I normally post over on the Southwest board, but since I was reviewing a "chain," I am posting here per the Chowhound.com protocol. Please note that the prices here are approximate.
It has been tradition in my family for quite some time to start the Christmas celebration by having a nice dinner out on Christmas Eve. Depends on how early I get my act in gear, we dine at some very nice, high-end place. This year, we landed at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse on Camelback Road in Phoenix.
I have a soft spot in my heart for this place because I have celebrated lots of things here and always had some good food. However, I had high expectations for this trip to Ruth's because it was a holiday celebration and it was with some great people. The cast of characters included: Mom, Dad, J. the Fiance, Dave the Roommate and yours truly.
This location of Ruth's is situated right on Camelback Road in an office complex. They have been there for years and the location is certianly premier for Phoenix. Any high-end business wants to be situated along the fashionable Camelback corridor. The entrance, however, is challenging as you park behind the front of the building (valet available) and walk up a ramp into the building before heading to the restaurant entrance.
We plodded on to the restaurant and was met by a bevy of team members at the host station. And I do mean "bevy." About seven people greeted us and a flurry of activity happened before one took us to our table. Mom and Dad were catching up with us as they were coming from Christmas Eve services. I was pleased that we were seated at a table for five near the front window overlooking Camelback Road. The table was spacious, the seats comfortable and the interior was done in dark wood tones with lots of coordinating fabric on chairs and booths.
Our server arrived and took drink orders and offered us a choice of white or black napkins indicating that the white might leave lint on our clothing. A nice touch. We ordered a bottle of sparking water ($7.95) and then a round of Diet Cokes (don't worry, the alcohol will make an appearance). Mom and Dad arrived in short order and we reviewed the menus.
Our server returned with drinks and took a drink order from Mom and Dad. This was followed by a recitation of the evening's specials. J.'s eyes lit up when the words "Buffalo steak" were uttered. J. is the foodie in the group, so this wasn't a surprise. After the server returned with drinks for Mom and Dad, we placed our order. Here is the run down:
Mom: Iceberg Lettuce Wedge with Lemon Basil Dressing ($8) and Onion Rings ($6). Mom is a light eater.
Dad: Caesar Salad ($6), New York Strip Steak ($34), and Baked Potato ($6).
Dave: Caesar Salad, New York Strip Steak with Au Poivre Sauce ($3).
J.: House Salad ($6) with Remoulade Dressing, Buffalo Steak ($36) with Blue Cheese Crust ($3).
Seth: House Salad with Remoulade Dressing, Ribeye Steak ($34) with Blue Cheese Crust.
Sides to split: Potatoes Au Gratin ($8), Creamed Spinach ($8)
It wasn't too long of a wait before our salads arrived. Dad said his Caesar Salad was excellent. Dave said it was good, but nothing special and wished it had more dressing. My house salad was very good and I loved the remoulade dressing with its tangy bite. J. agreed. This was accompanied with fresh rolls and room temperature butter (always dangerous).
We chatted about the holidays and waited for our steaks. Our meals arrived and each of us were salivating at the sound of the sizzle as well as the aroma of the beef and buffalo. Mom was very content with her Lettuce Wedge and Onion Rings.
We dove in and savored the moment. My steak was very good. Juicy, tender and a great taste with some nice marbling. However, I was a bit put off by the Blue Cheese Crust. It could have been a nice addition, but all it really did was add a very salty taste to the meat. It was unfortunate. Dave, J. and I split the Potatoes Au Gratin and the Creamed Spinach. I thought the potatoes had a good flavor, but the cheese on top was unwhelmingly mild. A very sharp cheddar would have gone a long way to really make this dish shine. On the other hand, the creamed spinach was exceptional. Creamy, fresh and not overly salty, the spinach was wonderful and a great accompaniment to the meat. It also went a long way to cut the saltiness of the blue cheese crust.
J. was thoroughly enjoying the Buffalo. J. said it was rich and smokey and not at all gamey, which can destroy a perfectly good slab of buffalo. J. never mentioned the Blue Cheese Crust, so I will take that as an "okay." But there were kudos for the spinach and a smile about the potatoes.
Dave said his steak was "exceptionally tasty" and loved the au poivre sauce. He felt the potatoes were standard and nothing to write home about. But Dave was loving the spinach. This meant a lot as Dave is not a big fan of spinach.
Dad is a serious eater, so when he says nothing, you know he is busy enjoying his food. His silence spoke volumes and he was more than content with his steak. Unfortunately, he couldn't say the same about his Baked Potato. This spud had been cooked, sat and then been reheated or sat in a steaming tray for ages. The skin had pulled away from the starchy insides and was tough. Blech. Mom took a bite and uttered her judgement of "ick." How a fine restaurant like Ruth's can screw up something as simple as a baked potato is beyond me, but there you have it.
Mom liked her salad wedge, but said she probably wouldn't order it again. She felt the dressing was far too lemony and would have preferred the Caesar salad. But there were nothing but raves from Mom about the onion rings. They were huge and looked like they had been placed in a batter and then coated with Panko. Mom declared them "the best onion rings in Phoenix."
J. and I split a glass of Merlot ($8) and Dave had a glass of the Shiraz ($9). Both were excellent.
At the end of the meal, we all had packed away more than enough food to get us through to Christmas breakfast. We even had enough left over to take home for snacks later that evening. Our server presented our check and our tab for the evening was $247 and change, including tax. Service was profession and friendly and we had no complaints there.
After we returned home and had some time to reflect, Dave said he enjoyed the meal, but felt that something was missing. A discussion ensued and it was determined that while Ruth's was very good, it simply came across as very corporate. It didn't have the charm of, say, Durant's, a wonderful Phoenix steakhouse institution. We all agreed that a feeling like that on Christmas Eve would make a very good dinner a great dinner.
So, I guess we know where we are having dinner next Christmas Eve.
Ruth's Chris Steak House - Phoenix
2201 East Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Dress: Business casual