Buttered up

Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse

501 Pavillion Ln.
Sacramento, CA 95825

(916) 922-0222

I remember reading somewhere that a meal at a high-end restaurant contains, on average, a full stick of butter. I don’t want to think about how much butter that means I eat in the course of my work, but I feel confident that eating at Sacramento’s new Ruth’s Chris Steak House made up for any shortfall I may have experienced by exercising restraint after the holidays. Each steak comes sizzling to the table in a liberal dousing of browning, atomizing butter on a 500-degree plate, after being cooked under a vaunted 1,800-degree broiler about which the staff, the company Web site and the menu all are delighted to tell you.

It’s pretty tasty, at least for the first few bites, but it also tends toward a bit of excess—as do the prices. Everything comes à la carte, so when you’ve got your $37 steak, you will look around in vain for an accompaniment, unless you’ve had the foresight to order toppings (such as crab cakes or blue cheese) or the hefty $7.50 sides, like fries or other potato dishes, creamed spinach, broccoli au gratin and so on.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. We arrived at Ruth’s Chris on a Saturday night and immediately were amused by the bored valet parker, who slumped by the sign advertising his services for $5—immediately opposite more than one empty space in the Pavilions lot. We decided to save our pennies for dinner, which turned out to be a wise choice.

The prices of those steaks don’t just come from the excellent-quality meat; they also seem to be funding a whole lot of service. Throughout our meal, the service was smooth as, well, butter, though it felt a touch dated. The manager, who stopped by every table, and our server greeted us by name. (Rather, they greeted my husband by name and called me Mrs. His Last Name. That was fine by me, as we use the fact that our names are different as cover for making anonymous reservations.) We had a plethora of people dancing attendance at all times, and they all were enthusiastic—nay, evangelistic—about Ruth’s Chris and its steaks.

There was more to dinner than meat, though. My husband started out with a giant, sweet mojito, and we shared a special of fried oysters, six of them perched on a pile of greens. They were pleasingly crunchy and mildly oceanic, though there was a gummy layer where thick breading met moist bivalve. My husband then had a hearty appetizer of osso-buco ravioli, one of the more unexpected choices on the menu.

The menu, indeed, posed something of a dilemma; everything was so unchallenging yet vaguely appealing that it was hard to decide. It’s easy to see why Ruth’s Chris seems to be advertised in every in-flight magazine in the world; this is comfort food for the conservative executive on a great big expense account. My smallish steak house salad, with a chunky blue-cheese dressing, was the kind of straight-up-the-middle dish that can’t fail to be likeable but breaks no new ground. The more unusual ravioli, on the other hand, were savory enough, but the meat was so soft as to be mushy, and it wasn’t as distinctly flavorful as it should have been.

I was puzzled by which steak to get. I kind of wanted a T-bone, but questioning the server revealed that it was 24 ounces. I went for the more moderate but still huge rib-eye, weighing in at a full pound. Ordered rare, it was cooked just as the menu said it would be: cool in the middle. That’s just what I like, though with such a brief cooking, even those 1,800-degree broilers didn’t blast quite as much searing on the top as one might like.

My husband’s veal chop was tender and succulent, with a lot of built-in flavor from a marinade with vinegary peppers. We also sampled two of the huge sides: the potatoes au gratin and the creamed spinach. The creamed spinach was inoffensive but needed salt and a spike of nutmeg to wake it up. The potatoes erred in the opposite direction, with a near-choking dose of white pepper in the thick cream sauce in which little spheres of potato bobbed. It was topped with an almost impenetrable layer of barely melted bright-orange cheese. Perhaps those 1,800-degree broilers could have been put to good use crisping up the topping and turning the dish into a true gratin; the word, after all, means “crust.”

With a huge doggie bag already (I had steak sandwiches for lunch for three days), we scarcely needed dessert, but we ordered an enormous round of tender bread pudding anyway, topped with a nice whiskey crème anglaise. The pudding was a nod to Ruth’s Chris’ New Orleans roots, which pop up here and there on the menu, handily bolded for your reference. But only the most crowd-pleasing and unthreatening food from the Big Easy is part of the Ruth’s Chris experience.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but if I’m going to drop the kind of coin this restaurant demands, I want something that’s not available in every American city with a major airport. If you happen to know a captain of industry visiting from Cincinnati, platinum card in hand, head to Ruth’s Chris; otherwise, I suggest saving your wallet and your waistline from grave danger by staying home.