STEAKSALL KINDS

When I walk into the elegant new Ruth's Chris Steak House in Scottsdale, I am struck by a singular thought: Scotch. An obvious case of stimulus-response, if there ever was one, for Ruth's Chris takes me back to the late Seventies, when I lived in New York and worked in advertising and took my mostly male clients to lunch at steak houses like the Palm, and Christ Cella.

In those pre-Perrier days, our on-the-company celebrations always started with cocktails and frequently ended with after-dinner drinks. Scotch was the drink of choice. In between, we'd consume salads of sliced beefsteak tomato and onion, juicy chops, tender steak, red wine, sauteed mushrooms, fried potatoes and dense cheesecake with fresh strawberries. With its cherry-wood panelling and crisp white table linens, the new Ruth's Chris evokes the memory of those New York steak houses for me. It gives me the feeling of the inner sanctums of Manhattan, but with a difference. Ruth's Chris-Scottsdale is a man's environment where women can feel comfortable. Maybe it's the walls of glass permitting fabulous views of the surrounding mountains, or the high ceilings, or the presence of women on the waitstaff. I don't know, but whatever the reason, the atmosphere at Ruth's Chris is simultaneously clubby and nonexclusive. After all, the only requirement for membership here is a certain amount of cash--or credit--and an appetite for red meat. In today's climate of radical vegetarianism and politically correct eating and drinking, just being in a roomful of admitted steak lovers can seem positively fraternal. Ah, you say to yourself as you look around, so these are the people who still eat steak.

The menu is identical to Ruth's Chris on East Camelback. No surprise there. This is, after all, a nationally franchised restaurant. Which is to say, everything is a la carte. You want a baked potato? You gotta order it. You want a salad? You gotta order it. You want a vegetable? You got it. Order it.

Some people hate this idea, but not I. I like it. I like it because I respect it as a traditional men's-steak-house kind of thing. You order what you want and you get what you order. You want broccoli? Great. But if you feel like our dear President, no one's going to force it on you. Ditto for the creamed spinach, the asparagus and the scalloped potatoes.

Of course, the reason most people dislike this kind of arrangement is that the dollars do add up quickly. Your basic sixteen-ounce steak at Ruth's Chris runs $20. Tack on $4 or so for salad, $3 for each vegetable or potato, plus drinks, dessert and coffee and you're looking at something like a C-note to cover that dinner for two.

This is not inexpensive. Which is why, I think, Ruth's Chris reminds me of the business lunches I enjoyed in New York. This is definitely the kind of place to come when somebody else, say your company, is footing the bill. Or for those times when you're craving a good steak and are willing to pay for it. Ruth's Chris may be a little pricey for the majority of us regular folk, but, frankly, it's worth every penny.

For one thing, consistency is a prime reason for staking out a table in this room with a view. When you order a steak at Ruth's Chris, you don't have to be apprehensive about quality. The restaurant serves only aged, corn-fed beef bred in the American Midwest. The meat is never frozen and is cut to order on the premises.

For another thing, portions are hefty--a fact I seem to continually forget. Everything is Bunyanesque here: the salad, the steak, the potato, even the broccoli. Value is definitely present.

On my most recent visit, my dining accomplice and I start with salads and opt to share the Porterhouse for two. Ruth's Chris' steaks are marbled with fat for juiciness and our Porterhouse is no exception. This takes some getting used to on my part: my health-conscious mama raised me on lean red meat. Though I still tend to treat fat like toxic waste, I can now enjoy what it does for meat. Our steak is succulent, though a trifle chewy at times. Side orders of baked potato, fried onion rings and asparagus with hollandaise sauce do not disappoint. Dessert is a traditional affair at Ruth's Chris. We order the bread pudding and apple pie a la mode. Of the two, I prefer the latter for its crumbly, brown-sugar topping which reminds me of Apple Betty, my favorite school cafeteria dessert. The bread pudding is moist and dense, but alas, the sauce that tops it is served scaldingly hot. Youch!

Seating in the new restaurant includes booths, tables and patio dining. Our table is inside, "by the windows," the hostess promises. Unfortunately, the windows turn out to be a glass door--the primary service exit to the patio. Every few minutes, we hear the sizzle of butter as waitpersons glide behind us with steaks stacked up on their padded arms. I'd eliminate seating at this table. No one wants to feel in the way or in danger of third-degree burns from spilled butter.

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