and steak as tender as you can imagine. But better than home? Guess I did’t have to cook or do the dishes even if I had to chase my wine down myself.

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