Last night, we went to the old Ray's location around 7:15 or so. When we approached, we learned that they were in the new location at 2300 Clarendon Blvd., just up the street a bit, as of the night before. There was a gentleman with a reservation clipboard and a cellphone, calling over with our names to the new spot. He informed us that there was maybe a short wait there, but we would probably get right in.
He described where to park (under the Arlington County Government Building), and a chaffeur was asking if we needed a free ride over! Nice customer service. We drove, though, so hopped on over, parking underground. Because I didn't want to "miss it" if they called our name while we were all walking from the parking lot, wherever that ended up being, I dropped off the guys, and then parked down on level G-2 there across the street from Ray's, under the government building. The resto is located on the corner of N. Wayne Street and Clarendon Blvd. -- just across from the Clarendon metro elevator! Great location!
When I got there, the place seemed almost completely full, with more space in the carpeted room on the left (more on that later.) The men had already been seated (a different policy from the old Ray's location?) and were about to order some wine when I got to the table. We got a Cote-du-Rhone for $26. I didn't try it, but they enjoyed it. I think that is a great price, though.
As i sat down, Mr. Alka was waxing enthusiastic about the spiced cashews on the table. It looks like they had already eaten most of them, by the time I got there. There was also a fine-crumbed bread on the table, but I didn't try either the cashews or the bread, anticipating the steak to come. At some point, the cashews were refilled.
We ordered the scallops wrapped in bacon, on caramelized onions with some puree-type chutney (apricot? mango?), entree portion, and the scampi entree portion as appetizers to share. It wasn't too long before the apps arrived. The scallops had perfect velvety texture and a nice light smoky flavor from the bacon, but the bacon itself should have been a little more cooked. (Solution, par-boiling? Par-broiling?).
The grilled scampi used quite large shrimp, which had very little sauce (simple olive oil?) accompanying them -- pooled very barely in the dish ;-(. They were firm in texture, and perhaps somewhat overcooked. They were not in and of themselves very flavorful or moist. (I'm from Florida, and love all kinds of shrimp. Mom says smaller shrimp are sweeter, and uses them for things like creole.). The sauce was very mild with garlic. Very mild. We all wanted more garlic -- and more sauce. What little there was, our friend sopped up with the bread. Also, the same caramelized onions appeared on this dish. They would be better cut in smaller pieces; as they were, they seemed unwieldy at 3" or so, in general.
The table was crowded with plates, wine glasses, water glasses. I don't know how 4 people would be able to sit there and have any space. Strangely, the appetizer "plates" were actual saucers -- with the coffee cup ridges. (waiting on enough serveware to arrive in sufficient volume?).
It was only half-way through our apps (or one-third way) when the steaks arrived. The servers started putting them down on the (available ) space, which turned out to be ACROSS the corners of the table! (Talk about recipe for disaster!). When I said that it was too early for the steaks, the servers weren't quite certain what to say/do - except to say if they took them back to the kitchen, they would likely be overcooked! Mr. Alka wanted to send them back, but I asked them to just go ahead and leave them. I had to make room on the table by removing two water glasses, the salt and pepper, and putting them on a little nearby low window ledge. We'd been forced to choose between cramped space and a decently cooked steak (which sat, uneaten, steaming away as we finished our apps!).
We began on our steaks after finishing the apps. The apps plates stayed on the table, as no one came to remove them. (I thought they might be having some special attentiveness to this, but apparently not. But, they were busy!). After quite a while, we ended up stacking (ugh! I know!) those so we had some little ROOM to eat. Finally, they came to remove the apps plates -- recall -- two big plates and three saucers.
Mr. Alka got one of the many specials, steak with marrow on top. I got the New York strip with brandy mushroom sauce, and our friend got the strip with blue cheese crumbles. Of course, the delicious sides arrived with the steaks. The spinach was as delicious as ever. I didn't have any potatoes, but the men liked them enough -- no raving, though. Our friend asked if they were garlic mashed potatoes, and I told him I didn't think they were supposed to be. "Ah, that explains why there is no garlic flavor," he joked.
Our steaks were cooked correctly, although mine was a little more done than I'd actually ordered, maybe because I had ordered "extra char". (I'd thought they would compensate, but they didn't). Mr. Alka didn't comment on the marrow at the time. He tells me it was "ok", not fantastic. Overall, he was happy.
My steak was a little tougher than I had remembered from past visits, and there was a tiny strip of a gristle? running through the middle, lengthwise. Odd. My mushroom brandy sauce was good, not overly thick and creamy, but rich enough, and not overpowered by the brandy. Nicely seasoned. However, there was a dearth of mushrooms...perhaps only a level tablespoon or two of thinly-sliced cooked mushrooms. Overall, I was happy.
Our friend liked the blue cheese crumbles, and said it was better than having an overly-strong sauce made with blue cheese. He said the blue cheese was strong, but the crumbles gave him freedom to pick the amount of cheese in each bite. He was happy.
Mr. Alka had no leftovers, and he finished last. I finished first, and wanted to take my leftover steak and spinach home. A server's helper very nicely took my plate, and returned with my styro box and a bag, unopened, laid on top. I asked him if he'd included the spinach, and he said yes! When i looked later, he'd also kindly included the potatoes that were on the original cast-iron serving skillet.
As a very kind gesture, they showed up with two desserts "on the house". They were great: dark chocolate, very rich and thick mousse (imo, like a dark "dove bar" or really, it was like a callebaut ganache!!!) with nice, softly-whipped cream on top and a strawberry garnish in a wine glass. That ganache-mousse alone is enough for three people! The other dessert was a key lime-coconut tart. Again, garnished with whipped cream and strawberries. It was delicious, too. Nicely tart, a little sweet, and light in feeling -- so, welcome after the heavy steaks. We ordered coffee, and it was good. They never came to refill it. But, while we were still enjoying the coffee and desserts, the server brought tiny cups of hot chocolate (we had probably 6 servers over the time there -- they don't seem "assigned" to a table by any means). They were really going out of their way to "make up" for the bad-timing issue. (The manager did say at the time she'd talk to the chef).
We were not unpleasant in any way about the premature arrival of our steaks, just taken by surprise. Hey, this was only their second night in this location -- with so many more patrons. In fact, I remarked to my husband and our friend that I find it hard to understand how restaurants in general can get apps timed right with entrees for so many tables.
As to the set up, the right section of the restaurant , with hardwood floors and a tin-tile high ceiling, is much noisier than the other side, which is carpeted with more space between tables -- and softer, more upscale chairs. (I can't recall, but wonder now whether I saw tablecloths. Mr. Monk I am not!) Same prices, both sides. I assume that left, carpeted side is the "reservations in advance" side. Oddly, the restrooms are only on that side, so you have to thread through the tables in that section to get to the restrooms. The ladies room was utilitarian, modern, nice.
As a note, I want to mention that the smoke from the kitchen is voluminous -- IN the kitchen. It really doesn't permeate the dining area out of the open doorways or through the thick dark blue velvet curtain that hides the "entry" into the kitchen. The sconces that line the off-white walls are deco in feeling, as are the interesting double-bladed ceiling fans. The waiting area is fine, a little seating and some space. The place is lined with huge plate glass windows. It is spare, but attractive. (Question, is the large-ish, 45-ish man with a linen-type loose shirt the proprieter, Michael Landrum? He was definitely the top dog there last night. Very professional.) The place was very busy -- almost full -- until 8:15 or so, and was still busy but maybe 2/3 full when we left around 9.
As we walked outside after leaving, we noticed a special banquet room for private events. I'm guessing from recollection it could seat 35 people?
So, overall, an "A" level experience, with kudos for customer service (and grace for nearly-opening-night adjustments). They really tried hard to have very satisfied customers. And we were! The steaks are good, and the value is superb. The wine list is reasonable. Much better location and parking situation! (One pet peeve, Michael, ask that one server not to wear her belly-baring top. It's not appropriate for your restaurant, imo.)
Best wishes to Michael Landrum and his crew in their new location.
And...I'm excited about Ray's the Net (hopefully arriving soon).
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